Where to Buy Zero Waste Groceries

Where to Buy Zero Waste Groceries

Take a look in your trash can and you’ll likely find that food packaging makes up a large portion of your weekly garbage. This shouldn’t be surprising! The other day, I walked into a traditional grocery store and just about fainted when I saw some of the packaging being used for produce – cucumbers shrink-wrapped in plastic? Really?

Grocery shopping is something that many of us do on a weekly basis. This makes it one of the easiest and most accessible ways to reduce your environmental footprint! 

Ready to track down some alternatives to traditional grocery stores? Let’s get started!

Where To Buy Zero Waste Groceries

Farmers Markets

My absolute favorite place to shop for groceries is the farmer’s market. It makes me feel like a crunchy, eco-Audrey Hepburn and I like that. Our Cheyenne Farmers Market may not be huge by any means, but I’ve found that it has all the produce I ever need in a given week.

Plus, the selection is always seasonal, which is something I’ve been a big fan of lately!

Find a farmer’s market in your area:

Bulk Bin Stores

While I can find most of my produce at the farmer’s market, I still have a need for pantry staples like grains, pastas, oils, and cereals. Where do you find these things package-free? Bulk bins!

Now, when I refer to the term “bulk” I’m not talking about Costco or Sam’s Club. What I really mean is any grocery location where you can buy product from a bulk bin by measuring it into your own container.

Read More: How to Shop From Bulk Bins

grocery shopping at a bulk bin location

We buy all of our pantry staples at our food co-op. So far we’ve been able to get everything from peanut butter to protein powder! It’s actually pretty impressive. 

Find a bulk bin location in your area:

Specialty Shops

Do you buy meat and cheese on the regular? Then it’s time to get creative. When we were still eating meat, we were able to convince our local Albertson’s to pack meat for us in our own glass container, but it took a bit of sweet talking. You may have better luck at a Whole Foods or Sprouts; we just don’t have one near us. 

bread in compostable packaging

If you are fortunate enough to live in a larger city, I would seek out a local butcher or specialty cheese shop that can meet your needs. Or, if you really want to be eco-friendly, skip meat entirely. I’ve recently transitioned to a plant-based diet for this very reason. More on that later!

What to Do if You Don’t Have Access to Bulk Options?

If you live in a more remote location or just don’t have access to bulk, here are some other actions you can take you reduce your food packaging waste:

1) See if you can make it yourself.

Can’t find products like peanut butter, pesto, or chicken broth package-free? Try making it at home.

2) Look for returnable options.

More and more milk producers are offering bottle return programs for reuse. Keep an eye out!

3) Opt for the product in compostable packaging.

Just about anything that comes in a paper bag or box (think flour sacks or pasta boxes) can be composted with your food scraps.

4) Choose the product that comes in recyclable packaging. 

Can’t avoid packaging? Pick the product packaged in glass over plastic, then recycle it or – better yet – reuse the container!

5) Check the plastic recycling number.

Stuck with plastic? Make sure it’s a recyclable kind. Here’s a quick guide to the number symbols and what they really mean. Still, avoid it if you can.

6) Buy in larger amounts.

This is a last resort. If you can’t satisfy your Zero Waste criteria, try to buy the product in a large pack so at the very least you get a discount and reduce the packaging you throw away. Freeze extra or pack in airtight containers if you worry about spoiling. 

Now go be an eco Audrey Hepburn!

30 thoughts on “Where to Buy Zero Waste Groceries

  1. Ste says:

    I always try and recycle, it’s so important! I think a lot has to be said for those companies who aren’t using recyclable packaging yet!

    • Lauren says:

      Absolutely! Most companies opt for the cheapest option in the short term, versus recognizing the long term costs. And they are very real costs!

      It’s so important to recognize that you have a lot of power as a customer. Use the dollars you spend to “vote” for what you believe in. Theoretically, if people stop caring about or accepting unrecyclable packaging companies will find better solutions for us. A girl can dream!

