Guides
Nov 23, 2020

Plastic-free grocery shopping

From bulk buying to farmers' markets | By Lorna King
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One of the largest contributors to household plastic waste is food shopping. In most supermarkets, plastic is everywhere you look. It's so pervasive you might think avoiding it requires an awful lot of preparation, free time, and days where the cupboard goes bare.

But it is easier than expected. To cut plastic out, I only had to change two things. First of all, where I chose to shop. Secondly, what I took with me on my trips.

It took a few failed attempts; multiple trips and forgotten jars, before I felt comfortable. But like all meaningful changes, it was gradual. Now I shop once a week and plastic is no longer on the scene. Here are a couple of tips I learned along the way:

Go to market

Market stalls stocked with locally grown fruit and veg pop up all over the place, and they’re great because almost everything they have is loose. Living in a city, I’m lucky to have a permanent market stall on my doorstep where I can pick up any odd bits I forget from the shop.

Farmers’ markets aren’t on as often, but by going there you’re more or less guaranteed organic produce. One of the nicest things about farmers’ markets is their seasonality. What’s on offer changes according to the season. Every week, I learn more about what tastes best when, without encouraging intensive farming and out of season cultivation.

If pop-ups are inconvenient for you, in many cities you can now order veg boxes full of organic, plastic-free produce to be delivered straight to your doorstep.

Delis and Counters

Delis are the place for dairy! Many let you take your own container or, if you have them, reusable waxed wraps. And the cheese selection is always phenomenal! As for plastic-free milk? Go retro and get it delivered to your door in glass bottles.

Bakeries

Ditch the sliced stuff and go for freshly baked loaves. You don’t need to be plastic-free to know there’s precious little in this world quite as heavenly as the smell of fresh bread.

Bulk, Bulk, Bulk

Bulk shops let you take your own jar or bag along with you. In some shops the staff will help you, others let you go it alone. All you need to do is weigh your empty jar, fill up, weigh again, and pay. My local bulk shop SESI sells everything from spaghetti (yes, spaghetti) to dried beans, risotto rice to nuts and seeds and more, all totally plastic-free.

Photo by Laura Mitulla on Unsplash

Extra Essentials

Some foods, like oils, vinegars and condiments, are trickier to find package-free, but luckily they often come in recyclable packaging anyway. Jarred and canned foods might not be totally “zero-waste”, but they can be readily recycled or repurposed at home. Glass jars make brilliant containers for taking to the farmers market or storing leftover food.

Whether you reuse or recycle, preserved foods are staples for plastic-free living, especially if you don’t have a bulk shop nearby (which right now so many of us simply don’t!).


Of course, not everyone has so much to choose from, so going plastic-free isn’t always straightforward and that’s ok. If you only make one change because it’s the only change you can make, that’s also a positive change. Don’t get hung up on the things you’re not doing, celebrate those that you are.


This article is an abridged version of "How to Shop Plastic-Free: Groceries" by Lorna King (@lornatmking), republished with permission from her blog Enough of this Trash.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash