Living a Circular Lifestyle has become second nature to me, especially when it comes to grocery shopping. I'm excited to share with you exactly how I navigate the aisles of my favorite natural food stores without taking anything home that is trash producing.
Shopping supplies: I fill my reusable grocery bag ahead of time with these items so that I'm prepared to not make trash.
- Cloth drawstring bags for bulk foods & produce
- Glass mason jars for bulk liquids, spices and herbs
- A glass container for cheese & meat/seafood
Where can I purchase these reusable shopping essentials? I sewed my own cloth drawstring bags with extra fabric I had. You can also purchase organic cotton ones, or maybe someone makes them in your area. Mason jars can be purchased new at most health food stores. I find lots at antique shops and the goodwill. I also love Weck Jars, especially for canning. For plastic free glass containers, check out Lifewithoutplastic.com (link at the bottom of this page). For reusable grocery bags, any old bag will do.
Tare Weight & PLU: A tare weight is the weight of the empty container, mason jar, or draw-string bag. By subtracting the tare weight from the gross weight, the weight of the product in the container (net weight) is determined. In other words, you don't want to pay for the weight of your own container after you've filled it up with food. I have memorized the tare weights of all the containers I use, but it took time. Instead of using a piece of paper to write down the tare weights, I keep a little list on my phone. Each bulk item has it's own PLU number, which allows the cashier to ring you up for that specific item. I enter the PLU numbers on my phone next to the corresponding tare weight and item name. Hot Tip: I don't have a scale at home, so to figure out the tare weights of my containers, I just ask a cashier to please weigh the empty container and let me know the weight before I begin shopping.
Shopping in Bulk. Because I live a zero waste lifestyle, most of the aisles in the grocery store are off limits to me, as so many products are packaged in plastic and other trash producing materials. Thankfully I have access to high quality organic package-free dry food (aka the bulk section), so no I don't feel deprived whatsoever.
For me, the whole point of shopping in bulk is that it's package free. When we buy things that are packaged, we are paying for the packaging which turns out to be about 15% of the cost. When we buy in bulk, we aren't paying for the packaging, and yet stores provide an endless supply of single use plastic bags for customers to use. This makes no sense to me. Bulk is package free--lets keep it that way!
Bulk Body & Home Care: I make all my own body care and cleaning products at home without any packaging waste, thanks to the availability of bulk ingredients like:
- Jojoba Oil
- Shea Butter
- Cocoa Butter
- Coconut Oil
Some of the body care and cleaning products I make with these ingredients include: face moisturizer, body butter, sunscreen, chapstick, body scrub, toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash, makeup remover, all purpose cleaner, laundry detergent, and body balm.
I bring glass mason jars to the store to fill up on these bulk liquids.
Bulk Herbs: I like to cook and test new recipes, which sometimes call for spices that I don't have in the house (like tarragon for example). The beauty of buying in bulk is that I can buy the amount I need! I just bring one or two spice bottles, weigh them to establish the tare weight, fill them up with herbs and spices, write down the PLU's on my phone, and viola! Another package-free success! My staples include, but are not limited to:
- salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, turmeric, ginger, allspice, thyme, rosemary, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, red pepper flakes, chili powder, coriander
- baking soda, baking powder, guar gum, bentonite clay, cornstarch, and arrowroot powder
- matcha, maca, and spirulina
Bulk Tea & Coffee: The majority of coffee bags don't recycle, as they are often made of plastic or lined with plastic. Most packaged tea bags don't recycle either, and the boxes can come wrapped in a plastic film. No problem--bulk tea and coffee for me please!
- Fair Trade Organic and Cooperative varieties are best.
I use a glass jar or cloth drawstring bag to purchase these items.
Bulk Food: When shopping for bulk food items (like flour and nuts), I find it easiest to use my cloth drawstring bags, as they are light weight and easy to carry, unlike my glass mason jars. If the bulk department doesn't have something that I think I would use on a weekly basis, I don't hesitate to ask if they might bring it in. I stock up on noodles, nuts, legumes, grains, dried fruit, granola, popcorn, nutritional yeast and so much more!
Bulk Liquids: I purchase bulk liquids like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and tamari. While I could purchase these items in glass bottles, I try to reduce my recycling as much as possible. There is also often plastic wrapping around the necks of olive oil and vinegar bottles that don't recycle. Keep it simple, keep it naked. Some liquids that I buy in bulk are:
- olive oil, safflower oil, balsamic vinegar, tamari, coconut oil, and sesame oil
- maple syrup (made by Maple Valley) and honey
Produce: Shopping for produce is super simple to do without making any trash. I just bring my own reusable cloth bags instead of using the provided single-use plastic ones. Organic local produce is ideal, as it's best for your body, directly supports your community of farmers, and benefits the environment. It can be hard to avoid stickers, twist ties, and plastic packaging, but it's not impossible! Farmers markets are also a great place to shop for less packaged produce, and you will be eating in season.
Real talk. Maybe the people growing and harvesting our food don't always wash their hands. The produce then arrives at stores and is stocked on the floor, and guaranteed not every employee washed their hands before stocking. Then the produce is picked up and touched by every customer trying to decided which one looks best and feels ripe. It's then placed in a plastic bag and taken up to the register to be rung up. Cashiers tell me that customers are very concerned about their produce touching the registers scale, as if the produce is free of germs before it gets to the register. It's a good idea to wash our produce when we get it home. It's not a good idea to waste resources by using plastic bags when we don't have to. Truth--the produce has bacteria on it, and putting it in a plastic bag does not remove it.
