Zero Waste Shopping: A Guide

As a final year student who is passionate about reducing my impact on the environment, I was looking for ways to be more sustainable. I recently stumbled across a local zero waste shop and my life has been changed. Here I share my experience of how it works, give my top tips and show others about this simple way to live more consciously.

Simply, a Zero Waste Shop (ZWS) is a shop which aims to reduce its impact on the environment by buying items in bulk, in either reusable, recyclable or returnable packaging. This enables shops to offer products to customers without the nasty plastic packaging you typically find in the supermarkets. This significantly reduces waste, which is fantastic for the environment. do they work?

Step 1: Explore

The best place to start is by finding your local ZWS. Pebble has a really comprehensive list of the top ones in the UK (a list that started out at 13 and has grown to over 102!)

Once you’ve found your local one – it might even be on wheels, see what goodies they have and what products you like or want to try.

Most ZWS are beautifully designed and built using natural materials. Combining this with bright colours of all the loose products… it’s easy to spend a lot of time there.

I’m not going to lie, on my first visit to my local ZWS I spent nearly two hours just looking around!

Step 2: Lists-galore

While you’re in there, start making a list of all their products. Items you use regularly like pastas, rices, grains, lentils, pulses, dried fruit, oils, hygiene products, laundry liquids, frozen items, teas and coffee for example, might be particularly important to take note of. Noting the price might also be useful.

You could ask to see if they have a list of all their products to save time – they might keep this online to save printing lots of copies.

They might not stock everything you usually buy (hopefully they do), so it makes it easier for you to know what you are able to buy, before you do your shop.

Top tip: make a note of the kind of dispenser the items come from, as this will determine what jar or tub you bring to decant it in to. For example, if the pasta comes from a gravity dispenser, you might want to consider bringing a wider tub to accommodate the wider dispensing funnel.

Step 3: Plan Plan Plan

I LOVE to meal prep so in advance of going to shop I know exactly what I need to buy, which saves me money and reduces food waste!

Once I know what meals I am having that week, I then break down what specific ingredients I need…this is where that ZWS list comes in.

Compare your shopping list with the list you made at the ZWS. If there are certain things on your list which aren’t sold there, for example, if they don’t sell brown rice, why not try an alternative they have in stock such as quinoa or couscous? It’s great to mix things up anyway and try something new!

Step 4: Containers

Now you know what you’re aiming to buy, this will help to know what containers to bring with you when you visit the shop, from glass jars to Tupperware boxes.

You can either take your own containers with you which you can then put straight into your cupboards at home or you could take any old containers, then decant them again when you get home. This is useful if you didn’t want to take lots of heavy glass jars for example.

If not, usually the shop has spare bottles, jars, old containers or paper bags you can use, but it might be worth calling them up before just to check!

Top tip: If you’re bringing your own containers with you, make sure they are clean. Shops can prevent you from using them if they're not.

Step 5: Shop till you drop

(…but don’t drop your lovely glass jars though!)

Now you have your list and containers, it’s time to shop!

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  1. Different shops might have different ways of doing this but typically, you take in your container to the scales or to the checkout where it’s weighed whilst empty

  2. A sticker will be printed or a note taken of the initial weight

  3. Go and fill up your jars, bottles, boxes and tubs. Some items might be in dispensers, others you fill up with scoops, others you might pour in

  4. Most items are priced per 100g/100ml which will give you a rough indication of how much filling up will cost

  5. Take your containers back to the scale or counter and reweigh. The price will take into account the weight of the container, so it is not included in the final price

....what's not to love!

And if that's not enough...

The packaging that rice, pasta, nuts etc. come in are not currently recyclable so you can see that buying new packets of these products every week quickly builds up your contribution to landfill. ZWS are a great way to reduce your impact on the planet by minimising the amount of plastic waste.

ZWS are also typically independently run by local people who have a similar desire to reduce their negative impact on the earth. They also often stock locally made products too, whether that's fresh fruit and vegetables, sauces and chutneys or homemade products like reusable cotton rounds and lunchboxes. By buying from them, you’re supporting local business and supporting the local economy.

The other aspect of ZW shopping that I love is that with the pay by weight model, often with no minimum quantity, if you’re on a student budget and money is a bit tight, then you can fill up with as much as you want to suit your budget!

What happens if you don’t have a shop near you?

If you haven’t got a ZWS near you, not to worry. There are many other ways you can embrace a zero-waste lifestyle. Here are just a few ideas…

  • Join Zero Waste Groups on Facebook, or post on your local Facebook page to get an idea about the demand for a shop in your local area. Maybe someone is already thinking about starting one – this might give them the impetus they need to get going!

  • Buy in bulk - you could do it with friends or neighbours, or as a student house. Rather than buying things in smaller packaging, if you all chip in for a bigger package this reduces the amount of plastic packaging and will likely bring the cost down for you too.

  • Look for local food or famers markets! Have a quick Google of your local area to see what is about. They usually sell lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, sweet treats, sauces and more and usually with minimal (if any) packaging.

We have become so used to expecting access to all products at all times. We need to realign our priorities, be conscious of what we are buying and slow down our consumption.

As the mantra goes – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Help protect our planet by reducing your waste. Shopping Zero Waste is a great place to start!

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