Over 292 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in the U.S. in 2018. 28% of this waste came from containers and packaging, and a large percentage of that packaging came from grocery shopping.

Although packaging can help reduce food waste by increasing the shelf life of food items, waste from the grocery store is becoming an increasing problem. Here are some ways to reduce waste while grocery shopping!

Farmers Markets

Most cities and towns in Massachusetts, and around the country, have weekly farmers markets. These events allow consumers—who typically bring their own reusable bags—to buy produce and other food items directly from local farmers who typically bring their produce unpackaged in baskets or bins. The combination of these efforts reduces a lot of packaging and plastic waste.

Farmers markets are a great option for anyone looking for fresh, low-waste food shopping. Accessibility can be a bit of an issue, however, as many farmers markets only run during warmer months if they are unable to move indoors for the winter. Additionally, prices can be challenging for many shoppers, but thankfully many farmers markets accept SNAP as a form of payment!

Vegetables at a farmers market

Farmers usually bring produce to farmers markets in reusable bins or crates, while shoppers will typically bring reusable bags.

Zero Waste Grocery Stores

Small, boutique zero waste grocery stores have been popping up all around the country. Stores like Tare, The Wally Shop, Precycle, and Nada Grocery offer all of their products in bulk bins and bulk containers. Customers can come with their own reusable containers or jars and buy grocery items by weight.

This method of grocery shopping decreases waste as customers refill the same reusable containers every trip, instead of buying new, prepackaged goods.

While these shops set a great example for zero waste shopping, most people don’t have access to one, and their products can be a little pricey.

It would be great to see this concept become more widely available to shoppers either through a new national zero waste grocery chain, or a major paradigm shift from already popular U.S. grocers. Until then, there are other strategies that shoppers can use to reduce waste at a typical chain grocery store.

Shop the Bulk Bins

Although zero waste grocery stores aren’t very common, many larger chain grocery stores like Whole Foods do have bulk sections (although the pandemic has caused Whole Foods to pause their bulk offerings). There are also co-op grocery stores—like River Valley Co-op in Western Mass—all around that country, most of which have bulk bins as well.

Buying dry goods in larger quantities reduces packaging waste by reducing the need to buy multiple packages of the same product. Many stores with bulk sections will also allow you to bring your own reusable containers.

Here is a list of some bulk grocery retailers in the U.S.

Bulk ingredients at a grocery store.

Shopping in the bulk section of your grocery store is a great way to cut down on packaging waste!

Reusable Bags

Reusable bags have gotten a lot of attention of late. Many states, including California and New York have banned single use plastic bags from grocery stores to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Some have also enacted a small fee for paper or semi-reusable plastic bags at checkout as incentive to save money by making a sustainable decision.

Even if you don’t live in a state with these bans, you can still reduce waste at the grocery store by bringing reusable grocery bags.

Plastic produce bags typically made of the same kinds of plastic as grocery bags can also be replaced by reusable alternatives. Some stores, like Trader Joes, have been making the switch to biodegradable produce bags, but most stores have yet to address this issue. If your commonly frequented grocery store only offers plastic produce bags, consider investing in reusable mesh produce bags, like these ones from Eco-Bags.

Upgrade Your Cooking Skills

This tip might seem a bit counterintuitive, but premade and processed foods that don’t require any skill or time to prepare often require the most packaging. Uncooked ingredients are also much easier to buy in larger quantities which reduces packaging as well.

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Whole, unprocessed ingredients like vegetables, beans, lentils, and meat typically have the least amounts of packaging. Learning how to cook with these food items will help reduce your grocery store waste!

There are many great online resources where you can learn how to cook and find new recipes, a great place to start is YouTube. There are lots of different cooking channels on this platform for all levels and all different kinds of cuisine!

Becoming a master in the kitchen can also help you cut down on food waste.

If you are interested in lowering your waste footprint, check out some of our other blog posts about trying to live zero waste for a week and other tips on how to live a zero waste lifestyle.

Visit our website to learn more about how you can reduce waste at home and in your daily life!