Less Waste Grocery Shopping 101

Most of us grocery shop every week or two. So it is amazing how unaware we are of some of the resources they offer. Here are some tips and tricks to making your grocery store experience a little less wasteful.

Shop your Store

I recommend doing your normal shopping the next time you visit the store. Take your reuseable bags (of couse!) but shop how you normally do. Take note of what your grocery store offers. Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Do they have bulk bins?
  • A butcher counter?
  • Do you see items in glass vs. plastic?
  • What is packaged and what is not at the bakery?
  • Do the staff seem helpful?
  • Ask if glass jars or stainless steel containers are accepted for bulk items if you so choose to use those.
  • What is the pricing there vs. maybe somewhere else for the more eco-friendly option?

Finally, does this store offer what you need? Should you consider going elsewhere? It doesn’t hurt to scope others out. I used to shop at Fry’s/Kroger for everything but after making my switch to less waste I noticed they didn’t offer a lot of the things I needed.

Stores I find useful for bulk bin shopping and naked fruit/veggies are:

Stores with natural options and unique items try:

If you are not in AZ, check online to see what options you might have in your area for eco-friendly shopping.


Now that you know where you plan to shop you can go in prepared with items you will need for your purchases.

  • Bags (click to learn more about bag selection)
  • Produce bags (Colony Co. bags are biodegradeable!)
  • Bulk bin bags (look for ones that will have the tare weight listed on the label like these from Colony Co. and come in a variety of sizes)
  • Download the store app (coupons!)

I keep these items in my car so I don’t forget them, if car storage is not an option try a central spot in your home you know you will always frequent before leaving. I don’t personally take glass jars or stainless steel containers with me because some stores say the tare weight is too high, so just be sure they will accept it before filling it up.

How to Shop

You have what you need, now let’s shop!

Bulk Bins

This can be intimidating at first, but here are some tips to make you feel a little less awkward. It can include oats, coffee, granola, nuts, spices, beans, candy and more.

  1. If you have bags with a tare weight, you are ready to grab what you need. If they don’t have the weight, stop by a cashier so they can weigh them and note the tare weight so they don’t charge you for the bag.
  2. There should be a scooper for each bin, the name of what it is, and what the cost is per weight. Scoop what you need into your bag.
  3. Some people use their notes app to note the Product Look Up (PLU) code, I personally find it easier to take a picture of the label. That way you also know you have the whole label if you took down the wrong code.


A lot of produce is naked, not all, but most. Look for the organic section and most everything is not packaged. Use your produce bags to bag what you want and that is it! Not everything needs a bag either, just be sure to wash everything when you go to eat it.

Meat/Butcher Counter

I don’t purchase a lot of meat but getting it fresh rather than in plastic is a good option. Some people bring a stainless steel container with them to take away any meat. If you go this route, be sure to have it weighed before for the tare weight and be sure you have container for each type of meat, you don’t want to mix any and risk getting sick.


You can find a few items that are not already packaged you can load up on in the bakery. Fresh bread you can put in a larger bulk bin bag or I like to bag up on the bulk cookies. If you know you will want to take away a messy pasty be sure to bring a container you can have them place it in. I have yet to find sandwich bread loaf without plastic so I save the plastic to fill up with shredded paper for recycling.


I get freshly cut deli meats and have them placed in my bulk bin bags, they slap the label on the bag and tada, no plastic bag. You can also get cheeses this way. If you are looking to purchase hot food, see if you can use your own containers.


I get what I can in glass, sadly most yogurts, cottage cheese and sour cream are still in plastic but I’m always looking! Straus Family Creamery carries half and half in glass bottles and Danzeisen milk comes in glass bottles as well. Danzeisen is also local to Arizona so that makes it even more sustainable! I get both of these at Whole Foods. All these bottles have a higher price because you are paying a deposit for the bottle. So you can either keep it and use it or return the bottle to the store and they will refund you the deposit. I keep my empties by the door so I don’t forget them.


For everything else look for canned, glass or naked items. Don’t be afraid to ask where something is especially if you are new to that store, sometimes an item will be in muliple places.


I place my bags on the belt first, then load all the items that come in packaging, followed by the bulk/produce items and last the empty bottles for return. This way I can look up the pictures with the PLUs for the bulk items at the same time to read to the cashier. Be sure you scan any reward cards you might have for that store brand and/or if you have coupons.

There you have it! Less plastic and waste! Don’t worry if it takes time to get comfortable, people are not as judgy as we think they are. Most staff will welcome questions and helping you when they can.

Delivery Services

I have done the pick up order option only a handful of times in the past but was not that impressed. I like to check my produce and know what I’m buying so I prefer to shop myself, others might not feel that way. If you prefer this, I would recommend calling the store and asking if they can hold your items in a cart until you get there to bag it in your bags or if paper bags are an option. Since I have not investaged this much, it is possible they have reuseable bags you can bring back. I would at least ask the question to see what is possible.

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My name is Kate and I'm a world traveler looking to make a positive impact by reducing my waste and single plastic use.

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