Gowing up in an idyllic Spanish village, I had access to all the fresh vegetable garden greens, free-range eggs, and organic legumes. All of them plastic-free, package-free, and bs free.
Now I live in a big city in Eastern Europe and you can’t imagine the culture shock.
There are a couple of bulk stores that allow me to do my zero waste groceries, and there are as well a few very nice farmer markets. But moving here made me realize how different life for people living in cities can be.
And big cities, of course, have a lot more options to offer. But what about smaller cities?
I know not everyone has access to zero waste goodies, and it’d be SUPER hypocritical asking for people living in small urban areas to lower their waste as much as someone living in California, or in a hippy organic village.
Simply put, different areas have different options.
For example: even if I can get my basic low waste needs here, I AM FREAKING AMAZED at the amount of bulk store options and crazy cool zero waste items they sell on some cities in the states.
See? There’s this asymmetry that we gotta get over.
So here’s the thing: can we skip all that and do zero waste-ish groceries when there’s no bulk shop or farmers market, or everything seems to be wrapped in plastic?
These are my tips:
Zero waste groceries shopping without bulk store
1. Don’t buy it if you can make it
I’m a DIYer at heart, and I love making everything myself: from clothes, to face creams, to anything food-related.
You’ll never, ever, ever find in my kitchen cabinets a single packaged snack. This is a very easy switch I made a long time ago, and since then even my health has improved.
Supermarket snacks are filled with stuff you may not want in your body, and by making certain foods yourself, you’ll make sure you’re making the healthiest decision – and zero waste, it’s a win-win.
Some items you can avoid buying:
- sauces in plastic bottles, when you can make them at home using vegetables or other basic ingredients – tomato sauce is extremelly easy to make, and it tastes x1000 better whent it’s homemade.
- packaged snacks – you can start by checking these low waste recipes I prepared for you!
- some hair products and skin creams – if you have access to oils and natural products, you’ll see that most times they work better than store bought products.
- my latest discovery: making nachos and tortillas at home is super easy, and totally low waste! You just need water and flour.
2. Always go for the paper, glass, or metal packaging
The point is avoiding plastic as much as possible.
Usually, there are many options to chose from. Again, the tomato sauce example. In my local supermarket, they have a ton of tomato sauces in tetra paks, metallic cans, and glass bottles.
A vey very easy change that can go a long way is getting the sauce in the glass bottle, or even the metallic one.
- some pasta brands come in carton instead of plastic packages.
- choose the sugar that comes in a paper bag.
- always go for the eggs in carton, and not in plastic.
Pro tip: after you’ve used the food, go to Pinterest and go through the thousands of amazing things you can make reusing cartons, metalic cans, and glass containers!
3. Go big
If there’s something that you HAVE to buy in (any kind of) packaging, try to for the biggest option you have.
For example, in the case of flour bags. It’s better that you use one for longer than having to restock packaged flour every week or so.
The saving is minimal, but hey! It’s better than nothing.
4. Reuse produce bags you’ve used before
And use them ONLY when you really need them.
I know, I know, you want to make pasta with mushrooms and you’re not about to buy half a kilo of mushrooms naked, without baggie.
In this case, of course, use it.
But always think twice!
I have massive eye-rolling moments every time someone puts their bananas in plastic bags. I wish nature had a way to protect them instead of using a plastic ba…*oh wait*.
Bonus points if you can bring your own mesh produce bag to the supermarket!
Do you want more tips like this one to reduce your waste on a budget? Check this post!
5. In the produce section, run away from plastic
Also, in the produce section, run away from broccoli wrapped in plastic or cucumbers stuffed into cling wrap.
I’ve seen this SO many times in my local market next to beautifully naked and plastic-less broccolis and cucumbers.
6. Think about your food miles!
This can be a bit more time consuming, but when you’re not in a rush, check where your food comes from. Many supermarkets have a local produce section for vegetables and fruits, fish, and meat. Take advantage of that!
Of course this zone will look different depending on where you live and what season it is, but paying attention to this can be a life-changer!
Buying local and seasonal is one of the most sustainable and powerful things to do when it comes to your groceries. You’ll be reducing not only your waste, but also your carbon footprint!
So, if you have the option, always, always go local – as a bonus, you’ll be helping your regional economy grow.
7. Check the plastic classification numbers
For those times you cannot find a plastic-free alternative.
And remember: NOT ALL PLASTICS ARE RECYCLABLE. I feel we should put giant neon signs saying this next to recycling containers.
As a rule of thumb, plastics with the numbers 1, 2 and 4 are the easiest to recycle, and you should avoid others like 6 (polystyrene) AT ALL COSTS.
You can use this handy-dandy cheat sheet to help you.
8. Reuse and recycle everything you used.
All the wrappings you couldn’t avoid getting? Do something with them.
The ideal scenario is composting or reusing them. But if you cannot, recycle them correctly!
If you follow these tips on your next grocery runs, you’ll be making a lot for our environment. YEY!
Is there something I forgot to mention? Comment below your tips to do low or zero waste groceries without a bulk store.