Zero-Waste Shopper

Here is my list of tips to become a Zero-Waste Shopper! This is a lifestyle choice and like every shift in our lives, it can be a challenge so get prepared to think and act differently.

One tactic that works for some people is – if it doesn’t fit your new choice then don’t do it. For example, you are going out for coffee and you don’t have your own mug with you and they are offering you only disposables, ask them if they can offer you the beverage in a reusable container. If not, then you skip the coffee. You will quickly remember to lug your mug.

What is a zero-waste?

Most of the activities we do create waste. Some of this waste is a natural cycle – we breathe out carbon dioxide which is a bodily waste and that is a food for plants and photosynthesis – but much of it is single use or has a heavy footprint. Zero waste is reducing our own personal contribution of waste onto society and the planet. The goal of zero waste is to reduce to zero the stream that each of us contributes to the landfill – the garbage we generate.

We can feel good about diverting waste to the recycling stream or even composting, but to really achieve true zero waste is to reduce the stream at the beginning.

“Zero-waste” is a popular buzz phrase and I am using it in this article to sync in with this movement but in reality, at least to me, people that go along the zero-waste path are working hard to reduce their own consumption of packaging. This is a very commendable goal and there are some heroes that have dramatically reduced their packaging footprint but imagine if a larger number of us (say 10%) work to reduce our packaging footprint by say, 25%, I think that it would have a larger impact than a much smaller number of people taking it to an extreme level (I use the term ‘extreme’ as a positive sense).

Let’s embark on the waste-reduced path.

The Zero-Waste Shopper Mindset

The typical mindset when you set off to go shopping is – grab your keys and wallet. We have been programmed to think this is all we need to go shopping. The supermarkets have worked to make it really easy for you.

  • If it comes in plastic or some other container, think whether you can get it unpackaged.
  • Don’t fall for the easiness, the convenience of packaged portioned products. They come with a high cost to the environment.
  • Think of it of undoing the programming/the brainwashing and as a challenge. A challenge you can easily win.
  • Make it awkward. This is not only new to you but also to the businesses. There is a learning curve. In some cases, you may have to be a little more forceful to get your way an if not satisfied look for a business that will support your zero-waste mindset.

Cell Phones as a Tool to Achieve Zero-Waste

Nowadays, cell phones are often taken shopping so people can stay in touch with others but they can be some much more than that.

There are some great apps for phones and desktops that will help you make a killer list.

Shop with a List

Shopping with a list is like hiking with a map. You will likely stay on the path and not over purchase but just as important you are less likely to forget something and have to make another trip to the store.

I see lots of people coming in with a printed out list of their items. Most of the shopping that most of us do is pretty routine. Make your list routine and then add the unusual items on it for the special meals you have planned for the week.

If you are at the shop and you are following someone else’s list but unsure which brand to purchase cell phones comes in handy in these situations. Check-in. I see this all the time at the store.

Containers and Reusable/Reused Bags

Think outside of the box. Take your own box, container, or bag. Push the stores to accept what you want to do. #MakeItAkward

Containers – take your own reusable containers and refill when possible. If you are going to a store that normally does not allow refilling your own container, go to the customer service desk and ask them if the cashiers can do tare weights or manually enter a weight of something. If their machines can do that then ask the customer service person weigh your empty containers and mark them down (we normally use a piece of masking tape on the container). Bulk Barn started to let their customers bring in their own container (okay, only 26 years after us but they are finally here).

Reusable Shopping Bags – how simple is that. The average Canadian will use over 500 single-use shopping bags in one year.

Don’t forget to wash the bag so that it does not have a host of germs – especially if you purchase animal products with it


Think of what products that can be refilled so that the containers you presently have can be reused.

Farmer’s Market

Shop at farmer’s market and don’t accept your product in single-use plastic bags. Sometimes the staff will automatically stuff your purchase into a bag and we may feel obliged to take the bag. Don’t. It is best to say right up front – No bag, please. You might have to make it a little bit awkward and that can be uncomfortable but that is okay.

One thing that is almost always wrapped in plastic in stores (even at our store) but you can get plastic free for a short period of time in the fall and that is cauliflower.

Buying Bread

Buy directly from the baker before the bread is packed into plastic or even paper. Take a tea towel or a pillowcase along with you to wrap it up. This will allow it to natural cool down and firm up the crust.


Don’t forget that waste starts even before you get to the grocery store – how are you going to get there and home? If you bus, walk or bicycle you will be reducing your footprint.

Carrying groceries is an excellent weight-bearing exercise. Put on your backpack and walk a couple of kilometres – great exercise.

