Is it possible to shop without putting something in the cart that will not end up in the a landfill? YES. It has a lot to do with buying only fresh and bulk food and takes a little bit of planning and a little extra effort, but it makes shopping so much easier and in my opinion more organized and aesthetically pleasing. Here are my essentials that I take with me when shopping for food.

  • Mason jars or any type of canning jar with lid
  • Reusable Bags (cotton or canvas is best because it is washable)
  • A lightweight cotton bag incase you have extra bulk that you don’t have a jar for (mine is just a bag I reused from a sheet set I purchased)
  • To carry my jars I use a reusable wine carrier (mine is from Trader Joes) and it really helps to keep the jars separated so they are not bouncing around when I carry them home from the store
  • A sharpie or erasable marker to write the tare of the jar on the lid as well as the bulk item number to make checking out easier for you and the checkout person. With ball jars the small jar (pictured) has a tare of .6 lbs and the large wide mouth ball jar (pictured) has a tare of 1 lb. You should either know the tare beforehand and have it written, tare the jars right when you enter the store, or bring an extra of each jar that will remain empty to tare at the time of checkout (this is best if it is your first time and then you can just write the tare down to remember for next time)

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24 comments

  1. I started buying bulk three months ago. After accumulating so many thin plastic bags my wife had the idea to bring my mason jars and plastic containers. I don't think I have ever seen someone bring their own jars into the store. Next level green geekdom!

    1. Mason jars and buying bulk are so great (and you can't beat the cost savings!) I started doing this about a year ago and at first I thought it would be cumbersome. In fact, I realized that it is pretty easy and if I just prepare a little bit before I leave the house, I end up getting everything I need and don't waste money on things that are unnecessary or impulsive. Also, I love how organized the ball jars are on my shelf and in my refrigerator. It makes it so easy to find things and to see when I am running low!

      Thank you so much for your comment!
      Lauren

  2. Mason jars and buying bulk are so great (and you can't beat the cost savings!) I started doing this about a year ago and at first I thought it would be cumbersome. In fact, I realized that it is pretty easy and if I just prepare a little bit before I leave the house, I end up getting everything I need and don't waste money on things that are unnecessary or impulsive. Also, I love how organized the ball jars are on my shelf and in my refrigerator. It makes it so easy to find things and to see when I am running low!

    Thank you so much for your comment!
    Lauren

  3. I do most of my bulk shopping with cloth bags, which I throw in the laundry after each trip, but I do bring a mason jar for freshly ground peanut butter! And a glass pyrex for cheese.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      I love cloth bags for that exact reason, they are so easy to clean, super lightweight, and you can fit a bunch in a small bag. I wish my market had unpackaged cheese :(((

    1. Hello,

      You need to tare the jars before you fill them. This basically means you weigh them while empty and then when you fill them the cashier can deduct the weight of the jar so you only pay for the weight of what is inside of them 🙂

      Lauren

    2. I just tried to do this at the Westwood Whole Foods in LA and I was told "it's a good idea but our tare doesn't go heigh enough to do that" and it was a 16 oz mason jar…

    1. Hi Sean,

      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. The same goes for using cotton reusable bags.

      Lauren

    1. Hi Lucia,

      I just responded to Sean. "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. The same goes for using cotton reusable bags."

      Lauren

  4. Hello! I just started to read your blog and I'm very interessed! It's a realy good iniciative! BRAVO 🙂
    I want to do it too! I also loved the idea of doing products at home!
    But I'm a little affraid. Here were I live, people are very consumist.. I think they will say I'm crazy if I bring glass recipes to the supermarket. But I will find a small market, just to start 🙂

  5. Hi! I like to make smoothies a lot, which I often use frozen fruit for. Any suggestions for frozen food other than buy seasonal produce? Also, any suggestions for pet products?

    Thank you!

  6. Hi! I find it easier to use reusable bags rather than jars for bulk items but haven't figured out a way to mark the bulk item code on the bag. I try to keep them in my head which doesn't always work, and writing them on the labels or masking tape the store provides kind of defeats the purpose. Any ideas?

    1. I have the same issue… I just recorded everything on my phone at first, but when I had larger bulk orders, I started to feel annoying and decided to make my own little tags.

      I had some leftover plastic film I kept (I am an artist, so I keep some things here and there to make things), so I cut them into tiny rectangles, punched a hole in them, then tied them to the ends of the drawstrings of my bulk bags. I brought a reloadable dry erase marker to the store and wrote down bin numbers on there.

      This may work for some people, but I have found this to be very cumbersome as well. My marker runs out a lot, the cashier can't read my small numbers, it's difficult to hold the bag of stuff and write on the tag… Perhaps someone else would find this exact method easy, but I need to figure something else out. lol.

      I was watching one of Bea Johnson's videos and noticed that she has tare weights and some bin numbers written on her bulk bags. Idk if she uses some kind of specific writing utensil for the bin number so she can erase the numbers every time, or if she just wrote them on there permanently (which wouldn't surprise me, as it seems she's gotten into an efficient shopping routine and probably knows she'll get certain foods every time she shops). Or maybe it's black chalk? Not sure.

      But I think what I'll do for my bags is make a larger paper tag that I can just write on with a pencil (and erase between shopping trips). I'll have to find a way to make it easy to take off and reattach for washing. However, I will figure this out.

      Not sure if this helped you, but sometimes it can be useful to hear someone else's thoughts on the matter! Best of luck with your zero waste shopping. 🙂

  7. Good tips, but I would like to take exception with this one:

    "With ball jars the small jar (pictured) has a tare of .6 lbs and the large wide mouth ball jar (pictured) has a tare of 1 lb. You should either know the tare beforehand and have it written, tare the jars right when you enter the store, or bring an extra of each jar that will remain empty to tare at the time of checkout (this is best if it is your first time and then you can just write the tare down to remember for next time)."

    I suggest you write each jar's tare weight (with it's complete lid) somehow on each jar, because they do not necessarily weigh the same. And make sure you use the store's scale, not your own from home. Jar/container weights can vary from one to another, even of the same size and type/brand of jar. This applies to any container, cloth bags included.

    I have been able to take my 1/2 cup size mason jars (which I store my spices in) and fill up at my local store, but they are each slightly different. Same with pint and quart sizes. Otherwise you either cheat yourself or the store. Be careful when using your own containers, because we want to be respectful and honest. Otherwise we run the risk of not being able to bring our own containers in the future.

    Thanks for writing a thought provoking blog. I will stay tuned! =)
    Blessings.

  8. Can you reuse the lids? I read that you are not supposed to reuse them. I've been eyeing the Ball Mason Jars, but haven't been sure how to solve this problem. If you do reuse them, how do you clean them? Thanks!

    1. Hey Jessiemarie,

      I have been using my lids for years since I first got them! The only times I felt compelled to change them out was when I stored liquids in them. I found that over time, they got kinda rusted, even if I washed and dried them right away.

      Lauren mentions somewhere on her blog that you can purchase lids (and lids only) in recyclable packaging. I have yet to figure where I can find some, as the stores near me all have some kind of plastic wrap around lids, and packaging is not shown when you place an order online (though I think it should be!) Anybody know? I have a couple jars I don't want to donate just because the lids went bad.

      Anyway, just shop around… Maybe you have something in your area. But I would not worry about replacing lids on those jars that have dry items in them. Mark the 'wet foods' jars' lids if you aren't sure which ones have been used for that in the past! Hope this helps. 🙂

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