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Zero Waste Grocery Shopping: How to Eliminate Plastic from Your Pantry

zero waste grocery store

Here’s a challenge — picture how much plastic packaging snuck into your kitchen the last time you bought groceries. It’s a surprising amount, right? Food packaging adds up to a lot of waste, from cucumbers individually wrapped in plastic to the plastic bags inside cereal boxes to the Styrofoam trays and plastic film covering meat and fish. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through what zero waste grocery shopping is, why eliminating plastic packaging and food waste matters, and how to practice zero waste shopping, both as the buyer and the seller.

What Is Zero Waste Grocery Shopping?

Zero waste grocery shopping embodies the commitment to minimizing environmental impact through mindful purchasing and consumption habits. It’s a practice rooted in the principles established by the Zero Waste International Alliance, which aims to conserve resources by advocating for responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials. 

This approach to grocery shopping emphasizes choosing items that are free from unnecessary packaging, opting for reusable containers, and selecting products that support sustainable, waste-free production and distribution methods. By aligning with the Zero Waste Hierarchy’s guiding principles, zero waste grocery shopping seeks to eliminate waste to landfills, waterways, and the atmosphere, thereby protecting both our planet and human health. 

This initiative not only reflects a personal commitment to environmental stewardship but also encourages businesses and communities to adopt practices that support a waste-free world.

Why Plastic-Free Groceries Are Important

We don’t need to tell you that plastic pollution is an incredible environmental issue. National Geographic summarized a scholarly article from the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances into these key points:

  • 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, which means only 9% is
  • 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1960s, and of that, 6.3 billion tons is waste
  • Half of all plastic manufactured is trash in less than one year
  • Plastic packaging, including food products, accounts for 40% of plastics created, driving the demand for non-renewable packaging and the growth of plastic production
  • Finally, if we continue on this path, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills

Plastic production’s sheer scale may seem insurmountable, but we promise you it’s not. With conscientious purchasing decisions like striving for zero waste, we can drive down the demand for single-use plastics and encourage more companies to rethink their relationship with non-renewable resources. 

Sometimes packaging is necessary, so we recommend opting for easy to recycle materials like paper (of which 64.7% is recycled) and glass, which is easy to reuse and recycle (32.5% is recycled). 

How To Grocery Shop Without Waste

How do zero waste grocery stores work? Is it really that different from regular supermarkets? The answer is yes and no. A zero waste grocery store will stock the same foods you normally buy, just not individually packaged. Shoppers take home their pantry items, meat, cheese, and fresh produce in their own glass jars or other reusable containers. If you’ve ever shopped in the bulk food aisle, you’re already familiar with the concept.

All this might make you wonder how you can grocery shop without bringing home plastic. It takes preparation and dedication, but you can do it! If picking up zero-waste products from specialty stores is out of reach, you can still get zero-waste groceries from your local shops with these tips.

Bring Your Own Bags and Containers

One of the best ways to go zero waste at the grocery store is to come stocked with bags, containers, or boxes. According to the Pacific Institute, manufacturing plastic produces up to 3lbs of carbon dioxide per container. Not only that, a plastic bag is used for an average of just 12 minutes before sitting in a landfill (or worse, the ocean) for the next 1,000 years. 

Bring your own cotton or hemp bags clean container for fruits and veggies, coffee beans, and bulk items like cereal, nuts, sugar, and flour. Ask the store employees if they can put items like cheese, meat, and bread in the bags and containers you brought. We think you’ll find most people are very accommodating!

Avoid Pre-Packaged Goods

As the environmental impact of product packaging grows, so does the urgency with which we must change our consumption patterns. By 2050, the World Economic Forum says the oceans will have more plastic than fish. And in the US, the waste from packaging comprises almost a quarter of all landfill waste.

