If you want to have a zero waste home, learning how to buy in bulk and reduce waste while shopping is a must. Food can cause a ton of waste since we’ve all got to eat!
Here are some tips on how to do zero waste shopping– what to bring, the benefits of bulk shopping, and other helpful tips!
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The kitchen can be the biggest area of waste in the home, so it’s a great place to start changing your habits.
Related: 5 ways to reduce your kitchen waste
And a fantastic place to start bringing less waste into the kitchen, to begin with, is by buying in bulk! Zero waste shopping can help you create less waste and live a more sustainable lifestyle by bringing less packaging and excess food into the home.
Benefits of zero waste shopping
Are you interested in reducing your waste when grocery shopping or just buying stuff in general? If so, read on!
There are lots of benefits to zero waste shopping.
- Save money
Up to 15% of the cost of the items you buy in the store are packaging costs. Bringing your own containers or buying package/plastic-free goods will help you save money!
And even though it might seem more expensive to buy in bulk, as long as you aren’t throwing out a lot of food, stocking up on bulk goods is always better for your wallet. In general, the more you buy at once, the more you save!
- Reduce waste
Remember how you’re paying for the packaging in your purchases? What happens to that packaging? Usually, if it’s the normal plastic packaging you see most often, it just goes straight into the landfill.
Sure, cardboard, aluminum, and paper are recyclable, but there’s still waste involved, and most people in the US don’t take the time to clean and return containers to be recycled. And plastic is still the most common form of packaging.
Plastic takes decades or even hundreds of years to break down, and will normally make its way out of the landfill and into the oceans before it breaks down. It’s polluting our sea life, and making its way into our bodies.
Related: Creative ways to use less plastic
- Better health
All that plastic getting into our bodies? Yeah, not good for our health. Even if it’s harmless in small amounts, we’re still ingesting far too many toxins from many different sources. Cutting out plastic and packaging is just one way you can reduce the toxins you’re exposed to every day!
Related: How to reduce toxins: get your guide here
Zero waste shopping isn’t just good for you. It’s good for the environment, animals, and human health! I kind of view a zero waste lifestyle as a way to be good stewards of the earth and responsible human beings. Everyone benefits!
Related: Things I don’t miss from reducing my waste
So how exactly do you reduce waste while shopping?
How to do zero waste shopping
Admittedly, how you’re going to do zero waste shopping depends greatly on where you’re located.
If you’re somewhere in the middle of nowhere (like I am), it’ll take a lot of intentionality and planning ahead. It can take a while to get used to. But if you’re somewhere with lots of resources and shopping choices, it should be a little easier to switch to zero waste.
Here are a few tips to remember for a zero waste lifestyle, no matter where you live:
- Reduce first
One of the best ways to reduce your waste, regardless of your access to zero waste stores, is to simply reduce what you’re buying. This can be hard, since every single advertisement out there is trying to convince you that you need to buy more to be happy. But it’s not true! Happiness comes from contentment with what you have.
Ask yourself if you really need something before you buy it. Can you do without? Be mindful about your purchases and only get things you really need.
- Shop secondhand
Even if you live somewhere with zero waste-free options, you probably have a thrift store nearby! I especially love shopping for jars and containers at secondhand shops.
You’ll save money by buying used goods, and it keeps those items from going into the trash! Win-win. Keep an eye out for good deals, but remember tip #1!
- Borrow and loan
Has it ever occurred to you that not every household needs a leaf blower or circular saw? If you’re looking to reduce your waste in your shopping, one way to do that is to start a habit of borrowing before buying.
Start off by offering to loan out what you have to your neighbors! This is a great way to break the cycle of buying-using-tossing. And if you want to upgrade, don’t forget to donate goods that are still usable!
- Shop in bulk
This is a great way to speak with your dollar. I think bulk stores will catch on a lot in the next decade as more and more people want to shop plastic-free.
Shopping in bulk stores will help you cut out all packaging and only buy what you’re going to use! You’re paying for the product, not the packaging. It saves money and, as a bonus perk, makes your pantries look like Pinterest #goals. =)
Scroll down for more on how exactly you do bulk shopping.
- Plan ahead
Planning your shopping is especially important if you’re traveling or you don’t live around a lot of bulk or zero waste stores.
Related: How to do zero waste traveling
Keep an eye on your pantries, and keep a list of the things you’re running low on! I like using the Google Keep app for this. When I see that I’m running low on chia seeds, for example, I pull out my phone and add chia seeds to my bulk store shopping list right then and there.
This helps me since I’m forgetful, and since we only go bulk shopping every month or so. This way, I don’t need to wrack my brain to think of what I was running out of while I’m shopping.
