What exactly is a Zero-waste grocery store?

July 3, 2019

Children selecting vegetables while organic grocery shopping in supermarket

Photo by depositphoto.com

Have you heard about zero-waste grocery stores? Maybe you’ve seen one open up in your neighbourhood, or scrolled past a post about one in your feed.  Well, we at spesch think now is as good a time as any to learn all about them, and we’re here to make it as easy as possible. So, without further ado, here’s the skinny on no-waste grocery stores. 

What are they, exactly?

They’re a simplified version of the chain grocery stores you know. Generally, the goods they sell are more curated and are sold without single-use packaging. So, fruits and veggies are in abundance, but you won’t see things like frozen dinners or pre-packaged snacks. They try to encourage smaller grocery shopping trips – like buying for the week instead of for the month. Some also aim to reduce food waste, by taking unsold items and turning them into soups or stews, as well as donating unsold goods to homeless shelters and food banks. 

Wait, what does single-use plastics mean?

Single use plastics are best described as plastic items that are used only once before being thrown away. Think Starbucks cold drink cups, berry packaging, plastic utensils and straws. But they can also include plastic items that have a single purpose, that are then thrown away because they can’t decompose or be recycled. These can include toothbrushes and floss containers. 

The term single-use plastics also encompasses the excess packaging of a lot of items. Like the plastic that scissors come in. Or candies that are individually wrapped inside their boxes.

Single use plastics can be replaced with eco-friendly alternatives, or eliminated all together! 

How do zero-waste grocery stores work?

Well, they do require a little bit of effort and forethought on your behalf! Because there are no plastic bags, you’ll have to remember to bring reusable tote bags to carry things home. Those small plastic bags that you put your apples in also won’t be available, but most items are solid enough to just be tossed in your basket. Any items sold in bulk, like grains and liquids, will need a container to be brought home in as well. The grocery stores recommend you bring in clean jars, tins, margarine containers – whatever you have around that has a lid! You weigh the containers in advance, fill them up, and take them home with you! 

Many of these zero-waste grocery stores also have house-made items and meals, but they are sold in biodegradable or paper packaging. Anything sold in a recyclable bottle can also have a higher deposit, up to $4 as opposed to the 0.10$ to 0.50$ deposits you may be used to, to really encourage you to bring them back for reuse and recycling. And if you forget your reusable bags, don’t worry! Many of these grocery stores have recyclable containers that you can purchase. 

There’s no zero-waste grocery store near me, what can I do?

Zero-waste grocery stores are cropping up all over Canada (and in the US), but they aren’t in every community. And these stores can also be a bit of a privilege as many families don’t have time or resources required to shop at zero-waste grocery stores. But there are still things that can be done to help reduce your single-use plastics if shopping at zero-waste stores isn’t available to you!

  • Try bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, and avoid using the small plastic bags mentioned above when shopping for fruits and veggies
  • Buy items from bulk aisles or stores as much as possible – it’s less packaging than buying those items boxed and some stores like Bulk Barn will even let you bring in your own containers
  • Use lunch boxes or Baggu’s to carry your lunches to school or work
  • Invest in a good reusable water bottle and coffee mug
  • Start using cloth towels in your home instead of paper towels

It’s almost like making your local grocery store into your personal low-waste shopping experience! 

Remember, while zero-waste grocery stores are a great step towards reducing plastic waste and shrinking our carbon footprint, what’s more important is everyone taking their own small steps to reducing the amount of waste we create. It’s not about ten people doing it perfectly, it’s about everyone trying their best! What makes the biggest difference is doing the little things consistently. 

By Olivia Latta