Zero waste grocery shopping looks quite different to how many of us are now used to buying our food, and requires a certain level of preparation and understanding to get it done. To ease the mystery of it, here's what I use to do my grocery shopping zero waste!
Firstly, you'll need a reusable bag of some sort to carry everything in, though I think this is pretty self-explanatory and many of us are doing it anyways. Totes and backpacks seem to be the easiest for this. Then I recommend a couple produce bags, these are helpful for loose leafy greens, grapes, cherries, cherry tomatoes etc. I use the ecobags brand, but you can make your own, reuse plastic bags you already have, and/or use pillow cases. If you eat mushrooms use a paper bag as they are best stored as such. You can also opt for a container here if you want to make sure the produce doesn't get squished (for example with the cherry tomatoes). Other produce such as celery, apples, potatoes etc we simply put straight in the large bag. We own six mesh produce bags and six cloth, but we usually only use around four of the mesh ones when shopping for fresh produce.
For dry goods the best option is buying package free in bulk but of course this isn't accessible to everyone, skip to the next paragraph about supermarkets if that's you. Buying loose in bulk is actually a pretty traditional way of shopping, though previously they would've used paper bags. For bulk shopping I use a range of containers; old plastic containers, cloth produce bags, and jars. Old plastic containers will be the best option for most of us as you don't need to buy anything new (most of us already have them) and they are light so easy to carry. I use the same ecobags brand as mentioned previously for the cloth produce bags and use those the most as they can carry a large amount of food and are also incredibly light. Jars I only use for small things like spices. It's also a good idea to bring a pen/pencil to write the tare weight and code, I use china markers as they can be composted and work on all surfaces.
If you are shopping in a supermarket you can easily use your own bag for produce and simply choose the loose options, though where you are will affect the range of choices. For dry goods try to opt for paper packaging; couscous is almost always sold in paper, in Europe pasta is relatively easy to find in a paper box (I've also found it in Hong Kong), rice can be found in cloth bags, flour, sugar, and baking soda are often in paper. If you can't find a paper option and your only source is the supermarket than buying packaged bulk is the best option, for example 5kg of rice. Other than that choose glass and tin (spreads, pastes, spices, dairy, beans, etc). For meat and diary if your supermarket has a deli section you can bring your own container and use that. For milk I would either recommend making a nut milk yourself or seeing which is easiest to recycle out of the options you have (glass is sometimes offered though rare). Bread you can sometimes find package free at supermarkets, bring a bread bag, cloth produce bag, or pillow case for this. If you only have access to a supermarket, don't stress about perfection.
Here is a list of everything I use to shop zero waste;
- reusable tote (sustainably made, small company - which happens to be my aunt's!)
- six mesh produce bags
- six cloth produce bag
- a bread bag (local hk company who up-cycles flour bags)
- two string bags
- an assortment of old plastic containers and jars I've collected over time
- china markers (one white, one black)
By no means will this look the same for everyone, and I would highly recommend making/using what you have before buying new, but I hope this helps give a tangible look at what you need to transition your groceries to be more package free. If you want details on where/how to shop package free they're here!