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Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

Food creates a lot of waste. From the plastic bags inside cereal boxes to chip bags surrounded by layers of films, food packaging creates a lot of garbage that often can’t be recycled easily. Many cheap plastics, films, and cardboard materials on food packaging can’t be properly disposed of because they aren’t worth anything in the recycling system or get stained by the food. They rot away in landfills and oceans, creating carbon emissions and harming wildlife.

As a result, zero-waste grocery shopping is growing in popularity. Zero-waste is a movement that encourages people to create as little waste as possible, focusing on reusing, composting, and recycling.

For grocery shopping, zero-waste can involve bringing your own bags and containers, or opting for food that uses little packaging. Unfortunately, many foods are only offered in wasteful packaging, usually at large grocery chains. This is often because they don’t want to deal with sorting, organizing, and pricing food. 

This is where zero-waste grocery stores come in. Characterized by their self-service storage bins, zero-waste grocery stores offer their goods in bulk, and allow you to bring your own reusable containers and bags to put your items in. Food comes at straightforward rates – you weigh your food and pay only for what you take. Zero-waste grocery stores allow you to reduce food waste by buying only what you need, as well as using reusable containers that reduce packaging waste.

While zero-waste grocery stores aren’t as well-known or ubiquitous as chain supermarkets (yet!), there are many across the United States, whether they be small stores or large online marketplaces. If you are able to, you should consider making your grocery runs at some of these stores.

Popular zero-waste grocery stores

Rainbow Grocery is a grocery cooperative in San Francisco, California. Grocery co-ops allow customers to choose the products they want to be offered and sold, making Rainbow Grocery a popular supermarket in the Bay Area. They boast over 800 bulk products, making zero-waste shopping easy!

Precycle is a zero-waste supermarket in New York that sells completely package-free produce and bulk goods like pasta, rice, and spices. Founded in 2015, Precycle’s goal is to empower people to reduce their food and packaging waste by ensuring all their products are fresh, natural, and waste-free.

Loop is an online zero-waste marketplace offered in most of the United States. Loop allows you to buy food and household products waste free without missing out on brands you love like Haagen Dazs and Tropicana. Products are shipped in reusable containers, which you can return to get refills!

Additionally, many areas in the United States offer dozens of local supermarkets and marketplaces. Even if they aren’t zero-waste, smaller markets are often more willing to let you bring your own containers to buy products. Here is a detailed list of zero-waste stores around the United States.

How to shop zero-waste at regular grocery stores

If zero-waste grocery stores aren’t available in your area (or don’t offer the foods you need), there are still ways to make your grocery trip eco-friendly! While you might still need to buy foods in packaging, you can opt for food in more sustainable packaging.

Glass is the best option if you have to buy an item that comes in packaging. Glass containers are often safe to reuse, and if you do end up recycling them, glass is infinitely recyclable (unlike some plastics). Cardboard is another decent option – cardboard can be recycled, and if it is dirty, it can be composted.

Plastic, while not the best option, has some more environmentally friendly versions. Most plastics are marked with recycling triangles, each with a number from 1 to 7 to specify what material the product is made of. Curbside recycling typically does not recycle products marked with a #3 or #7 due to how difficult it is to recycle these materials but check your city’s rules to be sure.

Bringing your own containers, produce bags, and shopping bags can also reduce a lot of waste. It’s always good to check, especially at big chain supermarkets if this is allowed, though!

Buy eco-friendly groceries online with EcoCart

Due to the pandemic, access to supermarkets that allow you to bring your own containers is limited, if available at all. Even before the pandemic, many regions simply don’t have eco-friendly markets available. 62% of shoppers in the United States say they shop more online because of the virus.

Online shopping has expanded rapidly to meet this demand. Anything from household goods to fresh food can be shipped to your door, with a variety of shipping options to meet customers’ needs. However, this rise in online shopping has had a greater carbon impact, because millions of products have to be delivered to individual homes every day.

To offset the carbon footprint of these purchases, thousands of online retailers offer their products through EcoCart, a free Chrome extension! EcoCart calculates the carbon emitted from shipping your order, then donates a percentage of your purchase to carbon offsetting projects around the world.

Just click the green button whenever you see it pop up while you’re shopping and EcoCart does the work for you. Your carbon footprint for every order will be offset and you can rest easy knowing that you’re doing your part! 

With the extension, all you have to do is click the ‘Make my order carbon neutral’ button when it pops up. You can shop normally and do your part for the planet! EcoCart does the rest, enabling you to make your order carbon neutral, often with no additional cost to you. You can also find new eco-friendly brands you’ll love through the extension. Here are a few stores on EcoCart you can check out:

FreshDirect offers a wide variety of foods from pantry staples to fresh produce, all from their website. With shipping offered in several states in the US, you’ll be able to do your grocery run from your couch!

Freshly is a great alternative to takeout. Freshly offers delicious, healthy, and ready-to-eat meals as low as $9 a meal. Their meals also come in recyclable packaging!

Balance Box is another meal plan program that delivers to your door. Every box comes with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks, all nutritionist approved.

Snuk Foods offers the best specialty ingredients from places like Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, ranging from spices to baking goods. Armed with experience working in these regions, Snuk Foods provides the best healthy and high-quality ingredients to your door!

Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a wasteful process. Even if you can’t go completely zero-waste, making small changes to your shopping habits, shopping at zero-waste grocery stores, or shopping from online eco-friendly marketplaces can help make your shopping trip better for the planet.