grocery shopping without a bulk store: tips for creating less waste


vegan groceries no plastic

I live in amazing community in an environmentally progressive state (California) with constant access to fresh, local, organic, unpackaged food.  We have a farmers market here twice a week and I have an awesome co-op with bulk organic foods. Plus a local refill store with such items as facial moisturizer, dish soap, laundry soap, rosewater, lotion, shampoo/conditioner, bath salts, and more.  For this I am SO grateful.  I get so many messages on Instagram from you lovely people who wonder how to reduce your waste without a bulk store near you.  So here are some tips for you!

  1. Check around and see if you have a bulk store near you.  Use this search engine from the Zero Waste Home site, try googling “zero waste in _____” and adding your city name, or check out the #zerowaste hashtag on Instagram to find like minded people in your area, i.e. #zerowastela for Los Angeles.  Many, many stores offer at least some items in bulk- some places in CA include Sprouts, Whole Foods, Nugget Markets, and most co-ops or health food stores.  Call around or visit all the grocery stores in your area and check- bulk is in unlikely places.  For example, you may find unpacked kimchi or tofu at a Korean store.  Or bulk bins with beans, dried hibiscus flowers, tamarind, and dried chiles at a Mexican market.  Explore outside of your usual places.  If your local grocer doesn’t carry bulk, consider talking to the managers or emailing the company directly asking for it.  Remember that the store exists to serve YOU, the consumer.  Of course ask nicely and explain WHY you want plastic free options.  Recently because of consumer demand, Bulk Barn in Canada began allowing customers to use their own containers to buy bulk foods in instead of plastic bags.
  2. Check out your farmers market.  If you have access to one, take full advantage and GO THERE.  Buy as much of your groceries as you can there. They will be package free, fresh, high quality, and you can get to know the people who grow your food for you.
  3. Cut down on “convenience” and pre-made packaged snack foods like bars, crackers, puddings, cookies, shakes, juices- eat WHOLE foods instead which naturally come package free or minimally packaged.  For example, buying a bag of popcorn kernels and popping it at home is way less waste than buying snack bags of pre-popped corn.  I see this a lot at schools: LOTS of litter and plastic waste, almost all from individually wrapped snack foods.  Try eating these healthy and waste free snacks instead: a banana or apple with almond butter, roasted pumpkin seeds, dates with tahini, veggies and hummus, avocado toast, green smoothie, miso soup, or roasted crispy chickpeas.
  4. Choose loose produce over packaged + use your own cloth produce bags instead of the plastic ones OR just put it loose into your cart.  Always keep a reusable grocery bag with you- in the car, in your bag, your purse.
  5. Choose things packaged in compostable and or recyclable packaging whenever possible: paper, glass, cloth, metal. A few great options I’ve seen around at regular chain stores: Country Save laundry detergent comes in a paper box, Lundberg brown rice at Costco comes in a GIANT paper bag, Jovial brown rice pasta comes in a paper box with a home compostable window, and Alter Eco truffles come with compostable wrappers.  If buying something in plastic is the only option, choose a recyclable plastic.  Check your local city website for information on what materials are recyclable in your area.  Also, try to buy the largest size possible to cut down on packaging- shampoos, lotions, body wash, rice, dry beans, flour, salt etc- you can also divide a large bulk package among like minded friends.
  6. Support local businesses.  Small, family owned shops are more likely to accommodate your package free requests.  For example, try going to a local bakery for bread instead of getting it at a supermarket. Tortillas, chips, salsa? Try going to a Mexican restaurant and asking them nicely if you can buy some in your own container.  Ice cream?  Buy a pint in your mason jar at a local scoop shop.
  7. DIY and simplify: If you have time, make your own food whenever possible.  I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to make your own salad dressing, almond milk. kombucha, bread, krautbroth, hot sauce, condiments and more- PLUS way healthier and tastier and cheaper.  In that same vein: simplify your meals= healthy, less waste, less time in the kitchen.  Cooking doesn’t have to take forever or be complicated.
  8. If you have only have access to a bulk store that’s far from you, consider making a trip once a month, every few months, or even twice a year to stock up.  For example, about 1+ hours away from me there is a bulk store called Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco that has many bulk foods I can’t get at home.  So, when I head in that direction I make sure to bring containers with me so I can take advantage of it and stock up while I’m in the area anyway.  See if a friend wants to go with you too and make a fun day of it!
  9. Buy “ugly” produce: single bananas, forked carrots, bumpy apples, wonky looking veggies and fruits of all shapes and types.  These guys are often passed over by consumers and thrown away by the stores!  Buying them can help reduce food waste.  In the same vein, some stores offer discounted food like “overripe” bananas, and other veggies that may be a little past their prime.  Buying these also reduces overall waste even if they’re packed in plastic.
  10. The most important tip: DONT GET DISCOURAGED and then give up.  Even if you have to buy some, most or all things in plastic, there are SO many other ways you can make an impact in your life.  Buying your clothes secondhand, reducing your car use, bringing your own jar for drinks, refusing plastic straws when you’re out, using the library instead of buying a book, eating more plants instead of meat, avoiding palm oil, and so many other things!  Just do the best you can, day after day and don’t give up.  Every little bit makes a difference and spreads the awareness to others.

Sending lots of love to you, thank you so much for reading and caring for our earth, YOU are amazing.  xx


ps: check out this video of less-waste shopping at Target here.

5 thoughts on “grocery shopping without a bulk store: tips for creating less waste

  1. I envy your natural store shopping options in Cali! On the opposite coast we have to wait for a lot of the new products and the natural stores are few and far between and the prices are CRAZY!

  2. Are you ever concerned about putting your produce loose or in a breathable bag in a cart that the shopper before may have stacked a bunch of raw meat in? I shop in one of the thriftier grocers in town and sometimes the people in front of me at the till will have an entire cart full of meat and the packagess will leak onto the conveyor belt so I know it is all over the cart bottom as well. I worry about cross contamination but I still want to be low waste, what to do?

    1. Hi! Hmm. I’ve actually never thought about this and I’m not really sure. Maybe you could speak to the manager about this issue? It seems like a health code violation to me! At my store the meat is only available from behind the butcher counter- so everythings totally wrapped up and doesn’t leak. I also always see the clerks wipe down the belts after anything spills or gets wet. You could bring a small blanket to lay on the inside of the cart or just put your reusable bags directly into a shopping tote in your cart. Sometimes I bring a market basket too and just put it directly into that and the basket directly on the conveyor belt. I can’t really think of much else! Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Thanks so much for your comment. Very eye opening!

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