Yesterday, at Sprouts grocery store, I saw more people than ever shopping the bulk section with cloth bags! Fantastic! I was delighted, and give huge props to Sprouts: they’ve started selling their own cloth bags and are using marketing to encourage their use.
However, people seemed confused about how to mark the PLU number on their bulk items. A few were using twist ties (wasteful!) while others were writing the numbers on their grocery lists. I offered up my washable marker once or twice, and the recipients seemed slightly perplexed at why I cared about their grocery shopping experience, but also grateful.
My point here is, even whey you’re trying to reduce your waste, there can be a lot of logistical roadblocks. So to keep things as simple as possible, here’s my 10-step guide to buying low waste groceries:
one // Make a list. Divide it into sections:
“middle of the store” items
two // At home, gather your materials:
cloth bags for produce and bulk
a washable marker
large reusable grocery bags
empty glass milk containers (if applicable)
a couple sturdy containers for the deli counter (if desired)
three // Go to the store. Walk or bike if you can!
four // Stop in the bulk section for any products that were on your list. You want to make sure you have enough bags for the things you really need. Use your washable marker to write the PLU code in large numbers on the outside of the bag, and then fill with the desired amount.
five // Shop produce. When you’re putting your produce in the cart, place it away from your bulk items so any moisture from the produce doesn’t touch the washable marker on your bulk bags. Put things in reusable produce bags if they fall into one of these four categories:
You’re buying several of one item (eg. apples or oranges); this will help the cashier weigh them.
You’re going to eat the outside of the item and don’t want to wash it (I put many items directly in my cart: cucumbers, cabbage, apples, peppers… but I wash them before eating).
You’re buying different types of a similar food. For example, I like to try many kinds of tangerines and oranges. It can get confusing for the cashier if they have to sort by type. (And sometimes you might be charged more if they lump them all together under the code for the most expensive type!)
The item is delicate. Such as lettuce and other greens, broccoli, stone fruits, pears, mushrooms, etc.
six // Shop the middle of the store for low-waste items such as:
Pasta in cardboard boxes.
Legumes and other items in aluminum cans.
Sauces, salsas, and juice in glass containers.
Beverages in cans.
seven // Return to the bulk section to use up your remaining bags (as desired). Look for items you commonly eat that are on sale or other new treats you might want to try. The beauty of bulk is you don’t have to buy very much. I often get just a handful of something new to see how we like it.
eight // Go to the deli counter and politely request they put your meat or cheese in your own container(s). I’ve never had anyone say “no” to me here in Denver, but I’ve heard it can be difficult in other cities depending on their health codes and ordinances. I do, however, stay close by and watch carefully to refuse any plastic they might slip in. Often the deli worker feels weird about putting the sticker directly on my container so they try to put it on a plastic bag and hand that to me. Obviously, this defeats the purpose, so just enthusiastically tell them they can stick it right to your container!
nine // Hit up the dairy section for milk, eggs, butter, etc. I buy local dairy milk in reusable glass bottles. I always check the back of the fridge for ones with later expiration dates. I also buy two cartons 18 eggs every time I go to the store. Eggs keep for a long time. Butter is unfortunately hard to buy without packaging. I buy the biggest package available; sometimes you can get a pound of butter in one wrapper instead of 4 individually-wrapped sticks.
ten // Check out. Watch carefully so the cashier doesn’t put a rubber band on your eggs or put something in a plastic bag. Sometimes they have questions or comments about my reusable bags, but usually they just figure it out. I assume they experience all kinds of quirky behavior with patrons!