With a little pre-planning, zero waste grocery shopping is possible and can actually make shopping on a budget easier. When you go to the grocery store with a list, you’re less likely to make impulse purchases, and by buying in bulk, you can buy exactly how much you need. It’s best to make a list in your kitchen, so you can see what you already have to work with, and what you need. Then, if you have bulk options, prepare containers for everything on your list. If you don’t access to bulk bins, there are other ways to cut down on packaging at the grocery store—a cloth bag works perfectly for holding loose produce and you can also bring your own container for cheese, fish, meat, and your own bag for bread!
Shop the outer aisles for unpackaged produce and other fresh foods, and choose packaged foods stored in metal and glass (both infinitely recyclable) rather than plastic. Don’t forget to patronize your local farmer’s market for fresh, local (and often unpackaged) items.
Shopping Bulk Bins? Here’s How to Tare Your Container…
If you want to buy bulk items but skip the plastic bag that most grocery stores suggest you use, you’ll need to bring your own container. This can be a jar, a cloth bag, a Tupperware container, even a plastic bag you have left over from a previous shopping trip.
If you choose to re-use a plastic bag, you won’t need to weigh it because it’s so light (reusing a plastic bag you already have is totally great, you’re giving it a second life, reuse it until you can’t!)
All the other containers you’ll need to weigh either at home with a kitchen scale or at the counter at the grocery store. The weight of a container is called the tare. You’ll want to mark the tare weight on your container somewhere the cashier can read as you’re checking out.
A couple average Mason Jar weights:
.38 lbs – 8 oz Mason Jar
.65 lbs – 16 oz Mason Jar
1.02 lbs – 32oz Mason Jar
Once you know the tare weight of your container, head over to the bulk aisle and fill up! You’ll want to make a note of the PLU (price look up number) of the product—if you have a cell phone, just take a picture or jot the number down in your notes app.
Some typical items you can find in bulk:
Rice, Grain, Flour, Pasta, Beans, Trail mix, Dried fruit, Seeds, Tea, Coffee, Spices, Candy (chocolate and gummies).
When you check out at the cash register, you’ll want to give the cashier both the PLU and the tare weight of the container, so that they can subtract the tare weight from the total weight of the full container, and only charge you for what’s inside—not the jar too.
Where to Find Bulk Options
Here’s an important caveat: If you don’t have bulk options at your nearest grocery store, it’s actually much worse for the environment to drive across town than it is to shop mindfully at your nearest grocery store.
For Nashvillians, here’s a comprehensive list of bulk options in the area.
For everyone else, check out Bea Johnson’s Bulk Finder app.