Zero Waste Shopping at the Co-op

Grocery shopping is something we all do, whether it’s once every two weeks, or once a day. Zero waste grocery shopping is one of the easiest ways to make an impact! Before we start, let’s go over what you will need to have with you in order to make your shopping trip successful (The quantity of each will depend on the size of your shopping trip! This is why tip #1 is important.).

What you’ll need:

  • Reusable shopping bags
  • Reusable produce and bulk bags
  • Jars or containers

Now that you know what supplies you’ll need, let’s get started!


Make a List

Before heading to the grocery store, make a list! Making a list is important for several reasons. It will help you to know how many bags and jars you’ll need, it will reduce impulse shopping, prevent food waste due to over-shopping, and lower the cost of your shopping trips. Once you have your grocery list ready to go, take a look at it and decide what you’ll need for each item. For example, if you are planning to purchase rice, dried black beans, olive oil, and broccoli, you will need to decide if you’d rather use bulk bags or jars for the rice and beans, you’ll need a jar for the olive oil, and a produce bag for your broccoli (optional). Pack the correct number of bulk/produce bags and jars in your reusable shopping bags and stick them in your car/bike pannier/backpack/etc.


The Bulk Section

Friendly City Food Co-op has an incredible bulk section, and it is often overlooked! Many people avoid the bulk section because it is intimidating, takes a little bit longer to get what you need, or other reasons. If you are intimidated by the bulk section, I’m here to help! In order to shop the bulk section zero-waste, there are a few things you need to know. First of all, avoid the plastic bags provided for you! This is where those bags and jars you packed come into play. So, let’s say we’re getting rice from the bulk section.

STEP 1: Choose your bag or jar

STEP 2: Weigh it. If you are using a reusable bulk bag, chances are it probably already has a weight stamped or embroidered on it somewhere. Examine your bag and see if you can find it. If you can’t, take it up to the cashier and have them weigh it for you (this is called the tare in the grocery store world). You can either write the weight on the bag with a fabric marker, remember it in your head, or record it on a note in your phone. If you are using a jar, take your empty jar to the cashier and have them give you the tare.

STEP 3: Fill your bag or jar. Take your bag or jar over to the bulk section and place it under the rice (or other bulk item of choice). If you’re using a bag, it should fit easily around the opening to the rice. Pull the handle down until your bag reaches the desired amount. If you’re using a jar, it may not fit under the opening as well. This is what those handy dandy little funnels you see are for! Grab a funnel, place it under the opening to the rice, and place the narrow end in the mouth of your jar. Fill ‘er up! Once you have your rice, be sure to record the Price Look-Up Code (PLU) found on the bulk bin. It should be a 4-digit number. You can record this number on your bag or jar, remember it, or keep it in your phone.

STEP 4: Once you have all of your shopping completed, take your groceries up to the front to check out. Hand your bulk items to the cashier with the rest of your groceries. If you did not record the tares and PLUs on your bags or jars, be sure to tell the cashier what each one is. He or she will deduct the tare from the total weight so you’re not paying for the extra weight.


Purchase Ingredients

To avoid unnecessary packaging waste, as well as processed foods, make your own food! I recently discovered how easy it is to make tortillas, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat store-bought tortillas again! Rather than buying bread packaged in plastic, learn to make your own. The same applies for dinners, cookies, nut milks, and more! It is much cheaper to buy ingredients to make food fresh than it is to buy packaged meals and other items (and it’s fun!) In addition to bulk goods such as rice, dried beans, granola, and more, the co-op has a wide range of bulk spices to choose from! Reuse your empty spice bottles or small mason jars to purchase bulk spices.


The Hot Bar

Have you experienced the Friendly City Food Co-op Hot Bar and all its deliciousness yet? If not, you’re missing out! If you have, you may have noticed the to-go containers provided. In order to avoid the waste of a single-use to-go container, bring your own! Follow the same procedure you would with bulk food – take your container or plate to the cashier to get a tare, fill it up with delicious food, then head back to the cashier to check out. Don’t forget your reusable utensils as well!


Say No to Plastic

Take it one step at a time. If you’re not ready to start making everything from scratch, that’s completely fine! If you finish reading this and decide that you’re going to make one change, let that change be to eliminate plastic from your grocery shopping. Choose bulk over packaged, and say no to the plastic bags for bulk and produce. Many shoppers think you’re required to put produce in those plastic bags, but you don’t actually have to! You can use a reusable produce bag, or no bag at all! Chances are you’re going to wash the produce when you get home, regardless of what type of bag it was in. Choose items that are packaged in paper, cardboard, or glass over plastic.


Still have a question about zero waste grocery shopping? Feel free to email me at, or just ask when you see me working at the register!


Allie Emerick
Front End Team Member
Owner of Bring Your Own, LLC