Whether you’d like to lessen your environmental impact, make garbage day easier, have a prettier pantry, or all of the above, waste-free grocery shopping is a great thing to consider looking in to!
I’ve been starting to work at getting better at waste-free grocery shopping lately and it’s been such a positive experience for me on many fronts. We often think of doing things that will help out the planet as being a little bit more work. Definitely worth it of course, but still more work. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the many ways that waste-free grocery shopping has actually made my life easier though! I thought I’d share a little bit about my experiences so far and some of my tips for ways that you can decrease the amount of trash that you create as a result of your weekly grocery shopping.
Why Waste-Free Grocery Shopping?
Obviously creating less trash and recycling will always be a good thing for our planet, but did you know that it can be a really good thing for the way your home functions as well? I originally suspected that might be the case, but it’s amazing how many little ways that shopping with less waste has made our home a better place to be. Here are some of my favourite benefits:
- Less trash to take out
- Less recycling to process (our recycling bins were out of control)
- Putting away groceries is much quicker
- My cupboards and pantries look prettier and are easier to keep organized
- The kids can see what snacks we have more easily
- Healthier food choices look more appealing
- You save money by buying only what you actually need
When you have little positive changes like these happening in your home, the benefits start to flow out into other areas of your life. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true! Less time putting away groceries = more time and energy to spend writing great blog posts. Kids being able to find snacks more easily = less times that they ask me for a snack = happier, less-stressed mom. Healthier food choices looking more appealing = more healthy meals = less guilt and more energy.
But how can you possibly reduce the amount of waste that comes from your grocery shopping when everything in the grocery store seems to come in so much packaging? Here are some quick and easy tips that you can start to incorporate one-by-one into your routine. Once you get the hang of these, you’ll probably start to see more that will work their way into your shopping methods as well!
Inspect Your Usual Grocery List
A good first step is just to look over the things you usually buy and just flag the items that you suspect you might be able to buy without the packaging. Some top candidates are dry items like rice, pasta, breakfast cereal, and things you use for baking like cocoa powder and flour. You can also often buy fresh breads an buns from a local bakery or even the bakery in your grocery store without any kind of bag. Just bring your own to put it in! A cotton drawstring bag works great for this, although this might be a little bit of a next-level kind of endeavour for some people’s routines. Tackle the easy stuff first and don’t worry about being perfectly waste-free in every possible area right away.
Here’s a great set of cotton drawstring bags that will work well for produce, certain bulk items, breads, buns, bagels, and things like that: Cotton drawstring bags
Shop at Bulk Food Stores
We have a great chain here in Canada called Bulk Barn that I shop at. I’m able to bring in clean, refillable jars from home, have them weigh them, then fill them with whatever I need! It takes a little bit of practice, but it’s amazing what you can get at bulk foods stores. Don’t think that shopping waste free means that you’ll be needing to cook from scratch all the time. You might be surprised to find just how many convenience foods you can find in bulk foods stores that can replace things that you’re regularly buying with a lot of packaging in grocery stores. I love being able to bring in a big pantry container to fill with pastas and breakfast cereals so that I can avoid having to recycle a million cardboard boxes every time a go to make a meal. The containers also just look so pretty and I love that I just have to bring them home and put them into the cupboard without the extra step of having to transfer stuff into the containers if I want everything to look organized.
The way the process for using your own jars works is that you bring in your own clean, empty jars and bring them up to the front counter. The Bulk Barn people then weigh each of your jars and mark them with a washable pencil, indicating their exact weight. You do need to have each of your jars weighed each time, even if they look identical, because there can be slight differences in weight and they don’t want to end up overcharging you. The whole process for weighing a tote bag full of jars takes about 20 seconds and is always super pleasant. 🙂
You then go fill your jars up and bring them back up to the front to pay for your purchases! Another reason I love this system is that I’m able to judge really well just how much I’m buying because I’m using my own jars rather than a huge plastic bag. I’m always so surprised at how much less money I spend this way. I feel like I end up getting more of the stuff I actually need, rather than buying too many impulse items and I spend about half as much on each shopping trip. I’m not even exaggerating!
You can use fancy jars and containers like I’m showing here in these pictures, but you can also use any old jar you happen to have on hand, as long as it’s clean. So this is another great way to recycle those old pasta sauce and pickle jars!
You can find jars like mine here: Hermetic Jars
And some similar pantry containers here: Plastic Pantry Containers
Use Reusable Bags and Bins Instead of Plastic Grocery Bags
Most of us have been doing this whenever possible for years now, but really making a commitment to switch is such a relief. I love not having to put away 25 little plastic bags at the end of every shopping trip. I use a giant heavy-duty tote bag for smaller trips and plastic bins for larger trips. They’re easier to fill and unpack too!
Here I am looking pleased with myself with my tote bag full of jars.
Ha! I love the big L.L. Bean Boat and Tote bags because word on the street is that they can hold up to 500 lbs! This is the extra large size that you see me with here.
Don’t Use Plastic Produce Bags Whenever Possible
I’ve often heard people talk about switching to cloth produce bags and I do think that’s a great option, but honestly that idea has always sounded like a lot of work to me. We buy a lot of produce, so having to bring all those little bags with me and then wash them and put them away after every trip made using those bags sound like a pain in the butt. Luckily, there’s a much easier solution: just don’t use any! You’re going to wash your produce anyway, so just stick your fruits and veggies straight in your plastic bins as you’re shopping and then they’re ready to wash or be put away in your fruit bowl when you get home! We use an online grocery ordering system most weeks, so I just ask for them to please not use plastic produce bags wherever possible.
Change What You Eat a Bit
Asking people to change the way they eat is often asking a lot. Food choices are very personal and people are really attached to the things they love. So what I’m going to do is suggest that you eat more of the things you really love. Enjoyment is absolutely, 100% the key to success in developing new habits, so this is your chance to take some time to think about getting more of what you love into your house. Your mission, of course, is to find things that you truly love, that can be purchased waste-free. Is there a type of fruit or veggie that you really enjoy that you just haven’t thought to buy for awhile? Buy it and use it to replace something with more packaging. Take a stroll down the aisles of your bulk foods stores and challenge yourself to find five snacks that you’re really excited to eat and use those to replace things you’re already buying in packaging. It won’t be hard, I promise. Bulk foods stores are a snack-lovers paradise.
Go ahead and try these little challenges, one at a time, and I guarantee you’ll find that they actually aren’t all that challenging at all! What tips do you have to help us all streamline our shopping a bit and do a little better with our waste-free grocery shopping practices?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.