This week, avid environmental activist and Gingerhill team member Sarah Montano will be discussing the most critical components of living a zero waste lifestyle.

Practicing Zero Waste Shopping for a Zero Waste Lifestyle

This blog is the first in a series of discussions on how to live a zero waste lifestyle. In this article, I will cover why zero-waste living is important, how to create a reusable shopping kit, and steps to make bulk shopping a zero-waste success.

Zero-waste is a mindfulness practice, an evolving philosophy of how to live sustainably.

Sustainable living means living within limits, rejecting habits that deplete non-renewable resources, and being mindful of our management of finite resources in order to maintain ecological harmony. Zero-waste methodology humbly offers ways to forego the generation of unnecessary waste. After all, preventing the creation of waste is far more sustainable than attempting to recycle.

The intention of zero-waste living is to create no new trash, to utilize all materials, and to find value in all resources.

By careful review of how we, as consumers, participate in the marketplace, we take responsibility for the goods that we consume and for the packaging that those goods come in. When purchasing a product, we also acquire the packaging. Thus, we are responsible for the trash we create as a byproduct of our shopping habits. Some would argue that the packaging has no value to them. What is a person to do with an empty milk-carton or a styrofoam coffee cup?

“Pollution is nothing but resources we’re not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” — Buckminster Fuller.

Consumers often feel tempted or confused by green-washed foods, unsustainable packaging, single serving luxuries, and costly convenience. As a result, shopping can feel overwhelming. Shoppers typically feel disconnected from the natural environment and are often subject to shopping for trash.

As we continue throwing single-use items such as plastic bottles and plastic cutlery “away”, it is a challenge to realize that there is no such thing as “away.” We live on a planet within an interconnected galaxy — so, there is really just “over there.” So, we throw things “over there,” expecting that they will stay put, which is not the case.

We know that plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, it just breaks down into ever smaller and smaller pieces that ultimately enter the food chain. We have now ominously discovered that plastic micro-particles exist in several marine regions. Naturally, wildlife that inhabit these regions consume these particles. Thus, when we consume these wildlife, we are also consuming the toxic, genetically detrimental plastic particles they have eaten. 

What we throw away does not go away.

Experts estimate that 1.15 to 2.41 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year from rivers. In the majestic Pacific Ocean, humans have contributed to the creation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a plastic accumulation zone that covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers.¹

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers an estimated surface area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

Our patterns of consumption must change.

This series of zero-waste blogs will highlight ways to reduce waste in the kitchen by encouraging a shift from a pro-recycling paradigm toward a practice of zero-waste. It is important for each individual to look at their trash and think critically of creative and immediate ways to move toward zero-waste.

Recycling is an unsustainable practice.

Recycling requires the input of additional energy and nonrenewable resources in order to create a new product, thereby increasing the total energy necessary for producing an item exponentially.

Until recently, the United States had a relationship with China wherein the US would export recyclable materials to China. China would then sell products containing recycled materials back to the U.S.

However, the Chinese National Sword policy, enacted January 2018, enforces a strict regulation on the import of solid waste materials. The policy bans various paper, plastic, and solid waste from being imported into China. Additionally, the new policy requires that scrap plastic and metals be 99.5 percent pure. Any materials that have unintended residue are rejected, including all improperly sorted recyclables and items that have residual contaminants such as food.

“Any item that does not belong in the recycling process is a contaminant. Contamination occurs when non-recyclable material winds up in the recycling stream, or when a recycling bale ends up with the wrong kind of recyclable.

If we mix plastic bags or lids with paper, they contaminate the paper and reduce its value. Likewise, if we place glass with other recyclables, it can break and contaminate the rest of the material.

Contamination is a serious issue — it reduces efficiency, destroys value, and leads to greater waste.” ²

The National Sword policy is a progressive move for China. Also referred to as the Blue Skies or Green Fence policy, it will relieve the country from the inundation of pollution that belongs to foreign countries. Countries are now responsible for creating localized solutions for the waste they generate.

It is essential to be prepared and to be well practiced.

The tools that support a zero-waste lifestyle are simple and easy to aquire.

Here is one way to create a reusable shopping bag, stocked with jars & containers that make it convenient to practice zero-waste shopping. You probably already have many of these items or can purchase them at a low cost. 

First, choose a reusable shopping bag to carry your groceries. Next, fill the bag with items such as:
    • A linen produce bag for buying fruits & vegetables without packaging.  
    • Mason jars with tare weight for bulk purchases.
    • Containers of various sizes labeled with tare weight for bulk shopping.
    • Nesting containers that can be used for deli items and to-go food.

The shopping kit at the top of the page allows us to shop for everything from shampoo to vegetables. We are able to do so without creating additional packaging trash.

Many packaged items such as legumes, rice, grain, flour, pasta, sugar, nut butter, tea, spices, granola, dried fruit, and coffee can be found in the bulk section of a well-stocked grocery store. In fact, they are often available at a better price than the prepackaged goods. One additional benefit is that you can shop for the precise amount of a good that you need.

How to Shop in Bulk:  

  1. Save your favorite containers.
  2. Then, go to the checkout before shopping and ask the cashier to give you the ‘tare’ weight for each container.
  3. Write the tare weight on each container with a permanent marker or on a sticker. Doing so allows you to reuse the container on your next trip.
  4. Go to the bulk isle and fill your containers with whatever you need. Don’t forget to write the price look-up (PLU) or item code on the container.
  5. Go to the checkout line and be patient with the cashier.  Though it’s quite simple, it’s also revolutionary for people to shop this way. Check to make sure your receipt is accurate. Be sure that the cashier knows to subtract the tare weight from the net weight of the container.
  6. Once your containers are labeled with tare weight and PLU code, they can be reused over and over again when you need to refill that item.
  7. Teach others how to shop with reusable containers.

How do you envision a world with less trash?

Thursday February 21, 2019 California Assembly Bill 1080/Senate Bill 54 was proposed to establish a comprehensive framework to address the pollution and waste crisis. The goal of this bill is to phase out the sale and distribution of single-use plastic by 2030. Thus, industries that are responsible for the production of single-use plastic will have to shift production to make truly recyclable or compostable containers.

“Eliminating non-reusable, non-recyclable, and non-compostable products and reducing packaging is by far the most effective and least expensive way to protect our health and our environment,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.”³

Zero waste living is a social movement. Thousands of activists are creatively sharing tips and methods that encourage individuals to think differently about how we use resources and materials. Everyone is invited to participate and to contribute unique solutions to this complex problem of plastic and garbage pollution. If you have creative ideas for living a zero waste lifestyle, leave us a comment to share any resources or practices on how to create less trash.


Subscribe To Our Newsletter


News, videos, updates, and way more helpful and valuable information about farming, agriculture, cooking and community living!

You have Successfully Subscribed!