How to shop ‘low waste’ at a regular supermarket – 10 tips and tricks

WOOLWORTHS AND COLES I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU?

Low impact, even zero waste shopping at a supermarket(?) some may think impossible – but that’s not the case.

I try my best to buy from local farmers or family owned businesses because your money stretches a lot further – it helps them feed their family, instead of helping to feed a CEO’s back pocket.  Plus your locals know you – I love the fruit and veg fam near my parent’s house because they always remember me.  But whilst supporting individuals is so much better for everyone, sometimes it’s not always convenient.  Planning ahead and planning ALL your meals and shopping around zero-waste areas can take a while to form good habits.  And sometimes I’m also very lazy and conveniently prioritise everything else over actually making a shopping list. And for those who live in semi rural or areas where supermarkets are the only choice? Well yes this is for you! 

So here are 10 ‘Tips and Tricks’ that I’ve found useful over the years to help reduce my impact when I need to duck into a supermarket for supplies:

**as a side note I would also love to suggest that you always go to a checkout operator instead of self serve checkouts – we need to support people, not profit and it makes me sad that humans are becoming so easily replaceable without being offered an alternate solution to keep surviving in this cruel profit hungry world. I love embracing technology, but only when it benefits humans too!

1. The key mindset is ‘Substitution, not Elimination’

Zero waste isn’t about cutting everything out of your life – it’s about researching ALL the options and substitutes for the things you already have – or forgoing unnecessary items (such as plastic bags for fruit, amirite – more on that later).  Think less about what ISN’T available and more about what you can do with what is there.

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Make it STOOOOOP!

2. In supermarkets and produce stores – mushroom bags are your friend

Sometimes the supermarkets have already done the work for you – just don’t forget that you haven’t bought 5 different types of mushrooms when you get to the checkout! I re-use the bags for rubbish, or for ‘dog duty’ bags

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Have fun confusing the cashier with this one

 

3. BYO bags – including ones for fruit and veg!

Unless you’ve been ‘zero-waste’ for a while you’ve more than likely accumulated a plastic bag (or 50) – take them with you, keep them with your shopping bags and use for loose leaf items such as spinach and lettuce, instead of opting for the packet variety

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BYO plastic bag to refill – just don’t tie it up too tight!

 

4. Don’t use a bag if you don’t need to!

Fruit and veg has skin for a reason!  Plus it’s awesome just gazing wistfully into your trolley at all the colourful veg sans suffocating plastic – just remember to put all the squishy items on top – or keep a cardboard box in the car so nothing moves around

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5. If there’s a cardboard alternative, get it
Most supermarkets have a wide variety of brands with different packaging – and most items do have a paper packet alternative – and most times they’re usually CHEAPER!  This is one of the easy ones, especially for products like sugar, salt and flours

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Paper or plastic?

*Just as a side note to this, watch out for Barilla – perfect cardboard packaging, but not so great of a company inclusivity wise (check out what their CEO thinks about the LGBTQI community – content warning for homophobia)
6. Buy in bulk

If you’re like me, you have your staples that you know you’ll need to stock up on eventually – so why not just buy a little bit more every so often?  I try my best to plan out bulk purchases over a fortnight so I don’t end up having to get them all in one go.  But very frequently whilst it’s a seemingly more expensive option to start, you do end up saving in the long run.

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Best part about these is you now have a bag to refill at a bulkfood store!

 

7. Say NO to bags at bakeries and other stores, or enquire about bringing your own containers or bags

Most bakeries default to paper bags anyway, which is awesome!  But every so often one will try to sneak a plastic bag with your sourdough – just be mindful and request a paper bag when you order your loaf of bread (or if you’re in the self serve section of a supermarket the mushroom bag trick goes down a treat)

Olives at the delicatessen? Why not ask if you can bring a container with you next time! Just make sure it’s squeaky clean

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Delicious baked goods

 

8. Choose packaging you might be able to re-use

Jam jars and glass jars make great glasses or storage for nuts, seeds, home-made pestos, or even for sprouting grains!  Most products that come in plastic jars also have a glass jar alternative – and once you go zero-waste stockpiling these will be very handy!

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9. Always be prepared – keep a stash of bags in your handbag for those last minute purchases

Bags are pretty flat little individuals!  If you usually carry a handbag or backpack it’s not going to add much weight or space to keep a few of these with you all the time

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These can be easily folded into nothingness and kept in your bag or backpack

10. If you’re able to make it yourself – do it!

Pestos? Easy.  Pasta Sauces? No problem! Brownies? YAAAS.  There’s plenty of packaged goods that are super easy to make yourself – more time consuming, but I can guarantee the effort is worth it and everybody will be super impressed with your effort (effort adds umami and flavour, FACT!) (list of recipes)

Some things I now make myself include:

  • Hommus, pestos and other dips
  • Siracha
  • ‘Tinned’ Tomatoes (blend up some fresh ones and cook them on the stove with water and salt
  • Protein Bars
  • Vegan Cheeses
  • Sour Cream and Cream for sauces

I hope you find these tips useful in your endeavour to be as low-impact as possible!

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