Well, I’m glad Christmas has come and gone! I hope that however you spent yours, it was relaxing and peaceful. We travelled interstate on a little camping getaway with my Mum and her partner, and camped in the middle of nowhere for a night before heading back to their place for a few more days. I remained true to my Christmas consumerism boycott and didn’t give or receive any Christmas gifts this year, and being removed from civilisation while we were away was a wonderful way to avoid the chaos of Christmas shopping and the Boxing Day sales. This has been my most minimalistic and zero-waste Christmas yet, and I’m looking forward to many more of the same.
We’re now back home and enjoying the post-Christmas calm that seems to descend upon Brisbane each year. I wonder if it’s the same elsewhere. Everyone seems to be out of town so the roads are quiet and the whole city just feels a bit sleepy. With both my husband and me off work at the same time – a rare occurrence – we’ll be spending the next few days kicking back at home, as well as doing a few laid-back, budget-friendly things around town.
Anyway, I said recently that going forward I’d like to discuss sustainability and zero waste more on the blog, so I thought, why not start today? I have a separate zero waste update blog post in the making but in the meantime really wanted to share with you what I hope some readers might find interesting: my essential zero-waste shopping kit.
I’m very fortunate to have many zero-waste shopping options available to me. We recently moved and it turns out we have a bulk store right around the corner from us, which is very exciting for me. Then about two weeks ago, an awesome zero-waste store opened in the shopping centre right near us! I almost cried with excitement. Unlike the other bulk store, which is part grocery store part bulk store, this one is completely unpackaged and it’s amazing! I actually feel a bit overwhelmed going in there, that’s how great it is. They have all the basics you would expect to find like flours, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and chocolate, but also some items that are hard to find unpackaged like laundry and kitchen products, haircare products, oils, herbs, spices and teas. I feel I am already becoming one of their most loyal customers… 🙂
So, here are my essential items I use regularly to keep our grocery shopping as waste-free as possible:
Cloth shopping bags
Need I say more? The ultimate zero waste shopping companion! We have about 15 or so cloth bags that we are constantly using, not only for groceries but for everything imaginable, really. I run them through the washing machine every now and again to keep them clean.
I use these mesh bags for produce from the supermarket or markets. The brand I have is Thirsty Gecko. In retrospect I would not buy this particular type again as they’re not biodegradable and are actually fairly poorly made. These can also be machine washed but I like to put them in a delicates bag to protect the drawstrings and toggles. Once the ones I have are no longer usable, I’ll be making my own produce bags out of some thin, upcycled cotton material instead for a more sustainable and more durable version.
When I did some sewing with my Mum earlier this year, she helped me make some cloth drawstring bags out of old material she had lying around. As they’re so light, they can be used with dry, non-greasy bulk bins products like lentils, beans and rice. I could probably also use them for produce, but the ones I made are so small that not much would fit in there.
Set of matching containers and whiteboard marker
These are probably the most crucial item in my zero-waste shopping kit other than my cloth shopping bags. I bought a set of matching plastic storage containers years ago and they were actually on my to-minimise list when I realised that having so many that are the same weight would be ideal for bulk store shopping. The fact that they’re plastic is not ideal, but I feel that I should put them to good use now that I already own them. As they stack inside one another when the lids are off, I can carry around and store the empty ones without any trouble, which is great.
While shopping, I keep one empty container aside with the lid in place so that the store assistant can tare the scales with the empty container on it, then just go ahead and weigh all my items as usual. This method means you can start shopping straight away when you enter the store instead of going through the time-consuming weighing process, and it also means you get through the checkout so much faster when you’re ready to leave. It’s also faster for the store’s staff, because there’s no need to use a calculator!
The whiteboard marker I use to write the product codes on the top of the containers as I fill them. As soon as I get home, I wipe the writing off and have never had any trouble with it leaving marks on the plastic. I am a little uncertain what to do with the marker once it runs out, but so far it has been going for well over a year. According to the label, it’s refillable, so I’ll be contacting the company to see what I need to do to get a refill. Let’s hope that’s not before my Nothing New Project is over, though!
Over the years I’ve accumulated a number of jars from our own household use. I don’t use these as much because of my established container system, but there are a few items that I only buy a tiny bit of like herbs and spices, so I prefer to use the jars for these. When I use them, I simply take them to the counter for weighing before filling.
These are great for oils and other liquids. I just remove the plastic lip of my bottles before taking them to the store then replace the lip once I get home. Below are my tamari and olive oil bottles that I have been refilling lately, and in future I’m also planning on refilling my apple cider vinegar and coconut oil bottles.
Handkerchiefs and cloths
Hankies and cloths like tea towels are great for buying items at market stalls like bread and other bakery items, hard cheeses, cured meats, chocolate and nuts. I also like using tea towels in the fridge to store vegetables. Since I stopped buying items like lettuce and cabbage wrapped in plastic, I have found wrapping them in a cloth instead is a good way to keep them fresh in the fridge.
Our favourite thing to buy in a cloth at the moment is the traditional French saucisson from the markets. It’s the one French food my husband misses and fortunately, these tick our boxes as they are locally made here in Brisbane by a French expat from free-range, antibiotic-free Queensland pork and the finished product is packaging-free. We treated ourselves these holidays and bought four saucissons. Totally justified because it’s cheaper the more you buy (although all minimalists will know that kind of thinking is flawed, right guys?😝).
Last but not least, I always put lots of patience and a big smile in my zero-waste shopping kit. If you’ve been taking steps towards the zero-waste path like I have been trying to, you’ll know that it’s a way of life that is sometimes met with resistance and ridicule. I have been praised by store assistants for my efforts but have also been turned down, questioned suspiciously and treated with downright contempt and annoyance by others. Unfortunately, some individuals and businesses are not open to having the status quo challenged. I suggest you approach the less understanding of those you come across with kindness and good communication. I find that telling them directly that I am trying to reduce my waste is the most effective way to achieve co-operation, since the person may otherwise think that I’m just trying to be ‘difficult’. Once they understand that my intentions are good and that they can play their part in helping to reduce waste, they are much less likely to object. Who knows, I may even be able to bring someone across to the dark side one of these days! 🙃