How to grocery shop waste-free

Lauren and my grocery baskets, photo credit Lauren Singer

Do you feel as guilty as I do every time you take out the trash?

Then you’ll be an admirer of Lauren Singer, creator of the blog Trash Is for Tossers. She’s the real deal, producing in a month only a few produce stickers and a plastic bag in the way of trash. And it doesn’t hurt that she takes gorgeous pictures to illustrate her points. (Or that she is gorgeous herself.)

So I asked her to take me on a grocery shopping field trip so I too could live with a little less waste. I learned that one does not just pop into the grocery store on a whim, if you want to go waste-free. Waste-free grocery shopping, like many sustainable endeavors, takes planning and foresight.

Bulk soap

Filling a glass soap dispenser with bulk soap.

Supplies:

  • Jars: Several regular-sized Ball jars (or peanut butter jars and the like), a couple large Ball jars, and a few tiny jars for things like spices (you might even bring a growler if beer is on your shopping list–Whole Foods does bulk beer)
  • 2 reusable bags (1 sturdy, typical grocery bag for jars and 1 thin, cotton bag for greens)
  • Several mesh, drawstring produce bags
  • Optional: a granny cart. While this will make you look like a dweeb, hauling home 15 glass jars of food in your slim arms is not fun. Especially if it is a 25 minute walk, such as it is from Integral Yoga to my apartment.

How many you’ll need of each things depends on what you are buying.

Steps:

1. Make a shopping list for the week. Include food, but also things like soap and other household items.

2. Use that list to decide how many jars and produce bags you’ll need, and put those in your big reusable bag. Add a few more jars for impulse purchases.

3. Find a store that is big into bulk. Lauren took me to Integral Yoga Natural Foods in the West Village which has everything in bulk. (In fact, she decided to live in the neighborhood because of Integral Yoga’s grocery store. Dedication, my friends.) But there are other stores that carry the usual bulk items like grains and nuts, plus a peanut butter and almond butter grinding machine, a large soap dispenser, flour dispensers, and more.

You might have to get different things at different stores. For example, while IYNF has most items, Lauren goes to a different store for waste-free bread. Oh, and this is my opinion, but if you want to get fruit free of stickers (a consistent frustration on Lauren’s part) the farmer’s market is the way to go. The honey at Integral Yoga also comes in plastic containers, whereas the yoga from the farmers market comes in ecologically superior glass containers.

4. Tare all your jars before starting to shop. That means asking an employee at the cash register to weigh the empty jars and mark their weight down so that you don’t pay extra for your bulk foods. FYI: regular Ball jars weigh .6 pounds and the large Ball jars weigh 1 pound, Lauren informed me.

5. Go crazy! OK, not too crazy. But at this point you can start filling your jars and produce bags with beautiful food stuffs.

6. Pay, go home, put away all your jars and produce, and admire how beautiful your cabinet looks!