Wine – Just Because

Buy wine with a real cork or a screw cap. avoid plastic ‘corks’/stoppers. While you are at it consider a wine that uses organically grown grapes.

Selective Shopping

Not all waste is just what you generate when you are in a store. The store itself is a waste generator.

  • Do they recycle all of their recyclables?
  • Do they try to reuse their packaging by community members (pails by farmers, glass jugs to crafters, etc.)?
  • Do they compost all of their organic matter or divert it to animal feed? Do they have an energy and water reduction strategy?
  • Do they produce any of their energy from renewables?
  • Do they offer a high level of Fair Trade products?
  • Do they offer a high percent of Certified Organic products?
  • Do they offer lots of bulk options – including lots of unusual products in bulk?
  • Do they actively promote refilling?
  • Do they reward you for reusing containers or your own bags?

Earth’s General Store does!

Consider investing some of your grocery dollars in businesses that support a world you want to live in.

Produce Bags

These are probably some of the worse plastic since they are rarely recycled. Most things don’t need bags like bananas. You can put your produce in cloth sacs or reusable mesh bags.

Chewing Gum

Wow! Chewing gum almost wins the prize for the most packaged item versus what you get. Many of them come in unrecyclable composite materials – kind of like pharmaceutical pills.

Even worse – most chewing gum ‘base’ is derived from petroleum. That is right – you could be chewing very pliable plastics.

In March 2018, we launched our bulk gum. This is made by Spry and is plant-based (a gum base that is derived from the sap of jelutong trees in Southeast Asia). We get the gum in plastic jars that have 600 gum pieces in them. The usual gum packs have only 9 pieces in them. This means that this one jar replaces over 66 packs of gum. The plastic jar can be reused and eventually recycled since it is a type of plastic that is recyclable. It is not a perfect solution but it is a step better.

We also carry Glee Gum. Love this product – Fair Trade, Natural Gum-Based, Organic, and recyclable container (cardboard).

Whatever gum you decide to eat DO NOT SPIT it out into the environment.

Be Proactive

When you go through the check out let the cashier know you do not require a bag. They may automatically start to put the items into the bags but then just give them a friendly reminder.

When you are offered a glass of water let them know that you do not require a straw.

When something peeves you, try to avoid that situation in the future by being proactive. Let people know what you would like to see.

Here is an example. I would like to get a freshly baked scone that I plan on eating right away. I will let the clerk know what I would like and I would like to pay for it first so my hands are free. I would also let them know I do not wish to have any bag, serviette/napkin, or one of the square sheets made out of waxed paper or plastic. I will let them know I will not touch their tongs when they give it to me.

By explaining this in advance I will face less resistance and if the person says they can’t do that then we can try to work something out that will work for both of us. If not, I will not purchase the scone.

Eating and Drinking Out

Most of us eat out at some point during the week. Many food establishments offer reusable plates, cutlery, and glasses – some don’t. I will sometimes go a couple of restaurants that use disposable products when they serve in their establishments. I will take my own plate, bowl, glass, and eating utensils.

If I am going out with a group to a restaurant I will take some containers with me just in case there are any leftovers.

Always carry a reusable stainless steel mug and water bottle with you.

Social Media and Internet Tools and Resources to become a Zero-Waste Shopper and Zero-Waste Living

The Internet can be a phenomenal place. Type in Zero-Waste into your favourite social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) or use Google to search for ideas. Don’t try and adopt too many things all at once. You are learning a new skill and this takes time. Like, learning how to make killer cinnamon buns.

There is a great group in Edmonton called – Waste-Free Edmonton. They are the pressure behind pushing city council to create an effective waste reduction strategy. Support them and help move this forward because as individuals we can only do so much but when we get governments to take action then the results are much larger.

Did you know there is a group in Edmonton that is working to bring about a significant reduction in plastic waste? You might want to sign their petition or join their Facebook group. Presently, they are working on single-use plastic bag reduction but will be starting campaigns on straws, coffee cups and lids, disposable food containers, bottled water, etc.

Your Partner to the Zero-Waste Shopper Goal

We believe that Earth’s General Store is a great partner to help you become a zero-waste shopper. This is our lifestyle. We want to help people reduce their packaging and plastic consumption/use. There are lots of other great places that you can reduce your Plastic Footprint like Bulk Barn, Superstore, most larger grocery stores, Planet Organic, the Italian Centre (take your reusable containers to the deli), Blush Lane, etc.

Lug a Mug! Pack a Plate! Pack a Bag!

Thanks for embarking on a Zero-Waste path!