Since we live a few hours away from the nearest bulk store, I also do a quick run-through of our pantries and bulk jars at home before we go on a trip. There’s usually something I’ve forgotten to add to my list, and it helps me know what containers to bring.
- Save containers
You don’t have to buy every container brand new! Save the containers of items such as marinara sauce, juice, tea tins, and anything else that comes in glass or tins. They’re usually easy to clean out and reuse, and perfect for bulk shopping!
If you make kefir or kombucha, just save each of your store-bought kombucha/cold brew/craft beer bottles or growlers, and use those to bottle your brew! No need to buy new ones.
Related: The ultimate guide to brewing kombucha
- Request plastic-free packaging
If you’re shopping online, and especially with small business stores such as Etsy or Earthley, you can try requesting plastic-free packaging. This might mean you get glass containers instead of plastic, or shredded paper instead of bubble wrap.
Even if stores can’t honor your request, it’s worth asking!
- Be willing to be inconvenienced
I know, I know, this sounds like blasphemy to the American way of life. Convenience is king! But if you really want to reduce waste and live more sustainably, you need to be willing to put a little work into it.
For example, my husband recently went to the store to buy zucchini. First he stopped at a store that usually has a better veggie selection than our normal stop. But all the squash was wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam! Instead of grabbing what was available and rushing home, hubs took the time to go to another store and get zucchini there instead.
I’m not saying you have to spend tons of extra time shopping around, but are you willing to make sacrifices like this?
The good news is that it gets easier over time, as you learn where you can go for the best zero waste shopping options and where to avoid shopping.
Zero waste grocery shopping
Grocery shopping is a hard place to reduce what you buy each week. We all need to eat! But there are ways to make your food shopping zero waste, so that you can only buy what you really need and reduce waste while saving money!
One of the best ways to reduce your waste while grocery shopping is to start shopping in bulk.
Read on to learn about what you should bring bulk shopping, and how to reduce grocery waste and buy in bulk!
What you need before bulk shopping
To really save money with bulk shopping, you need to bring your own containers.
It can take a while to get a good stock of containers and make it a habit to remember them, but once you do, you won’t ever want to use disposable packaging again!
When I go bulk shopping, there are a few different types of containers I always try to remember:
- Mason jars
Jars are useful for almost everything you buy. I always make sure to bring a variety of jars with me, including 4-ounce jars, pint, quart, and half-gallon jars.
- Produce bags
These are bags made of mesh netting, they are perfect for holding fruits and vegetables. I always bring my produce bags to the farmer’s market! There are large netted produce bags with handles and smaller produce bags in a variety of sizes.
- Cotton bags
These are useful for things like rice, beans, nuts, or veggies. Cotton bags are reusable and easy to clean if they get dirty. They’re also lightweight, making it a great option if you want to make your traveling zero waste! They include a tare weight and can hold a lot.
- Large reusable bags
I bring reusable bags everywhere I go so that I don’t have to use plastic bags! Even if you aren’t going bulk shopping, it’s still good to use reusable bags to reduce your waste when shopping.
These heavy duty cloth bags are great for a zero waste lifestyle! They aren’t just for grocery shopping either- bring them to the gym, beach, on picnics, or anywhere!
If you tend to be forgetful like me, or you’re just forming the habit of bringing reusable containers shopping, it’s a good idea to make a zero waste shopping kit to leave in your car.
Just get a box (or reusable bag) and include jars, produce bags, and anything else you might need in it to reduce your waste while you’re out and about!
Related: The best zero waste products to start reducing your trash
And don’t forget your shopping list!
Where to shop zero waste
Now that you have your zero waste shopping kit available, where to go with it?
- Farmer’s markets are a great option for fresh, healthy produce. You can support local farmers and buy zero waste goods at the same time!
Sometimes stands have their fruits or veggies pre-packaged into little carboard boxes or bags. If so, just ask them if you can use your own produce bags instead! Most of the farmer’s markets that I’ve been to have been happy to oblige.
- Bulk stores are also fantastic places to shop. My favorite bulk store is Simply Bulk Market, in Longmont, Colorado. Find out more tips about bulk store shopping and how to buy in bulk below!
- Zero waste stores are wonderful to shop at if they’re available to you. You can find a list of zero waste places to shop in the US here, Don’t forget your containers!
- Bulk sections of grocery stores usually carry a good variety of foods in bulk, even if it’s not quite as great as an entire store devoted to bulk goods.
Just make sure beforehand whether or not you can use your own containers! Some big name stores, such as Natural Grocers, won’t let you weigh your own containers to use. They require you to use their flimsy plastic produce bags, and that makes no sense to me!
When I shop at stores that don’t allow jars or bags, I just put my produce straight into the cart and wash it when I get home. I also try to save my bulk purchases for somewhere that I can avoid plastic packaging.
