January 12, 2010

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

While I plan on blogging about my local grocery stores and the bulk they carry, here is my general guide on Zero Waste grocery shopping:

- Only shop once a week: If you run all your errands on the same day and with a list (written on single-side printed paper or receipts), it saves on gas and impulse shopping. For maximum fuel efficiency, start with the furthest stop.

- Always have a few shopping baskets in your trunk: I like the straw French market baskets (I have lined them with an old sheet to make them stronger). One is filled with cloth and produce bags. I also have a rigid tote that I keep in a corner of the kitchen to store/carry milk and “wet items” jars to/from the grocery store.

- Use 2 sizes of cloth bags (10 of each should do) to transport grains and small items available in bulk (flour, sugar, beans, cereal, cookies, spices, etc…): You can buy these bags in the bulk section of your store (tucked in a dark corner…). Since I had a specific design idea in mind, I made mine from old sheets, with a fabric tie to eliminate metal ties, with their tare stamped on, and with a washable marker handy to note the item number directly on the fabric. I also use laundry mesh bags for produce (the cashier can read produce item numbers through it).
HOW: If your bags do not have a tare (weight of your empty bag) printed on them, they can be weighed at the customer service counter. In the bulk section, you then fill your bag and write its item number either on a tie (trash!) or directly on your bag (better, zero waste). At home, you'll pour your grains in see-through airtight containers. Don’t forget to put your cloth bags back in your shopping basket and car!

- Bring jars (French Le Parfait are my favorite) for wet items such as meat, fish, cheese, and deli from the counter or honey, peanut butter, pickles, etc from bulk: I like to use 1 liter jars for counter items (for my family of 2 adults and 2 kids, I use about 5 x 1liter jars a week: 2 meat, 1 fish, 1 cheese, 1 deli). Obviously life would be easier if we had succeeded in becoming vegetarians, and even easier if we were vegans (have not tried that yet).
HOW: For bulk items, get your jar weighed for its tare, fill it and write the item number on the available stickers. For counter items, simply ask the counter associate to fill your jar with your chosen, meat/fish/deli/cheese (the price sticker goes onto the jar and can be easily removed later). Some ask if your jar is clean, others ask why you’re doing this. After you've gone to the same store and talked to the same associates for consecutive weeks (same day of the week), they'll stop asking questions (see Difficult trip to WF) and you’ll get through shopping faster. Interesting fact: To this day, the Safeway cheese counter has never questioned my jars.

- Bring a large bread bag to the bakery for your bread order: I made a bag from the same old sheet.
HOW: I order my bread from Whole Foods Bakery as soon as I enter the store, I insist on no bread sleeve, and my baguettes bake while I shop. When I am done shopping, they slide the baguettes into my bag and give me one sleeve (for its barcode) to take to the store cashier with the rest of my groceries (make sure you refuse that sleeve! so they can reuse it and be reminded of the unnecessary packaging, see “what can my grocery store do to reduce packaging”). When I I get home, I binge on warm bread and freeze the rest… 15 baguettes every other week (incl. 2lbs of carbs on my belly)

- Refill liter or gallon size glass bottles with bulk castile soap, shampoo, conditioner, soy, vinegar, maple syrup...: I simply reuse empty 1 liter Whole Foods white vinegar bottles (I have not found white vinegar in bulk yet) for this purpose. I bought the gallon size at Rainbow grocery for olive and cooking oils.
HOW: These bottles also need to be weighed before you fill them with your chosen liquid and stick an item number on them. You won't be bringing these along to the store on a weekly basis. Bulk liquids are harder to find than counter products or grains, but once you find your supply, you’ll figure out your household monthly needs and the capacity of bottles needed. Again, the less you use on an everyday basis, the less you’ll need to refill, the smaller your footprint.

- Buy milk that comes in a glass jar: Depending on where you live you can either get it from a local dairy with delivery service or simply find your nearest Straus vendor. I get mine from Whole foods (your regular grocery store does not want to bother with the hassle of bottle redemption). With a recyclable cap and ring, the bottle can be returned to the store and then to the producer for reuse. I like to leave the cap on, it keeps the rinsing water in and reminds Straus to come up with a non-plastic cap.
HOW: If you buy Straus from your dairy aisle, you'll be charged a $1.50 deposit on your grocery bill. When you've drank all the yummy cream top milk, you rinse the bottle, take it back to your store (or any Straus vendor)'s customer service for a store credit slip.

- Bring your jar or cloth bag to a specialty store for a refill, such as ice-cream, candy, dog food: OK, this one is not easy, and will get you the most turn downs. But business in a jar is still business! And many are open to it
HOW: Choose a small business, Rite Aid will not refill your jar with ice cream (they are bound to too many corporate rules, but, hey, that's for the better: I doubt of its ice cream quality anyways). A small family-owned store will most likely accept. My local gelato joint has done so. For health license reasons, they have to sterilize my jar before filling it, which means that I have to drop it off and pick it up a few hours later. It does not come cheap and one cannot binge on ice cream (PMS) at this price, but the ingredients, seasonal flavors and palate excitement are worth every penny.

- Shop at the farmers market for (1) the egg stand who takes back its empty egg cartons, and (2) the sticker free produce!

- Refill your clean empty wine bottles with your everyday wine at a local winery bottling event: We like the reuse screw top wine bottles for this, no corks wasted. I’ll go into detail later about the 2 wineries I found locally, wine refilling is hard to find.
HOW: Research/contact wineries about refilling your bottles. The one winery that we like most, offers a bottling event 4 times a year. This is how they organize it: You are greeted at a table and fill a form, then move to the cashier counter and pay for the amount of bottles that you brought, then move to bottling: bottle line up, wine filling, corking or screwing, and labeling. We forego the latter, unlabeled wine is a more sustainable wine. It’s also a great way to start people talking about Zero Waste at a dinner party.

- Bring a refillable beer jug to your local brewery: some breweries carry them. We only get beer on occasions, when we’re scheduled to entertain beer drinkers, since it goes flat faster than bottled.
HOW: Look for a local brewery that will provide such service. Call around. If you get turned down, your inquiring will at least get them thinking about it. At my local brewery, I choose my beer from a long menu, the bartender fills the jug from the chosen beer tap and I pay for it, all at the counter.

One item at a time, you can "Zero Waste" your grocery shopping too.

Got milk? ... (in a glass jar only, please)