Thursday, April 12, 2018

How to shop Zero Waste and a few essentials to help you along the way


The biggest part of plastic rubbish when I started my Zero Waste journey came from my food shopping. Literally, everything is wrapped in plastic if your standard shop happens to be in one of the UK’s supermarkets. Meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts- whatever you buy on a weekly basis, chances are that it will come wrapped in plastic which is unrecyclable and goes straight into landfill. I have noticed a huge reduction in my trash when I swapped to Zero Waste shopping. How did I do it? With a few trusty essentials and the help of local shops, I can now buy most of my food completely package free or in recyclable packaging in those rare cases where I can’t get my hands on bulk produce.  

         With a few essentials, shopping Zero Waste is achievable

I had to invest in some of the items to start with but because all of the items are incredibly useful and multi-purpose, I have got my money back tenfold. There are lots of different ways to skin a cat as they say and there are lots of different options for your zero waste shopping. Some people have designated shopping tools but I found that my set up works really well because it is so versatile and simple. This also saves me money and time which is another reason behind Zero Waste.


1. Kilner Jars 

   My local butchers Beeches of Walkley was one of the the first shops which supported my Zero Waste efforts 

I buy my meat, fish and any ‘wet’ or oily items like sliced chorizo or olives in my jars. They are quite heavy so where I can, I use my cotton bags but for a lot of items it is a lot more practical to use glass. I make sure that I put them on a hot cycle through the dish washer before I use them and they are good to go. I store a lot of my food in them too as it lasts longer and I also use them to make the occasional jams and chutneys. 

My jars are also used for foraging and making some delicious Sloe Gin! 

Some of them I have had for years and some are recent additions – you can buy them new online or they usually pop up in charity shops or your local hard wear store. I own quite a few of these in a range of sizes- from 500 ml , 1 Litre and all the way to 2 Litres which are really useful for things like flour and pasta. They are fully recyclable once they finally give up. You don’t have to buy new jars either, any old reused glass jar will do the trick!

2. Glass bottles 

          My Zero Waste laudry detergent which I bought in bulk 

These are really useful for any liquids. I buy my laundry detergent, the occasional beer and oil as well as freshly squeezed orange juice from time to time. I have a swing top ones as they don’t leak but you can reuse any glass bottle. Again, these can be reused in between the shopping trips, storing cold water in the fridge or for some delicious Sloe Gin!

3. Cotton Produce Bags 

            The shop owner at Porter Brook deli demonstrating how easy is to buy cheese in cotton bags 

These bags are literally the best thing ever and will be so useful in your fight against plastic. I use them for pretty much everything. I buy all of my nuts, seeds, sweets, hard cheese, tea, coffee, vegetables, bread, pork pie etc etc in those. I also use them for sandwiches and snacks and to freeze bread. I have quite a lot of them, probably 30 of different sizes between small, medium and large and just wash them with my normal wash unless they are really dirty! It may seem like a lot but between 3 people living in our house, it is about right. Because of these bags, I don’t ever use cling film or foil. Honestly if you only invest in one item, buy these.

                  Any cotton bags will do the trick, mine are very sophisticatedly bilingual :) 

I got mine as a gift from my sister who bought them in a local shop in Belgium but you can buy similar ones here and here. When I get home, I store pretty much everything in glass so I just transfer it over and the bags are ready to be used again. Mine are made from organic cotton so when they eventually give up, they are biodegradable. I don’t bother taring them as they are so light but if your bags are made from a heavier fabric, it will be useful to write the weight on them with a permanent marker pen which will make it possible to subtract the weight at the checkout. 

4. Stainless Steel containers


My Stainless steel tiffin. The. Best. Thing. Ever. Seriously, get one if you need a lunch/shopping box,  they are so awesome. 

