A Zero Waste Grocery Cheat Sheet

Buying zero waste has been a big project for a long time. I get a real thrill out of figuring out how to expel another piece of packaging from my life. I’ve discovered that zero waste often intersects with buying healthier whole foods, and with other practices that are beneficial for the world in general, like shopping local.

In spite of all the progress I’ve made, there are a number of products that I still buy with packaging. So if it’s not here on the list, that means I’m still working on it and I would love any suggestions you have. In the meantime, here’s a cheat sheet of the things I’ve figured out so far:

  • Almond Milk: buy nuts in grocery store bulk section & DIY (with a machine such as this – I use an older version that I purchased used online)
  • Aluminum foil: go without, and for grilling corn use the husk
  • Artichokes: olive bar at grocery store or local shop that sells specialty foods
  • Beans: grocery store bulk section & cook from scratch in pressure cooker or slow cooker
  • Beer: growlers from local breweries
  • Berries: buy at farmers’ markets with no container in season & substitute other fruits when out of season
  • Frozen berries: pick-your-own at a farm & batch freeze the harvest (great tutorial here)
  • Bone broth: DIY (this still produces some waste for me since I receive the bones in a plastic bag, but I think it’s less than buying it in multiple plastic tupperware containers)
  • Buns: DIY from ingredients purchased in bulk section of grocery store or use a light bag in the grocery store bakery section
  • Cheese: deli counter at a grocery or specialty store that’s ok with me using my own containers
  • Coffee: bulk section of grocery store (& use a French press)
  • Conditioner: DIY (amazing recipes here – I did the marshmallow rinse with herbs bought in bulk & it really works!)
  • Cookies & baked goods: DIY or purchase at local shop with my own containers
  • Cotton balls & pads: switch to reusable like these
  • Dish & hand soap: Dr. Bronner’s in grocery store bulk section
  • Dried mushrooms: bulk section of grocery store or dehydrate them myself from fresh
  • Eggs: I’m buying from a local farmer (whose laying hens are rescue chickens) & returning the egg containers to her for re-use
  • Flour: I choose ones I can find in the grocery store bulk section, like coconut
  • Granola: grocery store bulk section
  • Grapefruit juice: fresh-squeezed
  • Herbs: grocery store bulk section for dried. For fresh, I’m trying to grow my own with mixed success.
  • Ice cream: DIY (some of the ingredients I purchase in cans, so this might not be much less waste than just buying it packaged. Excellent tutorial here.)
  • Hummus: DIY from ingredients purchased in bulk section of grocery store (tahini & chickpeas also DIY, great hummus tutorial here)
  • Lemon & lime juice: fresh squeezed
  • Mayo: DIY
  • Milk: glass-bottled, grass fed
  • Nutella: DIY (recipe here – I used chocolate chips purchased in the bulk section for the chocolate)
  • Nuts: grocery store bulk section
  • Olive oil: bulk section of grocery store or specialty shops
  • Olives: olive bar at grocery store or local shop that sells specialty foods
  • Orange juice: fresh squeezed
  • Paper towels: switch to reusable kitchen towels, napkins or rags (I cut some up from old towels)
  • Parchment paper: go without or reuse butcher paper received with meats, then rinse & compost it
  • Parmesan sprinkle cheese: DIY vegan substitute I make at home from bulk ingredients (recipe here)
  • Pasta: bulk section of the grocery store or specialty shops
  • Peanut & nut butters: DIY or bulk section of grocery store
  • Produce: just buy it without plastic. Celery I can only buy at certain places. Buying in season at farmer’s markets helps for finding things like Cauliflower without packaging.)
  • Razors: switch to a safety razor like these
  • Seeds: grocery store bulk section
  • Shampoo: shampoo bars from Aquarian Bath
  • Snacks on the go: nuts, raisins, veggie chips, energy bites from bulk section of grocery store, coconut pieces from a fresh coconut
  • Soap: naked GOOD bar soap from Whole Foods
  • Soy Milk: DIY (with a machine like this one – I use an older version that I purchased used online)
  • Sparkling Water: I bought a Sodastream & its parts used
  • Spices: grocery store bulk section
  • Spinach: I buy it in old-fashioned bunches at grocery stores where I can find them & clean it myself in one batch. Then I store it in a giant tub in my fridge.
  • Sponges: switch to a washcloth or rag
  • Sugar: grocery store bulk section
  • Sun-dried tomatoes: olive bar or local shop that sells specialty foods / DIY
  • Tahini: DIY from ingredients purchased in bulk section of grocery store
  • Tea: looseleaf in bulk with tea ball infuser (such as these)
  • Tissues: switch to handkerchiefs
  • Vinegar: Grocery store bulk section or specialty shop

In most cases you’ll need to bring some of the following items with you to the store:

  • your own containers with lids (Mine are repurposed yogurt containers, but you could use anything. Each of mine has a chalk label on it & a piece of tape on the top that says what the tare is. Also the bar code has been covered with tape.)
  • netting or light bag for small fruits & vegetables like brussel sprouts or green beans with twist tie or string for a closure
  • light bag for baked goods
  • milk jugs that have to be returned
  • reusable bags
  • chalk
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