So how do we get from here to sustainable groceries being the norm? Many eco-conscious food shoppers opt for farmer’s markets and other local farmers and sellers. For those of us who don’t have these options available, we can make our trips to the grocery store more sustainable. Try these tips:

  • In the produce aisle: leave it loose, or use your own bags.
  • At the deli counter: avoid pre-packaged meat and cheese — ask for it to be placed in your own clean container.
  • At the bakery: bring a bag or beeswax food wrap and ask for your loaf at the counter — they can slice it and pack it in your bag for you!

Buy In Bulk

Obviously, you can’t unbox granola in the cereal aisle and take it home in your reusable bags, but you can find a tasty alternative for breakfast in the bulk aisle. To shop bulk, place your empty container on the scale, and hit tare to subtract its weight. Then fill it up with whatever you like, print the label, and you’re all set! 

Pro tip: bring a marker and write the item code and weight on your own containers or jar (or take a picture) to eliminate the label.

Some items are just not possible to buy in bulk (milk comes to mind). In these scenarios, we suggest getting the largest size you’ll use, not bulk shopping as smaller sizes use comparatively more packaging. It’s a delicate balance between buying more products than you need and consuming more packaging than you need to, but remember, the goal is progress — not perfection.

Only Get What You Need

Adopt a mindful approach to grocery shopping to significantly reduce food waste and eliminate plastic packaging. Start by planning your meals and creating a shopping list to avoid impulse buys that often result in excess food and packaging waste. Bring your own clean containers to the store, a simple yet effective step towards eliminating single-use plastics. Opt for local sellers whenever possible, as this not only supports community businesses but also reduces the need for long-distance food transportation and its associated packaging.

By focusing on purchasing only what you need, you not only minimize food waste but also contribute to a larger movement towards sustainable consumption. Reducing food waste and cutting down on plastic packaging starts with each individual’s choices, emphasizing the importance of being mindful about our consumption patterns.

For more tips on being environmentally friendly, learn some easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Where To Find A Zero Waste Grocery Store

zero waste grocery store

If you’re like us, you love to find new eco-friendly places to shop. Groceries are no exception! Not everyone has a zero waste grocery store in their neighborhood; fortunately, Litterless compiles a zero-waste grocery locator. Or, try some of our favorite online sustainable grocery stores:  

  1. A Drop In The Ocean – Specializes in sustainable living essentials, from kitchen to personal care. Visit Store
  2. Common Good – Focuses on refillable cleaning and personal care products, promoting a less waste approach. Visit Store
  3. Dry Goods Refillary – Offers a selection of bulk dry goods and sustainable products for a zero waste pantry. Visit Store
  4. Eco Collective – A curated selection of zero waste lifestyle products to help reduce your environmental footprint. Visit Store
  5. EcoRoots – Offers a variety of sustainable personal care and household items with minimal impact on the planet. Visit Store
  6. EarthHero – A go-to for eco-friendly shopping, featuring a wide range of products that are vetted for sustainability. Visit Store
  7. etee – Specializes in organic, reusable wraps and sustainable home goods, helping reduce reliance on plastics. Visit Store
  8. Full Circle Home – Provides sustainable home care products designed with the environment in mind. Visit Store
  9. Life Without Plastic – Offers an extensive range of plastic-free alternatives to support a zero waste lifestyle. Visit Store
  10. Package Free Shop – Offers everything you need to live a zero waste lifestyle, from beauty products to home goods. Visit Store
  11. Plastic Free Pursuit – A small online store dedicated to providing plastic-free and zero waste products. Visit Store
  12. Sun & Swell – Offers clean, simple, and sustainable packaged foods, perfect for the eco-conscious consumer. Visit Store
  13. SuperBee – Known for their wax wraps and eco-friendly home products, they offer solutions for a plastic-free kitchen. Visit Store
  14. The Good Fill – Provides refillable options for personal care and home cleaning products, reducing single-use plastic waste. Visit Store
  15. The Refill Shoppe – Offers a fun and interactive way to shop for refillable bath, body, and home cleaning products. Visit Store
  16. Tiny Yellow Bungalow – A boutique store for zero waste essentials, including kitchen, bath, and lifestyle products. Visit Store
  17. – A comprehensive online marketplace for all things zero waste, from kitchen essentials to personal care. Visit Store
  18. Zerovana – Aims to make zero waste living easy and accessible with a range of eco-friendly products. Visit Store

These online stores make it easier than ever to shop sustainably and support zero waste goals, whether you’re outfitting your home, looking for personal care alternatives, or stocking your pantry with eco-friendly options.

