With the rise of zero-waste grocery stores, it’s now easier than ever to reduce your environmental impact when shopping for food. But what exactly is “zero waste”, you ask?
Put simply, it’s about producing less byproduct (not necessarily zero — that’s just the goal). Think about all those plastic bags, all that packaging you end up with at the end of a shopping trip and inevitably throw out or recycle. That’s what zero-waste proponents are trying to reduce.
But can you zero-waste grocery shop at popular stores like Woolies? Yes! Though we’d call it “zero-ish” waste (sometimes you can’t forgo using every piece of plastic or paper at stores).
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By committing to reducing your impact, you can help cut down on the containers and packaging. Here’s everything you need to know about zero waste and how to minimise your own impact while grocery shopping.
Consider your consumption
Before you begin your quest, think about your own consumption and buying habits—zero waste isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.
“The first thing to do is just to look at your own trash bag,” Katherina Bogatireva, owner of Precycle, a zero-waste grocery store in Brooklyn, said by phone. “That’s the only way to know what to avoid and what to replace. It’s an individual thing. The solution is not to wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to go zero waste,’ toss everything I have out, and replace [it] with stainless steel or glass containers. That’s not the best thing to do, it’s actually quite the opposite.”
Instead, simply understand where you’re most wasteful. For instance, if you have a lot of plastic lying around after a shopping trip, zero-waste shopping is where you can help offset it, by reusing those plastic bags or packaging or buying unsealed products as often as possible.
Buy in bulk
One of the key components of zero-waste shopping is buying in bulk. No, that doesn’t mean buying so much toilet paper that it will line your closets and garage. It means buying food that’s commonly sold in scoopable containers with no packaging.
You can find necessities like sugar, vinegar, nuts, rice, granola, and oats in bulk departments. Fancier stores may have aisles of bulk soaps, spices, or pet food, too. How does this help reduce your impact? You’re reducing a great deal of packaging you and the store would otherwise use (and furthermore, you can choose the exact amount of product you want without food going bad because you couldn’t finish it).
Bring your own containers
Ideally, the point of zero waste is to reuse whenever possible, which means bringing your own containers to collect food. Yes, you can bring your own glass or plastic containers to most stores — if you want to be sure, visit any health food store.
Find a staff member who will weigh your containers before you put anything in them, so you can pay the right amount. (If you’re worried this will be awkward, let them know you’re trying to minimise your plastic consumption! And if you shop at a store often, they’ll get used to your requests after a few visits). Glass mason jars are a safe bet, as are cloth bags for produce and fruit, as Wild Minimalist recommends.