When I started shopping produce zero-waste style, I realized how careless and wasteful I'd been. I would take a plastic bag for every bit of produce that I was buying --things like bell peppers and potatoes, that clearly didn't need to be put in a bag in the first place. Now I use my own cloth bags to hold produce like loose salad greens, green beans, and snow peas--items that I think actually require a bag.
Beer & Wine: I don't drink enough beer or wine to fill up a growler at my local breweries and wineries; however, it's certainly possible to do so, and that's awesome! When I do purchase wine for example, I try to opt for bottles that are minimally packaged and have a real cork that I can compost. The neck of most wine bottles are wrapped in foil. Remember my motto, "keep it simple, keep it naked!" For beer, I buy it in the can which gets recycled over and over again. If I buy bottled beer (glass has a 100% recycle rate), then I save the bottle caps until I have a lot of them. To insure that the caps get recycled, I place them in a tin can and crush the opening to prevent them from falling out. In this way, they are not loosely floating around in my blue bin, insuring that they will get recycled.
Dairy: Most dairy products (milk, cream, half and half) and non-dairy milks (almond, soy, hemp, oat, cashew) are packaged in aseptic containers which are not sustainable and do not recycle in most places. I can purchase milk, half and half, heavy whipping cream, and yogurt in glass containers, which I then return to the store where the companies pick them back up and reuse them! The tops to these products are unfortunately most often made of plastic. While they have a resin identification code of #4, they are too small to be recycled in my area. Most recycling facilities only sort and bale the plastic that they can sell. Right now there is a huge dip in the plastics market, which means that a large percentage of the plastics we think are getting recycled are actually going to the landfill! Just another reason not to support the stuff. So, I've been saving my lids, and I think I've finally found a small recycling facility that will actually recycle them.
Cheese: I rarely buy cheese; however, it can be done waste free. Some natural foods stores have cheese departments that cut and wrap all their own cheese. This makes it possible to bring my own container, tare it, and ask for some cheese to be put in it sans packaging. Cheeses that are sealed in wax are another option. It's possible to melt down the wax to make candles or a fire starter instead of sending it to the landfill.
Eggs: I like to support local organic farmers who hatch their own chickens and raise them cage free without the use of any antibiotics. My dad gifted me this amazing ceramic egg holder. These babies used to be standard in our refrigerators. Here's 4 ways to avoid recycling an egg carton.
- Buy from the farmers market. If eggs are sold in cartons, it's simple to take the eggs home in your own container, and the farmer will be happy to re-use the carton.
- Buy loose eggs at the store if the option is available. Some grocery stores let you fill up a provided carton with loose eggs, and then return the carton to be used over and over again by other customers.
- Buy directly from the farm or join a CSA.
- Raise your own chickens, or see if any of your neighbors have eggs from backyard chickens to sell or trade.
Meat & Seafood: I'm a vegetarian, but my boyfriend eats meat. I don't eat meat because raising animals for slaughter is not good for the environment at all. Animal agriculture is polluting our water, destroying natural habitats, causing species extinction and ocean dead zones. The meat industry is actually responsible for about 51% of all of our greenhouse gas emissions (methane gas) giving us an incentive to reduce our individual meat consumption.
Buying meat can be done waste free. It just takes having a little conversation with the butcher. I opt for organic grass fed and free range meat that's hormone and antibiotic free. I like to know that the animals my boyfriend is eating were treated with kindness and given the respect they deserve before they were killed four my table. This is how I buy meat:
- I ask the meat clerk to please not use single-use plastic gloves, but to wash their hands instead.
- I bring my own glass container, they set it on their scale, and they take the tare weight (which means that when they place the meat in the container, I'm only paying for the weight of the meat).
- They print a scale label, I slap it on my container, and it's scanned at the register.
Bread: I personally don't buy a lot of bread. In the wintertime I make it at home or get it fresh at the farmers market. When I purchase bread from the farmers market, or say from a bakery, I just bring my own flour-sack towel to wrap it up in, or a cloth drawstring bag. Works great!
At the checkout counter. When the cashier gets to my cloth drawstring bags filled with bulk food, that's when I whip out my phone and say, "that's popcorn, the PLU is 2356 and the tare weight of the bag is .10 lbs. Or, that's flour, the PLU is 2678, and the weight of the mason jar is .87 lbs. I do that for every bulk item--it's easy as pie.
No waste grocery shopping is fun, and the benefits outweigh any struggles I had when I was first figuring out how to do it.
- I save money because I don't use plastic (packaging is expensive) and shopping in bulk is cheaper. Not using plastic also means that I can no longer make impulse buys, which keeps my grocery bill reasonable.
- Not being able to make impulse buys also keeps me healthier. Because I go to the store with a list, I've thought about what I'm going to put in my body, which keeps me motivated to make healthy choices. By cutting out packaging, I'm eating less processed foods and less sugar.
- I'm living my values, which makes me happy! I'm boycotting so many companies that do not have ethical standards in place to support their workers or the environment. Did you know that many of the most popular health food brands are owned by mega corporations? I'm voting with my dollar and supporting my local community instead.
These are my guidelines for Circular Living: Refuse single-use items and plastic. Reduce consumption by using less and conserving resources. Reuse things to give them a new established meaning and value instead of sending them to the landfill. Recycle, but very minimally (glass, tin, paper) as this is not the answer to changing our trash habits. And my personal favorite, Return food scraps to the earth by composting!
High five for Circular Living! Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Return.