We made it through our first month of zero waste grocery shopping.
To be honest, if you had told me at the beginning of the month that we could do it, I wouldn’t have believed you.
It was daunting.
But we did it. (And we didn’t even have to give up ice cream.)
I first heard about zero waste living ten years ago with No Impact Man. I was especially struck by how the family brought their own reusable containers to take-out restaurants to avoid single-use plastics. That’s cool, I thought, but pretty weird.
A lot has changed in ten years. Zero waste living isn’t on the fringe anymore. Now, I’m one of those “weird” people bringing containers to the take-out counter. Most people I talk to want to reduce the amount of trash they produce.
The question we all are wondering is… how?
I spent the last month trying to figure that out.
The picture up top shows my first zero-waste grocery run from a couple months ago. I’ve learned a lot since then. Now, when I look at that stash I see:
- Throw-away tag on the carrots (boo, so far unavoidable)
- Throw-away sticker on the meat (boo, so far also unavoidable)
- Those chip bags are NOT recyclable after all (boo, greenwashing)
- I could have brought my own container for bulk honey
But it was a light year of improvement from the plastic-heavy Trader Joe’s runs I’d been making before.
Here’s how we made it through the month (and why it will be easy for us to continue):
- We set aside a place to stash our reusable containers.
There’s a designated drawer in the kitchen for what I’ve found are our essentials:
- Reusable produce bags
- Plastic two-dozen egg carton (saved from a previous Costco purchased and reused)
- Reusable linen bag for bread and baked goods
- Reusable cotton drawstring bags for bulk foods section (to fill with rice, beans, pasta, dried fruit, nuts, flour, sugar, and so on)
- Reusable mason jars for bulk liquids (honey, olive oil, peanut butter)
- Cloth grocery bagsWhen I’m going grocery shopping, I just grab what I need and go.2. We started saying no.
We had certainly heard of reduce, reuse, and recycle – but for us the big game-changer was refuse.
It made all the difference.
To my son at the grocery store: “We can get snacks from the bulk foods section. We don’t need to buy anything that comes in packaging.”
To the clerk at the deli: “Can you wrap our meat and cheese in paper and skip the plastic bag?”
To the barista at the coffee shop: “Go ahead and just hand us the muffins. We have our own bag, and we don’t need a paper napkin.”
3. We planned a lot at first – but then we got used to it.
The first few times I went zero waste shopping, I left the kids at home. It was hard enough to juggle the meal plan list and the grocery list, figure out the tares for my reusable containers, find where all of the zero waste options were in the store, AND keep the four-year-old’s hands out of the bulk chocolate chip container (why do they keep that at ground level?!).
By the end of the month, I was cruising through the aisles, (reusable) coffee cup in hand, while the toddler banged on the cart and the four-year-old moon-walked down the aisle ahead of me.
(Dance moves in action.)
Like any new skill, zero waste shopping has a learning curve. But it is not difficult forever.
4. We found new favorites, and we learned how to keep the foods we love.
Zero waste shopping won’t work for us if we can’t eat ice cream. But instead of buying a carton (with a throw-away plastic wrapper) to satisfy our craving, we went to the ice cream shop for handmade cones.
When I didn’t want to cook, we ordered pizza and asked them to hold the dipping sauce (no plastic cups). Then we composted the box.
I haven’t been able to find a fully-recyclable tortilla chip bag, but I’ve been making homemade tortillas instead. It’s surprising easy (and cheap).
The kids are satisfied with homemade popcorn, nuts, dried fruit, and the occasional (okay, maybe not so occasional) handful of chocolate chips instead of the boxed crackers and snacks we used to purchase.
The four-year-old embraced the idea of zero waste shopping from the get go. “Ugh, plastic,” I heard him whisper under his breath as he walked by a slice of chocolate cake in a single-serving container in the bakery. A month ago, he would have been clamoring to buy it.
And the toddler ate an entire raw bell pepper this weekend.
I’m not sure he would have done that a month ago.
So will we keep zero waste shopping?
But we’re going to take it to the next level.
This month, we’re going to see if all our trash can fit in here.