Zero Waste | Groceries | How To

If you’re like me many, many of the items you pick up at the grocery store are in some sort of packaging.  So, when you’re done with all of those items you’re left with a lot of trash – which is likely headed to a landfill – unless you know how to sort it all out and keep as much out of the trash can as you can.

My Grocery List

I pulled out a recent grocery shopping receipt to get an idea of what I typically buy so I could share how I minimize packaging while shopping and keep the packaging and trash I end up with out of the trash can (aka landfill!).

We are a typical family with kids who are constantly bugging me for every snack/junk food under the sun – Doritos, Lucky Charms, etc.  While I do splurge once in a while (okay, ALOT over the summer!) for the most part I try to go for unprocessed, fresh foods which does a lot to limit the amount of packaging I end up bringing home.

I also try to hit the farmer’s market every Sunday to stock up on locally produced items and in season produce.  I bring reusable bags and most items aren’t pre-packaged which means I have no packaging to deal with on the back end to dispose of.  Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10 I miss the farmer’s market due to a soccer game, an impromptu family brunch or because I got the rare opportunity to sleep in and I end up hitting the local grocery store which equals more packaging.

How I Get Close to Zero Waste

Here’s a rundown of my list and how I keep everything I possibly can out of the trash:

  • Loose produce
    Leftovers from prep and meal: compost
  • Pre-packaged produce
    Leftovers: compost
    Plastic bag: plastic bag recycling
  • Yogurt Cups/Smoothies
    Containers (including foil lid): co-mingled (plastic, glass, aluminum) recycling
    Paper packaging: paper recycling
  • Milk boxes
    Boxes: paper recycling
    Straws: trash 🙁
  • Eggs
    Shells: compost
    Carton: paper recycling
  • Half Gallon of Milk
    Carton: paper recycling
    Plastic cap: plastic recycling
  • Frozen Mac n Cheese
    Box: paper recycling
    Plastic tray: plastic recycling
    Plastic film: plastic bag recycling after rinsed and dried
    Leftovers: compost
  • Frozen pizza
    Box: paper recycling
    Plastic film: plastic bag recycling after rinsed and dried
    Leftovers: compost
  • Lemonade
    Plastic bottle and cap: plastic recycling
  • Mini Bagels
    Leftovers: compost
    Bag: plastic bag recycling
  • Cereal
    Leftovers: compost cereal, milk down the drain
    Box: paper recycling
    Cereal bag: plastic bag recycling
  • Nuts
    Container: plastic recycling
  • Chips/Snacks
    Crumbs: compost
    Bag: Trash or Terracycle chip bag program*
  • Granola Bars
    Box: paper recycling
    Wrapper: trash 🙁
  • Pasta
    Box: paper recycling
    Leftovers: compost
  • Canned soup/tuna
    Can: aluminum recycling
  • Cream Cheese
    Plastic tub: plastic recycling
  • Salad dressing
    Bottle: plastic recycling
    Paper cap wrapper: paper recycling
  • Spaghetti sauce
    Jar: glass recycling
  • Hummus
    Container: plastic recycling

Did you notice that out of all of these groceries there were only 12 straws (from the milk boxes), two chip bags and 12 granola bar wrappers that had to be put in the trash??  I’m thinking that’s pretty darned good!

Tips and Resources

A grocery shopping trip always includes a stop in the produce section.  To green these purchases I put loose produce in reusable produce bags or use no bag at all to avoid the plastic bag.

You may have noticed that I compost a fair amount.  I compost some in our backyard (Check out this Kitchen Compost Bin and backyard Composter if you’re game!) but for the majority of our compostables I use a compost pick up service called the Compost Crew (local to our area).  They accept much more than I can compost at home.  Check in your area – maybe you have a local service too!

When I can’t avoid a plastic bag I’m so happy I don’t have to put it in the trash – yes, I am actually happy!  🙂  I encourage you to check out Plastic Film Recycling for great information and to find a collection center near you.  Ours is conveniently located at our grocery store.

I love Terracycle!  They are a great company that accepts a wide variety of items for reuse and recycling that aren’t typically accepted in residential collections.  I have participated in their chip and snack bag program (*unfortunately temporarily discontinued) and was able to keep lots more out of the trash!  I’m really hoping they get it going again soon!

Finally, there are a few items on my list – salad dressing, hummus, spaghetti sauce, granola bars – that I could make from scratch, store in a reusable container and skip the packaging completely.  Every week I intend to make at least one item from scratch but sometimes life gets in the way and I find myself rinsing out hummus containers and salad dressing bottles for recycling!  🙂

So, there is a lot you can do to keep your groceries out of the trash.  I hope this post inspires you to think twice about how you can make purchases greener at the store….and once you’re done with it!