7 Tips for Plastic-Free Shopping at any Supermarket


Don't let proximity to a bulk store or farmers market discourage you from plastic-free shopping. Embrace it if you start to be known as the "container lady," like me.

Many of us don’t have easy access to a bulk grocery story or a farmers market. This makes zero waste shopping harder, but definitely not impossible. I only visit a bulk store once or twice a month because the closest one to me is not in my neighborhood. This means I am frequently navigating the regular supermarket near my house to do some zero waste and low waste shopping.

ZERO waste shopping is buying items from a store, usually a bulk store or farmer’s market, where you can bring your own containers or buy certain items loose, without packaging. LOW waste shopping is buying items in paper, glass, metal or other non-plastic packaging. Low waste is sometime all that’s possible, and it’s a great stride. 

Here are tips for reducing waste at any supermarket.

1. Choose loose produce and bring a produce bag.

Some produce is pre-wrapped in plastic, so opt for the loose produce you can put straight into your cart or into your own produce bag. Food is grown in the dirt and not washed before it gets to a store – buying it already wrapped in plastic doesn’t make it any “cleaner.” Just buy it loose and wash it when you get home. For things that really do require a bag - green beans, for example - bring your own produce bag. Bring a pillow case for all it matters, you’ll see that in most stores anything goes!

2. Opt for items packaged in glass, paper, cardboard and metal.

Always opt for non-plastic packaging: this includes glass, paper, cardboard and metal. Despite good intentions, only nine percent of plastic is actually recycled each year - we simply consume waaay more plastic than there is capacity to recycle. So when eyeing those eggs in a plastic carton or cardboard, always grab the cardboard.

Here are some items that I can frequently find without plastic at my local supermarket:

  • A variety of loose produce: apples, pears, citrus fruits, bananas, kiwis, various potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, zucchinis, ginger, garlic, carrots and green beans to name a few (bring some produce bag!) 
  • Deli items (bring your own container!)
  • Eggs in cardboard carton
  • Rice in cardboard box
  • Cans of beans and other vegetables
  • Coconut milk in can
  • Anything pickled in a glass jar
  • Pasta sauce in a glass jar
  • Oils, vinegars and condiments in glass
  • Soup in a glass jar or can
  • Boursin cheese in a cardboard box and metal wrapper
  • Bread rolls, loaves and pastries (bring your own bag!)
  • Flour, sugar, and other baking supplies in paper
3. Buy bigger portions. 

When plastic is unavoidable, buy the biggest pack possible (assuming you can use up, freeze or store the extra food properly, so it won’t go to waste). The one large container is better than numerous smaller ones because it uses less packaging.

4. Bring own container for deli items.

Does your supermarket have an amazing deli? Don’t miss out! Just ask that things be put into your own reusable containers. Some stores have more familiarity with this than others. Just make sure your container is sparking clean and explain your motivation for skipping plastic, and most stores won’t say no.

5. Bring bread bag for bakery

If your supermarket has a fresh bakery section, toss rolls or pastries straight from the bins into your own bags. Or ask the person working behind the counter to put bread directly into one of your bags before it’s wrapped in a plastic one. When you get home store bread in an airtight container (like a Tupperware or breadbox) in the fridge to keep it fresh, or store in the freezer.

6. Bring your own shopping bag 
And of course, don't forget your reusable shopping bag. In Amsterdam we have to pay 25 cents for plastic shopping bags, incentivising people to bring their own. Keep forgetting your bags? Leave one in your purse, your car or by the front door. I always try to carry one with me for impromptu shopping.
7. Make it yourself!

Some things are simple to make yourself, so give it a try. Of course, we won’t all have the time or desire to make everything from scratch but doing it for even a few things but can really help reduce waste. I also make my own toothpaste and multipurpose cleaner, waste free.  When I make things like cookies from scratch (because they are harder to find without plastic packaging) to cut the work I make a big batch and save extra in the freezer for next time.

If you’re getting started, challenge yourself to make a few zero or low waste meals per week using the above tips. You’ll see how easy a few plastic-free meals can be!

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