October 11, 2011

Auto Pilot

Some might think that we are obsessed with Zero Waste. Although it is an eminent part of our lifestyle, I do not consider it an obsession... anymore. It might have started as such, but as I mentioned before, Zero Waste for us is now more than just garbage reduction. With the logistics on Auto-Pilot, we can fully enjoy its financial, health, and time savings benefits. I realize that our success with the lifestyle relies mainly on organizational skills applied to shopping, so I thought I would share my Friday routine with you.


We have grocery and errands lists pinned to our wall in the laundry room (adjacent to our pantry). Both lists are made of strips of reused, single-side printed, school paper,
clipped and tied to a refillable pencil. We use the sheets from bottom up, so we can tear just the portion used.

When one of us empties a jar or notices butter running low, we make note of it on the GROCERY LIST. The whole family adds to it. Leo once wrote, "10,000 bananas", out of frustration with our local produce ;). I also jot down items needed for special occasions (e.g., extra cheese for a potluck). The GROCERY LIST includes items available in the grocery store that I visit on a weekly basis, which I selected based on its bulk selection, convenience / location, and on-premise bakery. By now, I have built a relationship with its employees and look forward to seeing them every Friday (the day that also coincides with the local farmers' market).

When we feel the urge to get something from another store, we write it on the ERRANDS LIST. Usually, by the time Friday arrives, I have eliminated and/or found a reason not to purchase many items on the list. A great money saver. I also use the ERRANDS LIST to jot down such items as donation drop-offs or specialty bulk items from a different store/town (such as pasta, shampoo, conditioner, Castile soap, dog food, cooking oil, and dishwasher detergent).
Grocery and errands lists seem like obvious must-haves, but through my consulting business with other families, I was surprised to see that more than 3/4 of households, do not have an on-going list, resulting in frequent (sometimes daily) grocery runs and impulse buys.


I have three large totes (no need for more): Two GROCERY TOTES, and one FARMERS MARKET TOTE .

I keep the FARMERS MARKET TOTE (containing produce mesh bags) and one of the GROCERY TOTES (containing bulk bags, crayon, bread pillowcase, bottle carrier and baguette bar code) in the trunk of my car.

In the house and next to the lists, I keep the other grocery tote (KITCHEN GROCERY TOTE) handy to fill during the week with: Washed bulk bags, empty jars, empty containers to be returned for a deposit refund (milk and yogurt), empty egg cartons, and empty produce bags, along with ERRANDS ITEMS, such as finished library books/movies, and items to be taken to a repair shop or friend's house for example.


On Friday, I take the tote down to the car with both lists, making sure that I have a minimum of five jars to fill. I number my ERRANDS LIST by stops, starting with the furthest errand and maximizing right turns (better for gas mileage;)

I put the GROCERY LIST in one of the GROCERY TOTES, and pull ERRANDS ITEMS out of the KITCHEN GROCERY TOTE to lay them on the passenger seat, for easy access and quick drop-offs. I also transfer the egg cartons and produce bags in the FARMERS MARKET TOTE.

Then I work my route, crossing out the errands on my ERRANDS LIST as I go. My last three stops are the farmers' market, the grocery store and the library.

At the farmers' market, I take the FARMERS MARKET TOTE, go straight to my favorite veggie stand (veggies at the bottom), then my favorite fruit stand (usually softer than veggies...), and finally the egg stand to get my cartons refilled (the most items fragile on top...).

Then at Whole Foods:
  • I load a cart with both GROCERY TOTES, and make a first stop at the customer service to return deposit jars for a refund (I wrap the refund slip around my credit card, so I don't forget to use it during checkout) and occasionally get a tare on a jar or bottle (we use the bulk crayon to write it on).
  • I then head to the bakery to order “Ten baguettes, no packaging”.
  • I proceed to the salad bar (mostly for grated cheeses at a low price), the olive bar (for the appetizer items like capers, cornichons and olives), and the deli, meat, and fish counters.
  • I’ll grab some milk while my jar gets filled at the cheese counter.
  • I get my fill in the bulk aisle, writing the item number on the cloth bag with the bulk crayon before filling it (easier) and sometimes fill a jar/bottle at the nearby liquid counter (e.g., honey or olive oil).
  • I sometimes also stop in the produce section for a specific item that I would have not found at the Farmers' Market (e.g., loose spinach) or the wine section for white, or the bakery bins for some croissants.
  • My loop ends back at the bakery counter, where fresh out-of-the oven baguettes get placed in my pillowcase, giving me much needed warmth (I get cold in grocery stores) and filling my senses with childhood memories, as I make my way to the checkout stand.
  • I unload jars first (because heavy items will need to go into the totes first), then bulk and bread. I pullout the baguette bar code (cut from an old wrapper and glued onto a piece of cardboard) and remember my deposit refund slip wrapped around my credit card, as my totes get filled. I say “no” to the store receipt and head home with a quick stop at the library.
Once home, I unload the car, refrigerate cold items, fill storage jars with bulk, (make a sandwich), cut in half and freeze the baguettes, store veggies in the produce keeper of the refrigerator, replenish the fruit bowl, put dirty bulk bags on the washing machine, recycle my lists and put the totes back in place: Two in the car, one in the home. Ready for use the following week…

How do you automate your Zero Waste Shopping?