The goal of Tomato Boots is to help you live a simpler lifestyle, reducing waste and teaching you how to live with less in every aspect of life. I talk a lot about “zero waste” and provide Zero Waste Recipes as guides to healthy, waste-free eating. However, you might be wondering what you need and how to shop in order to make meals that produce little to no waste. Well, today’s your lucky day because I’ve put together a list of essential products you’ll need as well as tips on how to shop in order to begin your zero waste lifestyle. Here. We. Go.
Zero Waste Grocery Shopping Essentials
You can drastically limit the number of little plastic bags you bring home from the store by investing in the following reusable items.
1. Reusable Produce Bags
Stop using those silly plastic produce bags at the store!! Purchase or make a good stock of reusable produce bags and never touch another wasteful plastic bag again. I have at least 10 in my arsenal and they are always full when I go to the store. The more the better, you’ll use them!
And for goodness sakes you don’t need to put every piece of fruit or vegetable into a bag. If it has a skin on it that you won’t eat (oranges, onions, bananas, watermelon, squash, lemons, limes, mangos, potatoes, avocados, garlic, any berry in a plastic container…to name a bunch) then don’t bag it. Just because the bag is there, calling your name, you don’t need. Have some self control!
2. Reusable Bulk Bags
I heart the bulk aisle. Buying foods in bulk can save you massive amounts of food packaging and money. Since you’re bagging it yourself, you can take only as much as you need which cuts down on food waste later on. Avoid using the giant plastic bags they provide for you and bring your own slurry of reusable bulk bags. Purchase them or make your own out of fun patterns and colors!
3. Reusable Grocery Bags
Everyone has at least 10 of these at this point. Every nonprofit, national conference, pet store, sports team and snack bar company has made their own branded reusable grocery bag and they’ve most likely sent you a few of them to say “thanks.” USE THEM. Keep a stash in your car for those impromptu grocery store stops. Somehow you’ve miraculously avoided getting a reusable grocery bag? You can buy a good supply here or, of course, make your own!
4. Bulk Spice Containers
You may not have known this, but buying spices in the bulk section can save you a lot of money! If your recipe only calls for 1/4 tsp of cardamom, why buy a whole jar for $8?! Avoid using the oversized plastic bags they provide for you by brining your own reusable containers. Be sure to have the cashier or customer service person weigh your empty container before you fill it so you don’t pay for the weight of the jar come checkout time. You can purchase bulk spice jars here if you need some more, or reuse empty spice containers you already have.
Zero Waste Grocery Shopping 101
Here are 7 steps to kickstart your zero waste grocery shopping and keep unnecessary packaging out of your trash.
1. Check your cupboards and fridge.
Before you start thinking about what to get at the store, first take a look at what’s already in your fridge and pantry. Make note of any canned goods, grains, produce, dairy, meat, etc. that you have on hand and then begin planning your meals. This will keep you from wasting the perfectly good food that you already bought!
2. Plan your meals.
First look for recipes that utilize what you already have on hand. Second, look for recipes that use a lot of produce and bulk ingredients to give you the best chance at reducing your overall waste. Pick the days you want to make each meal to help you prepare down the road when the time comes to start cooking.
3. Make a list.
Using the recipes you have planned, begin building your list. Break it down by section of the store to cut down on your shopping time. Be sure to put quantities next to all of your bulk items so you know how much you need to get. Put this list somewhere you won’t forget it!
4. Grab your zero waste grocery shopping essentials
Before you head out the door, grab as many reusables as you need and then some. You should know what they are by now…
5. Stick to your list and avoid impulse buys.
One of the main causes of food waste are impulse buys. If it’s not on your list, don’t buy it. Most of the time you won’t eat it and it will end of up rotting in your fridge or getting shoved back into Narnia through the back of your cupboard. Stick to the plan!
6. Can’t find something in bulk?
Don’t stress, sometimes your store won’t have a great bulk selection. If you have to buy an ingredient in a pre-packaged version, use these tips to find the most recyclable packaging options. Main rule of thumb: Avoid plastic.
- Look for items that come in packaging made out of recycled content. If a box, can, or bag is made from recycled materials, it will be marked somewhere on the label. By buying products made from recycled materials you are “closing the loop” and sending a message to producers that consumers want recycled products! Use your consumer buying power to make a positive change.
- Choose canned before frozen. Aluminum is one of the most recycled — and most recyclable — materials on the market today. Nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today. Aluminum can be recycled over and over again without any loss to quality. In a nutshell, cans are a good packaging option.Frozen food typically comes covered in plastic. When it comes to plastics, the recyclability is harder to confirm. Thinner plastics like bags and liners may not be accepted by your local waste hauler. Plastics are tricky when it comes to recycling in general, so try to avoid them if possible. Choose the can before the bag.
- Choose canned beverages before glass. As mentioned above, aluminum is one of the most widely accepted recyclable materials. Glass is also recyclable and has the same characteristic as aluminum where it can be recycled over and over without losing quality, but when glass breaks it causes all kinds of problems down the line. Best option, choose canned first.
- Choose boxed before bagged. Cardboard is another widely accepted recyclable material. The main thing here is that bagged foods (cereals, chips, frozen items, etc.) come in a plastic bag or liner which, as I mentioned above, is tricky to define as recyclable or not. Certain kinds of plastics aren’t recyclable and usually the thinner plastic is not. Cardboard associated with food products is most commonly recyclable, so go with this first.
Overall, when trying to decide between one item covered in packaging over another, ask yourself which one has the least amount of packaging and whether or not that packaging can be recycled.
7. Cook what you planned!
Stick to the recipes you chose for the week and you’ll use up all that you bought. As we all know, life happens…you get asked to go out with friends, you have to stay late at work and don’t feel like cooking when you get home, etc. When life happens, adjust your meal plans to bump the recipes with the most ingredients that will go bad quicker to a sooner date. Had a salad planned for early in the week, but didn’t get to it? Make it tonight and take it for lunch tomorrow! Push the pasta dish to Friday or Saturday…it can wait.
Compost any rotting leftovers. Rinse and repeat.
You’re now well on your way to reducing waste in your kitchen! Feels good doesn’t it?