Adventures in Zero Waste Shopping

For a while now, I’ve wanted to experiment with reducing food packaging waste. I first encountered this idea in Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson (who blogs at The book describes how to make every aspect of home life ‘zero waste’, that is, producing no landfill waste. (It’s full of good advice even if you don’t aspire to 100% zero waste.)

The book Zero Waste Home outlines how to approach grocery shopping without packaging, and there are plenty of other websites and blogs that give examples. In short, it requires bringing your own containers to the supermarket, and targeting as many foods as possible that come unpackaged.

Initial Plans

So for one month, I’m going to try a couple of strategies to reduce our food packaging waste, and see how it goes. My plan is this:

  • Buy dry goods (flour, rice, beans, coffee) from the bulk bins at Whole Foods or another local grocery store, using my own cloth bags
  • Buy meat from the meat counter, either at our local supermarket or at Whole Foods, and ask to use my own containers
  • Use reusable bags for produce
  • Potentially find ways of buying cheese and bread in a similar manner, using my own packages

I’m not going to stress over things like pasta or tinned foods, for which there’s no easy package-free option.

I know this will entail extra shopping and trouble, but these days I find myself looking for errands to run because it’s an easy way to keep Edith entertained and get myself out of the house. Frankly, although I’m always exhausted, it’s easier to stay awake at the supermarket than at home. If I plan well, I can buy dry goods and meat only in one extra monthly shop, buying everything else as usual once a week. Plus…any excuse to go to Whole Foods. In this crazy town we are less than 10 minutes away from TWO locations.

Shopping kit


In advance, I’ve prepared a kit to take shopping with me. It includes:

  • Cloth drawstring bags for dry goods. I made 10 of these in two sizes from an old sheet. The ties are made from scraps of seam binding from my grandmother’s sewing kit, which is rather sweet.
  • Glass containers for meat and possibly cheese. I already had these and use them for food storage, so to avoid buying any new containers I intend to use them, temporarily, for buying meat. If it goes well, I might buy some dedicated containers for meat storage.
  • Mesh produce bags for fruit and veg. I had three of these already and loved using them, so bought three more. You could use fabric bags, but I opted for mesh ones so the cashier could see the stickers on the produce; I felt this would be less likely to disrupt their efficiency and therefore more likely to be welcomed.
  • Washable fabric marker for marking the PUL codes from bulk bins on my cloth bags.
  • (Experimental) waxed cheese cloth for wrapping cheese. I’ve seen reusable waxed cloths online which are designed to wrap food like cheese, or cover dishes, and be washed in cool water between uses. They are essentially cotton cloths soaked in beeswax. Mine is made from a piece of old sheet and old cheese wax. If it works, I’ll make a beeswax one.

The whole set resides in a canvas tote bag which I already owned. Aside from the mesh produce bags, which I intended to purchase anyway, I haven’t yet spent any money on my shopping kit.

I plan to trial this (somewhat) zero waste plan for the month of February. I’ll share how it goes!

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