Three Easy Tips for Zero Waste Shopping

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By Siobhan A. McComb

You may have seen pictures of plastic in the oceans or mountains of trash in the landfills, and wondered “How can I make a difference?” Much of the garbage we see floating in the ocean today starts at our shopping carts. Making a difference begins with zero waste shopping and the packaging that comes with it. This is especially true with groceries and bathroom items. The key to Zero Waste shopping is to be intentional about your shopping choices; avoid plastic packaging, use your own reusable containers and buy from the bulk section.  A great place to start is at your local co-op, like Port Townsend Food Co-op, which has an amazing selection of groceries, household supplies and bulk items.  Make sure to use these three Zero Waste shopping tips and you won’t be disappointed:

1. Create a “shopping kit”: Preparation and organization are a must for Zero Waste shopping. Collect reusable shopping totes for bagging your groceries and a selection of glass jars and cloth bags for bulk items and other groceries. Bring plenty of jars and bags, just in case. Make sure you have the tare weight (empty weight) for each bag and jar so you don’t get charged for the weight of the container. If you don’t have the tare weight, ask a cashier if they have the time to weigh your containers before you shop.  Make a note on your phone or use a permanent marker or washable crayon to write the tare on the container.

2. How-to-shop: When shopping for bulk items, take a photo of the info on the bin. This gives you a few things; the bin number for checkout, instructions for preparation, ingredients and nutritional info. At checkout, place bulk items in the order you have them on your list or phone. This makes it easier to find the bin number quickly and speeds up checkout. If you can’t find something on your list that is un-packaged try finding it in glass, metal or paper packaging so it does not end up in the landfill. Or try to make it yourself. Making nut milks, cheeses, yogurt or mayonnaise isn’t that hard. If an un-packaged version isn’t available ask yourself “do I really NEED this”.

3. More tips for shopping and daily life:  Say no to plastic everywhere. Look in every department for bulk items. Search for local options. Avoid fruits and veggies with stickers. Don’t use twist ties. Use your camera for things you would write down. Join a “buy-nothing” group.  Read a book on Zero Waste lifestyle.

Zero Waste shopping can feel overwhelming, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. By shifting your shopping habits towards Zero Waste your shopping carts will reflect your commitment to a cleaner world.

Siobhan A. McComb is a Zero Waste lifestyle blogger, advocate and presenter based in Bothell, WA. Check out her blog at

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