For zero waste groceries, I have learned to shop local, seasonal produce. Forming simple – but sometimes easily forgotten – habits of bringing shopping bags and jars so I could buy package-free where possible. I look out for glass and paper packaging to avoid wasteful plastics. I took my time and now embrace the idea of an empty fridge.
Shop local, seasonal produce
Local, seasonal produce can be bought from farmers markets, through delivery services, or from independent grocers. If none of these options are available, then seasonal produce can be bought from large supermarket chains – you just need to keep track of what’s in season.
Every fortnight, we order a $30 box of fruit and veggies from Ceres Fair Food. At first, it was too much of a good thing – what does one do with four broccolis between three people? After giving some produce to neighbours, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. Pinterest made it quick to look up options. I made broccoli soup, broccoli pesto, broccoli stir fry, broccoli gratin, broccoli pasta… we were not short of ideas. It became a satisfying challenge to cook all of the food delivered to us. If we can’t get through it all, I chop it up and put it in the freezer.
Shopping bags & glass jars
A large shopping bag can hold multiple bags and jars. This helps reduce plastic bags and containers. These items can be kept in the car or near the front door to help kickstart the habit. We keep our jars in a little carrier to avoid spills.
For weekly top ups, I take a small and large shopping bag, 2 jars and a handkerchief. The jars carry wet bulk like liquid soap, peanut butter and vinegar. The handkerchief holds baked goods and the bags hold everything else. For a bigger shop, we have four large canvas bags that we take to the supermarket. Fewer bags make it easier for the cashier to fill them. These require a trolley and a car to take home.
Finding a store requires a bit of research, but there’s plenty of online directories to get started. Most have only dry bulk (flour, nuts, grains, chocolates, etc) and some have expanded into wet bulk (oil, liquid soap, honey, peanut butter, kombucha, etc). To perpetuate a new zero waste habit, we favour places that are friendly, inclusive, and enjoyable to shop at.
The Source was my entry point into package-free shopping, back when I didn’t know what zero waste was. I used to walk there on my lunch break and get myself a little treat, like vegetable crisps or chocolate covered blueberries. Their beautifully merchandised store makes it easy to understand a totally new way of shopping.
Let’s face it: Getting started is daunting! I’ve had my fair share of patronising, pious staff and overwhelming, poorly merchandised stores. Most of these stores felt like “organised chaos” with a high barrier of entry. It made me feel lost and unmotivated. Fortunately, package-free stores are an expanding part of the retail sector which means improved customer service and merchandising.
Some stores are hesitant to sell items package free. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage to ask questions and suggest change.
I find that the main reasons for stores to hesitate with BYO packaging are:
- OHS – If they’ve been burned before, they’re not going to budge. Leave it be. They have a business to protect.
- Efficiency – If the store is busy, any to change their workflow tends to add stress and delays. Be nice. Maybe come back later.
- Lack of understanding – Most people understand if I say “I’m trying to go plastic free” but they won’t understand if I say “I’m zero waste”. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage. We’re all learning together.
- Production lines – A large scale company (like a supermarket chain) has loads of moving parts. They can’t change overnight. Inquire politely via social media and customer service streams. Suggest change. Follow up. Be patient.