 Sometimes I use my stainless steel containers for things like a piece of stake or different cured meats and cheese items. Most of the time I use Kilner jars but I find it is easier sometimes for the shopkeeper to put the items in a large wide mouth container. Good stainless steel containers are not cheap but will last you for years to come. I bought my 3 tier tiffin in India nearly 5 years ago and it is still going strong. I love the different dividers and it is one of my most used items by far! They are widely available and will outlast any plastic lunch box. I have also invested in a few square tins and an airtight container which is brilliant as it can carry liquid items or larger pieces of meat.  The same one is sold out but this one  is very simmilar and would do the same job. As both of these items double up as my lunch boxes, this means that they get used daily and I don’t end up having loads of containers. These items will literally last me a lifetime but eventually can be recycled. Stainless steel does not downgrade through recycling and so it is a good long-term option.

5. Cotton Tote (and a few smaller ones too) 

              I love versatile and multi purpose things- shopping bag in a day/climbing bag at night

The last thing that you need is something to put your shopping in! I have an oversized Patagonia organic tote bag which also doubles up as my climbing bag/’’put everything in and worry about it later’’ kind of bag. It is really sturdy and it can hold all of the jars and everything else that I need. You do have to be a bit careful that you don’t break the jars as they tend to rub a little bit. As I have my local shops really close, it doesn’t bother me. You can use a drinks bag which has dividers in it and that would solve it but I find that my set up works for me. If I have to carry an unusual amount of shopping I will bring my hiking rucksack. It is just like going for a walk with a pack, so I really don’t mind. I also have just standard size cotton tote bags which are always useful. As with everything that Patagonia makes, at the end of the bag’s life (it will be a very long time as it sturdy as anything) you can send it back to them and they will recycle it and so it is Zero Waste to the max!


And how do you make sure that what you buy is Zero Waste? All you need to do is bring the above tools to the shop and ask them to put whatever you are buying directly into a jar or a cotton bag. I usually just hand my jar over and the shopkeeper weights it, tares it and then just adds the produce directly into it. I ask them to not use any paper (or think plastic sheet) to weight it first which is sometimes the first reaction and I politely ask them to use my jars instead. As they know me by now (I usually shop in the same shops) they know I how I roll:) 

Glass jars double up as storage containers 

If you have self service checkouts you will need to write the weight of the jar or your bags or jars beforehand and just ask for it to be subtracted from the total weight. The key with Zero Waste shopping is to be organised and remember to bring your tools. One thing that I found to be a side product of Zero Waste shopping is that we waste a lot less food. You need to plan your meals for the week so that you know exactly how many jars and bags you need to bring shopping and this makes you really think about buying only what you need. 

  BirdHouse Tea Company now even give discount if you bring your own containers! 

I am also really lucky to have good quality locals shops around, who support me in my Zero Waste efforts. Some of the shops are now giving a discount if you bring your own containers and they are always happy to chat and are of course grateful for your custom. Big supermarkets are different, will it make a difference to them if you refuse to buy something because it comes in plastic? Not really.  Will it make a difference to the people who run your local deli? Absolutely! So choose wisely where you shop as you are voting with every purchase. 

     Local shops like Hop Hideout are the heart of community 

Your money goes into the local community as opposed to shareholders and so I am always happy to give my money to someone who spends their life making the community what it is.

There are also Zero Waste shops opening up in lots of different places which will make Zero Waste shopping a lot easier. However, often, you just need to scout your local shops and you may find some gems along the way!

   Zero Waste section at the Sheffield University Students Union 

Anyone can shop Zero Waste to an extent. You may have some things available in your area and some may be difficult. But however small change you make, it will make a big difference overall so just start somewhere! You may feel a little bit apprehensive when you bring your jars for the first time, but trust me, you will have such a good feeling afterwards. When you get home, there will be no packaging to dispose off, no bins to take out and chances are that you would have enjoyed the experience a lot more than mindlessly tossing packaged stuff into your supermarket trolley.

There are a few things (cream and butter) which I cannot get either Zero Waste or in recyclable materials.  But I am working on it! So if you make efforts to produce less packaging, don't give yourself a hard time if there are things which slip through the net. This is a journey and the more of us will push for change, the more items will become available, eventually contributing to a big change in the way we, as a society shop. 



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