food · sustainability · zero waste

MY ESSENTIAL ZERO-WASTE SHOPPING KIT

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.

Produce bags

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.

Cloth bags

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.

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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!

Glass jars

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.

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Glass bottles 

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.

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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?😝).

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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! 🙃

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10 thoughts on “MY ESSENTIAL ZERO-WASTE SHOPPING KIT

  1. Hi Lisa! your zero waste store sounds interesting. It makes so much more sense to be able to refill things like olive oil and Tamari. We have a kind of community shop here which refills clothes washing liquid and washing up liquid. I only recently found out about it which makes me groan when I think of all those plastic litre bottles I used. You can leave the bottle with them and then go back and pick it up so it’s pretty handy. A couple of years ago I made a cotton Morsebag from their pattern. Have you seen their site? It’s really strong, and still going. I was wondering about making some from all these vintage sheets I have. Happy new year to you!

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    1. Hi Heather and Happy New Year! Thanks for your comment on my zero-waste shopping 🙂 That’s great that you have discovered a shop where you can refill your household products. I’ve been buying grocery items in bulk for a while now but am looking forward to refilling our laundry powder and dishwashing liquid containers at my new local zero-waste store.

      I have just checked out the Morsbag website and that sounds like a wonderful movement! I think the equivalent movement here in Australia would be Boomerang Bags. That has actually occurred to me before – making cloth shopping bags and giving them away to other people. I see my colleagues go through SO many plastic shopping bags, and until they are actually banned in my state, I’m sure it will continue. If I gifted them some homemade shopping bags, I wonder if that would give them the impetus to change (or perhaps they’d take it badly!). I don’t currently have a sewing machine but enjoy learning from my Mum on hers when we go interstate to visit. I will need to print out the pattern instructions from the website and take it to her house next time so she can help me make some!

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      1. I will check out Boomerang bags too. I think gifting some to your colleagues could be fun. I really think these vintage sheets could make nice ones. I’ll send you one if I make them!

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      2. Awesome! It’s something I’d really like to get involved with. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to make some progress on the sewing front and get my colleagues to join the BYO bag club. And wow, receiving one of your vintage sheet bags if you make them would be so special, Heather! 😘

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  2. I love that you mention using plastic containers for your zero waste kit! So many people get into zero waste and decide they have to throw out every piece of plastic they own. Reusing it to death is a much more thoughtful, sustainable way to go, in my opinion! Good on you!

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    1. Hi Polly! Thanks so much for your comment. I couldn’t agree more that it’s important to keep using plastic items rather than throwing them away when we go down the zero waste path. Sometimes the most sustainable thing can be counterintuitive, can’t it? In the future I would eventually like to replace all my plastic with stainless steel and glass, but for now it isn’t justified from a sustainability nor a financial point of view. Thanks for reading!

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    1. Hey Rachel! Thanks so much for reading and for commenting too. Good on you for trying out zero waste this year. It sounds like you have the perfect approach lined up, because baby steps are the way to go. I really believe zero waste shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing lifestyle – each little step is a big achievement and they all add up to making a big difference in the long run.

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  3. This was such a fantastic guide! I don’t have any dedicated bulk stores nearby but I’m thinking of doing a monthly pilgrimage to one in the next big city. I use cloth produce bags but I’d never thought of hankies for things like chocolate! Those would be so handy when I’m buying bits on the go – definitely going to invest in some this year!

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    1. Thanks Lois! Glad you thought so 🙂 I hope you enjoy trying out a monthly bulk shop. What a great idea to go once a month since you don’t have anywhere close. I’m really lucky to have somewhere within walking distance, but that’s kind of coincidence. I do live in a big city, but bulk places are still not widespread and it seems most people would have to travel to get to one! Let’s hope that changes in the future so that those who are being hampered by inaccessibility can get their bulk fix!

      You’ll love investing in some hankies as they’re sooo useful (in fact, I have been thinking lately that I should do a post this year on their many uses, as it’s always occurring to me just how useful they are!). I get mine for $1 each from my local thrift shop!

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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