      In the meantime, just do the best you can! 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      That’s so wonderful to hear! I seriously cannot praise them enough. Check it out with a reusable canvas tote and some cloth produce sacks in hand and you’ll be well on your way. Enjoy!

  2. Elanor says:

    This is something I remember the UK supermarkets trying to crack down on in recent years. I couldn’t believe the amount of waste that comes from all our household food! We always try to recycle best we can, but sometimes it’s not easy to find an alternative…

    • Lauren says:

      Yes! It’s so hard for large companies to want to change “business as usual,” here and all over the world. I believe the best thing you can do in that situation is exercise your power as a customer and choose to spend your money in places that are more sustainable and generally more thoughtful (like farmers markets and bulk bin shops). Were you able to find any markets or bulk stores near you with the databases I shared?

  3. Sarah says:

    This is a great post. I have always wanted to shop at a market, for all these reasons. Sadly though, I don’t drive and there are none anywhere near me!

    • Lauren says:

      Aw, that’s a bummer! Sometimes they are a little out of the way. Do you have a friend you could make your farmers market buddy?

  4. Nancy Laws says:

    Really awesome tips, I never stopped to think about it, but there really is a lot of waste in traditional grocery stores….I have seen the individually wrapped cucumbers and always wondered what the point is…I am loving local farmers markets too and love the west side market in Cleveland.

    • Lauren says:

      Honestly, I think people have gotten too obsessed with this idea of everything being hyper-clean. It’s crazy isn’t it?! Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  5. Haley says:

    Man I wish we had a year-round Farm’ers Market, or co-op we could use in the winter! We do have Sprouts, thankfully, but I’m sure they ship in things like berries and tomatoes and such.

    I figure I just do the best I can. We typically have a garden (although this year’s garden was an epic flop!), so I do can tomatoes and shred zucchini and such. I buy peaches from a local fruit stand and can those as well. We also have two apple trees that I make applesauce from.

    I am currently looking into buying meat from a local meat company. Even if I won’t give up meat, I can at least buy it from a local source and support a small business and 4H.

    I think it’s more about making small changes and doing the best with where we live. Currently I struggle more with reducing waste for laundry and household things than groceries.

  6. Julie says:

    Love this, my ?? is when you buy at the bulk bins, do they let you use your own containers? All of the bulk bins around here still have the plastic bags to put the bulk items in, so I’m still having to use plastic if I go that route, which sort of defeats the purpose. Suggestions???

    • Lauren says:

      Yes, definitely! Just weigh your empty containers at home (or at the store) before you fill them and mark down their un-filled weight. Then when you fill them up you will pay only for what you’ve added 🙂 Mason jars work great, or even cloth bags with a draw string. Let me know if you have other questions!

  7. Scarlett Frey says:

    It’s so hard trying to go zero waste when your husband doesn’t want too. It makes things immensely difficult. Also, our area doesn’t have a farmers market or recycles ?.
    Luckily, on occasion, I’m able to get fresh meat and canned produce from my grandmother who farms.

    • Lauren says:

      Hey Scarlett! Our world is not built for zero wasters – it just isn’t! Sometimes you just do what you can do, and that’s enough. If you’re struggling to find package-free goods at your grocery, see if you can take home only recyclables or buy things in larger volumes (for example: a huge bag of oatmeal that will last a year, versus a new container every month). As for going zero waste alongside your husband…that’s something you’ll need to take day by day. See if there are small baby steps you can agree on! Like, bringing reusable bags to the store or trying to buy less plastic. Good luck!

  8. Heather says:

    This may be a dumb question but I’m new to this so bare with me. How do you prepare your bulk food to freeze it? Plastic bags have always been OUr go To. Do other ways avoid freezer burn?

    • Lauren says:

      It really depends on what you are freezing. Zero Waste Chef has a great blog post entirely about freezing foods without plastic (I follow her recommendations). Definitely check it out!

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