Zero Waste food shopping probably sounds much more daunting than it is. One would assume it involves excessive preparation, a lot of hard work, and hungry days. This could not be more untrue. Zero Waste food shopping could not be easier for me. First of all I have a relatively regular schedule and know exactly what I like to eat so preparing a shopping list and thus shopping supplies is easy and predictable. Secondly, I bring my own jars and produce bags to the market and I buy in bulk so I leave the market with absolutely no packaging and can take the food from my reusable bag and put it right on my shelf at home.

When food shopping, I always bring around four to eight jars and two bags depending on what I am purchasing. See my post on Zero Waste shopping essentials for a detailed list. I keep one bag for jars, and the other for fresh produce like tomatoes or kale so that it doesn’t get squashed. This method also helps me save money. By thinking about the containers I will need, I also think about the food I will be buying which prevents me from making impulse purchases (however I always bring one extra jar because markets often have bulk items on sale and it is nice to stock up on things while the price is lower).

Shopping without purchasing any plastic is very easy once you get used to it, and then the process just becomes routine like setting your alarm before you go to bed. This experience was expressed in the documentary Trashed. It was stated that it usually takes a shopper about three times forgetting their Zero Waste or eco shopping supplies before they finally remember and prepare adequately, and after that it just becomes routine. The same thing happened to me. I used to go to the market three times per week because I was not prepared for what I was purchasing and did not plan ahead. This resulted in the use of plastic bags and the purchase of packaged products. I usually bought more than I needed and fewer of the things that I actually used. After two times of gauging how much I purchased and in what quantities, I was able to prepare for the market. Now I only have to go to the market once per week and do not buy anything in plastic because I utilize the bulk section of my market.

The photos below show my experience at Integral Yoga Natural Foods. My favorite market in the city! Integral has a huge variety of bulk foods ranging from amaranth to yeast and they even sell mason jars! I recently found out that the 4th Street Co-Op in NYC sells bulk oil and vinegar which I am not able to purchase at Integral.

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25 comments

    1. Hi Jennica and Heidi!

      Thank you for that question. To use a mason jar or any other type of jar all you have to do is bring it to the cashier before you fill it and ask them to tare the jar. That means they will weigh it and they can then deduct the weight when you fill it with the bulk product. Be sure to keep the lid on when you tare it so you get an accurate reading. You can also bring a permanent marker with you and write the tare on the jar or lid so you don't have to tare it every time you go to the store.

      Happy bulk shopping!
      -Lauren

    1. Hi Britbabe,

      I just responded above, here is what I wrote.

      "To use a mason jar or any other type of jar all you have to do is bring it to the cashier before you fill it and ask them to tare the jar. That means they will weigh it and they can then deduct the weight when you fill it with the bulk product. Be sure to keep the lid on when you tare it so you get an accurate reading. You can also bring a permanent marker with you and write the tare on the jar or lid so you don't have to tare it every time you go to the store."

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

      -Lauren

  1. Do you do the same with the bag? I would hate for my fruit/veggies to touch the scanner since they sell items such as meat where I don't want any lingering bacteria on my veggies, etc. Do you ask for weight of bag prior to shopping?

    1. Hi Crystal,

      That is a great question. I do the same thing with the bag. The bags I use have the tare already stitched into them, and then I wash them every couple of uses. If they don't have the tare on them, I suggest weighing them before shopping and writing the tare on the bag so you have it done next time and don't have to tare each time you go shopping.

      Thank you for your comment :))

      -Lauren

  2. Love your blog! I already do a lot of similar things but buying organic foods without packaging is tricky for me. The places I shop at that have cheaper organics don't offer bulk foods which is too bad (Whole Foods is way too expensive for me!).
    Do you eat meat? I don't buy it often but when I do go to the local butcher they always give me wax paper that I immediately throw out because of bacteria. I spose I could ask if they'd package meat in glass tupperware. Also I love other proteins like tempeh and tofu but they're always individually packaged. Think I will have to experiment to see if I can make these at home!
    Does your grocery store have bulk liquids like apple cider vinegar and oils too? I love olive oil and sesame oil but I hate how much packaging there is.

  3. Thanks for the answer on tareing. 🙂 I went to my local organic shop (small city so there is only one) and it's the only shop in the city that sells in bulk. They offer brown paper bags but when I went with my cotton drawstring pouch last time she was quite surprised and a bit judge! Kind of scared to ask about the tare thing now.. 🙁

  4. I tried this way of shopping and you know…I feel so free, free from all of the plastic bags around the kitchen. I even made myself a fabric shopping bag and now I go to the grocery's with it and with a few mason jars. Thank you for being so inspiring!

  5. HI! Iv been transitioning my entire life to zero waste, Iv been having a easy time so far even with my baby (cloth diapers, homemade wipes, Used toys and clothes) But i don't know what to do about tofu! I cant find tofu bulk and its a staple in our home. Any suggestions?
    Thank you

  6. I found your article via OneGreenPlanet.
    Cornwall (British Isles) used to have 'weigh & save' stores back in the 80s, but I guess they were either; too 'before their time', or they suffered because of the 1-stop-shopping convenience of the major super/hypermarkets. I miss them, but I still shop around the markets and smaller, local, stores in the European towns where I have resided since then. Cycling or walking to/from them means that I exercise and engage with other, like-minded, people. Whenever possible I take my dog, Taz….he's a 'Border Jack' crowd-puller. Win, win, win 🙂

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