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Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

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A few years ago, my partner and I attempted to open the first zero waste grocery store in Honolulu. Unfortunately, we were not able to negotiate a reasonable rent to make the enterprise work in the area we wanted. However, the zero waste trend is catching on individually, and hopefully one day soon, we will have more zero waste stores, where all items come without packaging and you can bring your own container. Until then, here are some tips to make your own grocery trips zero waste, even at a regular store. 

Reusable Shopping Bags

Bringing your own bags has become trendy, which is a good thing. But I can’t help but notice when people remember to bring bags, they often have flimsy ones that don’t fit many items. This does not inspire confidence to get groceries home safely! Luckily, I happened upon a brand called EnviroSax about 8 years ago that has performed beyond my wildest dreams. In fact, I still have my first bag I ever bought from them and it has been used hundreds, if not thousands of times, and shows no signs of wear. Not only that, these bags are so strong, I have fit 8 wine bottles in one bag with no fear it would rip. Our household probably has 12 of these bags; we keep a few in the car for impromptu shopping trips and a few in the kitchen to use for packing up picnics or for potlucks. We also take one or two on vacation for when we shop for groceries or other items while abroad. They offer great prints for every style. I just love them that much and want others to have a reliable reusable bag. Their bags are found here: Envirosax

Produce Bags: Skip Them All Together!

I know this will not be a universal solution for all, but it’s worked for me for years. I simply forgo produce bags totally and place my broccoli, kale or collards straight into the cart. For germaphobes, this may be a tough concept, but since I always wash all my produce anyways, I figure it is worth saving probably 10 single use plastic bags every time I grocery shop. Once at the cash register, I place all produce right on the belt and then bag in my reusable Envirosax bags. The only time I will use a bag is with items that are small and loose such as mushrooms or brussels sprouts and then I will use my reusable netted produce bags. These are also good for people that don’t love the loose produce in the cart option. This set comes with different sizes and are washable!

Bringing your own containers for bulk section

I love the bulk section to purchase things like dried beans, loose popcorn kernels, dried fruit, gluten free flours, bulk spices and freshly ground nut butters. In fact, the bulk section is consistently much cheaper than buying the same exact products in branded packaging. For this reason, many people love the bulk section. For me, the bulk section is not only great because it’s cheaper, but also because it's a way to reduce the overall amount of packaging I have to throw away. 

I prefer using wide mouth mason jars for most of my bulk section shopping because they are made of inert glass, easily labeled and are airtight. They are also easy to find online or at local stores and always match one another should you break one or want to add to your collection down the line. Bonus: You can also see how much of an ingredient you have at a glance.

The key with bringing your own containers is to get them weighed and marked at the beginning of your shopping trip, so that when you fill them, the weight of your container isn’t counted towards your purchase. Most stores weigh and label the containers at the front cash wrap so you may have to flag down a cashier to do this for you. Some stores even offer a discount of a few cents per container that you bring from home. I like to bring containers that are already used for that same item (sometimes not even totally empty yet) so that the jar is already correctly labeled! Very convenient and zero waste. You can find mason jars here: Mason Jars

Bringing your own containers for hot bar

If I know i am going to get a meal from the hot bar, I try and remember to bring some Snapware with me as well. It is the same process as the mason jars where you will need to get your Snapware weighed at the cash wrap before filling. I prefer using this brand because the bottom is glass and the lids are leak proof. Ideally my food doesn’t touch the plastic top, but if the container accidentally gets tipped over, at least it won’t spill all over my bag or car. I also love glass Snapware for left overs and batch cooking because you can reheat leftovers directly in the same container since its glass and you can pop them in the toaster oven, no problem. Just make sure to remove the plastic top first. You can find snap ware here:  Snapware

As for cleaning, you can pop the glass bottom in the dishwasher and I always hand-wash the plastic tops to offer them more longevity. I also don’t put any plastic or wood in the dishwasher as a rule, so this is an autopilot move for me.

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Blair Townley