Planning Ahead: Grocery Shopping

Over the next few months, I'll be writing a little more about how to stay zero waste when you're out and about, otherwise known as mastering that fine art of planning ahead. A reader (hi, Maxine!) asked if I'd write about what I bring to the grocery store so that I can be prepared to avoid bringing home any foods in packaging. I've gotten my routine down over the last few years and it makes prepping for a shopping trip a breeze. Here are my tips...

Make a list. You won't know what types of bags and jars you'll need to bring unless you know what you want to buy, so before you leave the house, jot down a list of what you want to purchase. I like to keep my list flexible so that I can purchase what looks freshest, is locally grown, or is in season, so I often just write down notes like "3-4 random veggies." That helps me figure out that I'll need to bring 4 produce bags for vegetables, without needing to nail down exactly what I'll purchase ahead of time.

Pack what you need. To shop zero waste, you'll need to bring reusable cloth produce bags (to use in place of those clingy plastic ones that come in rolls), containers for purchasing food from the bulk aisle (glass jars, cloth produce bags, stainless steel containers - whatever you have works!), and of course a few larger bags to carry your groceries home in. Scan your grocery list to ascertain that you've included enough containers for what you plan to buy.

...And then some. No matter how detailed my list, I typically end up picking up something else that's not on it. Maybe I see that the mushrooms are locally grown, or black beans are on sale, or I realize that I want to make a cabbage slaw and will need cilantro. If you always pack an extra produce bag or two as well as an extra jar, you'll be prepared for the inevitable spontaneous purchase.

Keep your bags packed. Storing your zero waste grocery shopping supplies together - ideally in the bags you use to shop - makes it easy to grab your supplies, add or remove a few things, and get out the door quickly. Your kit might look like mine, above, or more like this one. Whatever works for you is the way to go!

And keep your jars tared. It's a pain to have to tare every jar every time you go to the store. Instead, try coming up with a system so that you don't have to. You could use the same three sizes of jar and memorize their weights, make reusable labels for the lids, or write the weight on the bottom of the jar using a grease pen or marker.

Lastly, what do you do if you need to run to the grocery store but don't have your zero waste shopping kit with you? I try to keep one reusable bag with me at all times - the kind that folds up small and can be tucked in my desk or purse. If I find myself making an unexpected shopping trip, I lay that bag flat on the bottom of my shopping cart or basket and pile all of my produce on top of it, without any other bags; this method keeps the produce clean (ish), and I give it another good scrub when I get home, too.

Most of these ideas are none too revolutionary, so if you have any more tips that you swear by, please fess up! And, if you're looking for where you can find bulk, package-free goods near you, you can find a guide here