Five Rules for Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

zero waste grocery shopping

When you’re transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, few things are more challenging than getting the zero waste grocery shopping right. Weekly? Check. Zero-waste? Um, as far as possible. Vegan? Check (of course).

Those are my criteria. And how I go about it is quite simple (otherwise I wouldn’t follow it myself). What about the budget, though? That stays more or less fixed, as long as I follow the rules below. Let’s get started!


1. Make a list for your grocery shopping.

I keep a whiteboard that is used for listing out items I’ve run out of. If my coffee is approaching danger levels, I write it down immediately on the board. I transfer this list every weekend to my phone before I head out to the stores. Simple!

Alternatively, here’s a list of apps for grocery shopping – if that’s your jam.

2. Buy non-perishables in bulk.

Now, there are various categories of food: non-perishable are the ones you don’t need to be careful about regarding quantity (you do, however, need to be careful about the expiry date!). I buy oats, brown rice, salt, rice pasta, coffee and such items in bulk. This saves me time and money. And it’s just convenient. Of course, the amount you buy also depends on how much storage space you have at home. I have a decent amount of space – and I live alone, with my cat. So, my system is in place. Figure out what your set-up is like, how large your family is, what their requirements are, etc. and optimise it for your needs.

And, if possible, take your own containers and cloth bags so you do not end up using the store’s plastic bags.

Here are some options:

3. Plan out your perishables carefully.

Fruits, vegetables, herbs and other raw items. They need careful tending to, so your supply lasts the week without going bad. I still struggle with this, buying bananas that are too ripe, or papaya that takes over a week to ripen.

You will need some trial and error before you get this right, but the part I would advise you to start at is the meal planning. Once you know what you’re going to eat and when, you will have a good idea of which items you need on each day of the week. This will logically lead you to buying a certain quantity each time, and at certain stages of ripeness.

Once you bring the perishable stuff home, they will need to be stored properly. “Stored properly”, obviously, is a subjective description. Since there are various types of fruits and vegetables and various types of storage conditions, this will need some work in order to ascertain the ideal conditions for you and your home.

I will make a separate post on specific fruits, vegetables and herbs and their storage conditions, how long they will last, and other such useful information. In the meantime, you can refer to this as a guide.


4. Spend only on what you need.

We all want to buy fresh, organic vegetables, and these can be seen as a “need” if you can afford them. Not all of us can, unfortunately, and so we buy cheaper, non-organic items to made do.

Even so, food is important. Nutrient intake is vital. So, depending on your circumstances, plan out a budget for food items. AND STICK TO IT.

The onus is on you to cut out unhealthy food items, though they may be cheaper, and add in healthy albeit more expensive stuff. But this, again, is a balance between what you want to do and what you can do. Spending more money on quality food, and cutting down on your daily Starbucks habit may be the solution for some of us. Others may be able to cut down on their daily commute costs, or excessive shopping habits, or something else. We can all adjust our lifestyle such that we waste less on unhealthy stuff and spend more on healthy stuff.

One thing is more or less certain: in most cases, the healthier your food habits, the less you will fall sick. Ergo: fewer medical bills.


5. Shop at your local stores and farmers’ markets.

Avoid heading to fancy, expensive stores. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I have been guilty of darting into a fancy store and quickly purchasing some items – in the interest of saving time. This comes back to good planning. Once you plan out your requirements and your needs, you won’t end up *having to buy* sourdough bread from the fancy French patisserie on Wednesday evening, instead of waiting for the Sunday farmers’ market with the homemade and cheaper breads.

Or, you can sign up with Amazon Fresh and carefully only order what you want.


What next? Have you read our post on 5 Weeks to a Zero-Waste Kitchen?

Grocery shopping is something we all do on auto-pilot. The challenge is to look at our routine and identify where we can improve. Even after doing that, it takes time to get the whole thing right… and it’s always a work in progress.

But the important thing to remember is that it’s totally worth it. Your savings improve, your health improves. What could be a better outcome?! Remember: Quality food is a necessity, but junk and/or expensive food is not. Waste – of food, of money – is certainly not.



6 Comment

  1. This is a very thought provoking post. Thanks!

  2. […] Five Rules for Zero Waste Grocery Shopping* […]

  3. […] can buy in bulk at the local bulk stores, and cut down on my plastic consumption while also saving […]

What do you think?