How To Make Your Ecommerce Shop Zero Waste

Whether you’re thinking about opening up your own zero waste grocery store, or you’ve got an ecommerce shop that you’d like to make zero waste, you can follow some core principles to eliminate waste.

Here’s a roadmap to guide your ecommerce shop towards zero waste:

  • Evaluate Your Supply Chain: Begin with a comprehensive assessment of your supply chain to identify areas where waste reduction can be implemented. Opt for suppliers who prioritize sustainable practices, such as minimal packaging and eco-friendly materials. Learn how to do a supply chain audit.
  • Offer Package Free Products: Where possible, opt for products that don’t have any packaging. Selling package free produce and eliminating plastic packaging from your product list will have the greatest impact on becoming a truly zero waste store.
  • Optimize Packaging: Shift towards packaging options that are either reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Consider innovative packaging solutions like biodegradable packing peanuts or recycled paper. Clearly communicate packaging return or recycle instructions to your customers. Learn how to provide eco-friendly packaging.
  • Encourage Bulk Purchases: Offer incentives for customers who buy in bulk, reducing the frequency of shipping and packaging use. This not only cuts down on waste but also minimizes the carbon footprint associated with shipping individual items.
  • Implement a Take-Back Program: Develop a program where customers can return used products or packaging for recycling or reuse. This not only ensures responsible disposal but also reinforces your commitment to the zero waste philosophy. Learn how to create a take-back program.
  • Digitalize Operations: Minimize the use of paper in your operations by digitizing as much as possible. From online receipts to digital marketing materials, reducing paper use is a key step towards zero waste.
  • Product Selection: Curate your product offerings to include items that are durable, repairable, and designed for a long life. Avoid selling products that are single-use or difficult to recycle.
  • Educate Your Audience: Use your platform to educate customers about zero waste lifestyles and the importance of sustainable shopping practices. Detailed product descriptions should highlight sustainability features and suggest ways to dispose of items responsibly. See how EcoCart’s Sustainability Insights Dashboard can help.
  • Reduce Returns Through Accuracy: Work on providing accurate product descriptions and images to reduce the likelihood of returns, which generate additional waste and emissions. Consider virtual try-on features or detailed sizing guides to assist customers in making the right choice the first time.
  • Engage with Eco-friendly Shipping Partners: Partner with shipping companies that offer carbon-neutral shipping options or use eco-friendly transportation methods. This reduces the overall environmental impact of your deliveries. Learn more about sustainable shipping practices.
  • Feedback and Continuous Improvement: Regularly solicit feedback from your customers about your zero waste initiatives and be open to evolving your practices based on new insights and technologies. Continuous improvement is key to maintaining and enhancing your zero waste efforts.

By adopting these strategies, your ecommerce shop can lead the way in sustainability, offering customers a guilt-free shopping experience that aligns with their values. Transitioning to a zero waste business model not only contributes to environmental preservation but also positions your brand as a forward-thinking leader in the eco-conscious market.

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Offset Your Order’s Carbon Footprint

We understand that not everyone can get out to the zero-waste grocery store in person due to personal, health, or regional constraints. Fortunately, we have options to reduce the environmental impact of shipping household goods and fresh foods to our homes. 

To mitigate the carbon footprint of online purchases, thousands of retailers offer carbon offset shipping through EcoCart! EcoCart calculates the carbon emitted from shipping your order, then donates a percentage of your purchase to verified carbon offsetting projects worldwide.

We all need to eat, but buying groceries doesn’t have to be wasteful. Every time we change our shopping habits, like bringing our own bags, buying from zero-waste grocery stores, or carbon-offsetting the shipping from our online purchases, we’re helping protect the planet from plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 

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