Living a zero waste lifestyle is a growing trend that many people are adopting, and I think it's awesome! I'm certainly not there yet, but in our family we have been taking steps to reduce the amount of waste we create. Today I'd like to talk about the ways grocery shopping in the bulk section can help create less trash. But first, just in case you don't know....
What is Zero Waste Living?
I mean, you can probably make a guess at what zero waste living is, just by the it's name, but it's goal is to reduce the amount of things you consume and also throw away. We've all heard the slogan, "Reduce, Reus, Recyle," but zero waste living gives us two more Rs "Refuse and Repair." The Center for EcoTechnology has some great information about how you can use these 5 Rs to move toward the zero waste movement. You can check them out here. We'll talk about how these 5 Rs relate to grocery shopping a little farther down.
One of the first things you should do when trying to create less waste is analyze what kinds of things you throw away and figure out how you can apply one of the 5 Rs to them. When analyzing our trash (ok, that sounds weird), I noticed that at least 80% of the things we throw away are food/grocery store related. Wow! Here's how we made some changes by the way we shop at the grocery store.
Zero Waste Movement at the Grocery Store
Many grocery stores now have a bulk bin section in them. If you are trying to reduce the waste you produce than shopping in the bulk bins is for you! Here's how it can help:
My favorite thing about the bulk section is that you can get exactly how much you need. Has this ever happened to you?
"I only need 2 tablespoon of tapioca pearls for this random recipe I'm trying. I haven't ever used tapioca and I probably won't use it again in the next 6 months. Oh great, they only sell it in a 1 lb box. I guess I'll just get the whole thing and it can sit in my pantry till it expires and then I'll throw it out."
Ok, so you probably don't talk to yourself like that, but you get what I'm saying. In the bulk section I could buy just those 2 tbsps of tapioca pearls and reduce the amount of food that I throw away later. I'm sticking it to the man by refusing to buy more than I need.
The bulk section is also great because when combined with the use of reusable storage containers, it reduces the amount of food packaging created. For example, I can get several different types of cereal from the bulk bins at my grocery store. If I use my reusable bags to purchase the cereal in, and then take it home and store it in a reusable container, I have created zero waste. If I buy a box of cereal from the shelves, I now have plastic bag to throw away, and a cardboard box to recycle.
If don't currently have access to reusable bags, you can still use the plastic ones the store provides. Just make sure to return them to the recycling bins that most stores have out front. It's not ideal, but it's certainly better than throwing them in the trash.
Ok, I couldn't come up with a good way to repair food. Anyone else have any ideas?
Products I Use to Help Reduce Waste
Here are several of the reusable products I use to purchase and store the items I get at the bulk section. I totally get that these things can seem like an investment, or maybe not the most exciting things to spend your hard earned money on. If this is the case, I would suggest just building up your reusable products over time, so it's not so much to buy all at once.
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I've been using these reusable mesh produce bags for about a year now and really like them. They've held up well and haven't had any rips or tears. I use them for my produce as well as for many items in the bulk section--like rice, nuts, granola, pasta, beans, etc. They wouldn't work for any of the powdery stuff (like sugar or flour). It's a very fine mesh, but I would worry that the flour would leak out. You can get them from Amazon here.
These reusable muslin bags are the type of bags you'll want to get if you want to purchase flour, sugar or any other type of fine ingredients. They would also be great for produce and the other types of ingredients you'll find in the bulk section. You can get them from Amazon here.
The thing I love about these reusable grocery bags is that they are foldable, lightweight, and strong. But the very best part is the loops they have that allow you to attach them to the bagging carousel for easy loading. Plus, they come in so many different colors and patterns, there has to be one that fits your style. Because you know, it's important to be stylish while unloading groceries. You can get them from Amazon here.
Reusable Storage Containers
The most important thing to look for when picking out storage containers is that they are airtight. Otherwise, your food can get stale quicker. Here's some storage containers I recommend.
I really like this set of reusable storage containers. My favorite part about them is the small opening they have on top that makes it easy to pour the contents out of. It also comes with labels and extra measuring cups. These would be great for holding cereal in. You can get them from Amazon here.
These are great storage options for items that you would scoop out, like flour, sugar and rice. I like that they are stackable. It's also really convenient that each container comes with it's own scoop. You can get them from Amazon here.
I also store a lot of our nuts, quinoa and granola in mason jars. These are great because you might already have some around your house, or often times you can get them for pretty cheap at a 2nd hand store. (Hooray for reusing)! You can also buy them new online here, but they are pretty expensive. They are much cheaper to buy in a store. Both my local grocery stores sell them, and they are available in stores at Walmart and Target.
I also did a whole post on how to store bulk spices. You can read all about it here: "How to Store Bulk Spices."
You Can Do It!
I know that switching to a zero waste lifestyle can seem overwhelming, but just taking baby steps in the right direction can have an impact. Think about the 5 Rs and how you can apply at least one of them to your life. Hopefully this guide has helped you see how changes can be made to the way you grocery shop. Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas! I'm always looking for ways to improve too.
Save Money Too!
Bulk Bin shopping is great for creating less waste, but it also helps you save money too! Check out "How to Save Money Bulk Bin Shopping" for more information.