We humans are slowly but surely making the Earth uninhabitable for ourselves, which, uhhhhh…really sucks!
It often feels like there isn’t much we can do as individuals (tbh, there isn’t), BUT there are things. One of those things, and one that I’ve been particularly focusing on in recent months, is to develop a grocery-shopping routine that’s as zero-waste as you can afford and manage.
I won’t lie: zero-waste, or package-free, grocery shopping can be expensive, especially when you’re first getting started. But I’ve found myself spending much less on groceries overall because we do pay for packaging too. And also, it’s a thing you can do for the Earth. So, without further ado, I present the package-free possibilities for sustainable grocery shopping, wherever you are.
You’ll probably need to start off by buying a set of bags, and maybe some jars, for containers to put your package free food in. They can be found for pretty cheap on Amazon, or if you don’t want to support Amazon’s questionable practices, many zero waste blogs sell starter kits and individual products: tiny yellow bungalow, Wild Minimalist, and Life Without Plastic are three popular ones. There are even more cost-effective hacks, too. Start saving the glass jars to wash out and use again when you buy pasta sauce or salsa or pickles, and re-use the plastic Ziploc-style bags you probably already have until they’re totally worn out.
Here’s Talia’s favorite sustainable grocery shopping essential.
Onto the shopping itself!
Whole Food, Sprouts, Earth Fare, and Fresh Market are some of the more nationally-known grocery store chains that offer bulk food sections and other sustainable grocery shopping options. However, some are more expansive in their options than others. A lot of cities and even smaller towns also have food co-ops with impressive selections of bulk items. And in the spring and summer, farmer’s markets are an obvious choice. Google is your friend, and so am I. Let’s get city-specific!
The windy city boasts plenty of good sustainable grocery shopping options for fresh produce, dry goods, and household items, but Sugar Beet has the absolute biggest selection. They’re located in Oak Park and work with farmers to provide local produce. They also are very active in the local community and regularly plan events or collaborate with other sustainable organizations in the area. They charge a one-time $250 fee to become part-owner (AKA be allowed to shop there), and reduce it to $50 for SNAP benefit recipients, seniors, college students, or “anyone else on a fixed income who would like to join The Co-op.”
If joining a co-op sounds like a lot of commitment that you’re not necessarily ready for (fair!), there’s also Local Foods, which works with a lot of local farmers and includes a small bulk section.
Los Angeles is the land of stars and also the land of year-round farmers’ markets, so definitely plug “Farmer’s Market” into your Google Maps app and see what’s closest to you. Other excellent options for sustainable grocery shopping are Rainbow Acres, which has free popcorn on Friday and also a selection of produce, liquids, cleaning products, and more, and Wild Terra, which offers every herb and spice under the sun in addition to select cooking and personal care ingredients.
Miami’s zero-waste scene is small but mighty. Verde Market, near Wynwood, is the sustainable grocery shopping spot, and sells all the essentials for living package-free, along with grocery staples like nuts, herbs, oil and vinegar, and of course orange juice. You can find everything from dog treats to incense — the only thing they don’t sell is fresh produce.
New York City
And now we’ve arrived at my inspiration for writing this article. Nearly every weekend, I take a fifteen-minute walk to Precycle, New York’s first grocery store to sell completely package-free produce, bulk food, and home goods. This place seriously has everything I need to stock up on in a given week. One of the many reasons I love it is that it’s an absolute dream for the indecisive folks out there. No options, people!!! If you need almonds or granola or apples, you don’t need to choose from five nearly-identical brands. You simply fill up your jar with Precycle’s offerings, which are local where possible, organic where possible, and always free from GMOs.
It’s such a relaxing shopping experience, and it teaches you to shop with intention. Even the simple act of weighing your jars in preparation for shopping can remind you of exactly what you came for and why. There are fewer distractions, and also they always play great music. They sell jars and bags in case you need them, but there are also scales throughout the store so you can weigh your own containers.
NYC is also chock-full of co-ops, and a recently-launched startup called the Wally Shop has been slowly growing for the past few months. The Wally Shop is like Instacart, but zero-waste. They deliver your groceries via bike in returnable, reusable packaging. They offer same-day delivery and fresh, organic food. Yes, one of their suppliers is Precycle.
Central Market seems to be the go-to in Seattle for sustainable grocery shopping; with three locations throughout the city, it’s at least somewhat convenient for most residents. They truly have everything you could possibly want to stock your kitchen (and bathroom) with, including dry pantry items, snacks (kind of rare in the zero-waste world!), candy, and useful cooking supplies. Seattle is a great city to be in if you’re trying to reduce your waste, because Central Market, something of a statewide franchise, is just the beginning. You can also check out Ballard Market, New Seasons Market, and PCC Community Market for similar selections. New Seasons sometimes has blueberries!
So now, armed with the information that these establishments exist, go forth and waste not! Or something like that. The truth is, we are all creating a truly absurd amount of waste on a daily basis, and much of isn’t any one individual’s fault. That knowledge can feel scary and overwhelming, and maybe keeping more careful track of your own waste can help you be a more conscious consumer.
Now that you have a sustainable grocery shopping routine, bring it home with five ways to build a sustainable kitchen.
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