You can also shop at places like Costco or Sam’s Club. These places still have packaging, but there’s usually less of it since you’ll be buying everything in bulk, at wholesale prices!
- Zero waste online shopping is another good option if you don’t live near any bulk stores.
Some good zero waste online shops include Package Free Shop, Life Without Plastic, and Zero Market.
If you want to do bulk shopping on Amazon, here’s a great tip from Mama Eco: request minimal packaging! Just head over to Mama Eco to fill out the request form.
What to buy in bulk
When doing zero waste food shopping, there are some foods that you’ll never want to buy in packaging again! For the most part, it’s easy to find dry foods and pantry items in the bulk section of stores or in zero waste shops. Here’s a list of some good food to buy in bulk.
- Gluten-free flours
- Gluten-free pasta
- Trail mix
The good news (other than saving money and the environment!) is that most of these foods you buy in bulk will be healthier than what you can find at a conventional grocery store!
For example, you won’t find M&M’s in bulk. What you will find, however, might be chocolate candies that are sweetened with organic cane sugar and naturally colored with things like beet root. They’re almost the same thing as M&M’s, but they’re way better for you!
Many bulk stores also carry a wide range of organic foods as well.
And beyond food, there are some other package-free bulk goods that you can easily find at a bulk store. Look to buy these plastic-free when you’re bulk shopping as well!
- Castile soap
- Bath salts
- Bentonite clay
- Laundry detergent
- Pet treats
- Shea butter
- Soap (liquid and bar)
Bulk stores are also usually willing to do special requests– just talk to a manager and they can help you figure out if it’s possible for them to start stocking something new!
How to do bulk buying
Now that you know what to look for to buy in bulk, how do you shop in bulk?
Here’s a step-by-step guide of everything you need to know before going out to do your bulk buying in order to reduce your waste and save money!
- Get containers!
Before heading out to a bulk or zero waste store, make sure you’ve stocked up on containers! Bring produce bags, cotton bags, and all types of jars. You never know exactly what you’ll find, so bring more jars than you think you’ll need! I always seem to run out of 4oz jars for spices and herbs when I go bulk shopping.
When I go to refill jars that are running low, sometimes I’ll put the leftover food in a bowl or cup, cover it, and just set it out on the counter until I get back. This way, nothing goes bad! I can top off the jars I’ve just filled so that I’m using the oldest food first.
And if you’re planning on refilling a used jar with the same food, there’s no need to wash it before going shopping. I’ve never had a problem with stores getting upset because I’m using a jar that isn’t perfectly clean.
If you’re short on containers, bulk stores usually stock some extra jars and canisters too. And as a last resort, there are usually bags available, but I prefer to just bring extra jars =)
- Weigh your containers
When you get to your destination store, don’t get too excited just yet! First, you need to go to the front to weigh (or tare) your containers. Usually, whoever is at the front will just write on the weight or put a sticker on your jars.
Sometimes, produce bags already have tare weights on them! Check the tag.
Weighing your containers is an important part of bulk store shopping because it ensures that you’re only paying for the products you’re buying, not the packaging.
- Buy bulk!
After taring your containers, you are free to roam about the store! The fun thing about bulk stores is that you don’t have to buy a pre-set amount of any item. You just buy what you need or want! So if you want to try something new but you aren’t sure if you’ll like it, feel free to just buy a spoonful!
While shopping, make sure you use a new scoop each time too. We don’t want to cross-contaminate! There are normally bins for new and used scoops.
- Take note of the PLU
While shopping, don’t forget to write down the item number, or PLU! Usually it’s a 4-6 digit number on the product label. There might be twist ties or paper you can write the number down on, but since we’re trying to reduce waste here, why not take a picture of the product label or just put the PLU number in your phone instead?
You could also try writing the number on the jar with a dry-erase marker- just don’t rub it off on accident!
- Freeze or prep perishable goods
Finally, once you get home, go ahead and freeze or prep any perishable items when you have time! This will help reduce food waste in the long run, and prepping things like veggies makes it easy to grab healthy snacks when you’re on the go!
That’s it! Bulk shopping is an easy and effective way to reduce waste, save money, and live more healthfully.
For more info on food storage to help you save money and time, check out this post on healthy food storage from Homestead Lady.
And if you’re really serious about taking steps towards zero waste, you don’t want to miss out on my Zero Waste Checklist! Use it to get an idea about areas you still need to reduce waste, make progress notes, and keep track of your accomplishments!
If you’re looking for more ways to reduce your waste, make sure to check out my posts on the best zero waste products for beginners, and creative ways to use less plastic!
You can also find a bunch of helpful tips in this post on how to go zero waste.
I hope this has been helpful!