Thursday, May 12, 2016

7 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Waste Without Access to Bulk

The most common thing I hear when I talk about how I reduce my shopping waste is "I don't have bulk options near me, I can't live zero waste." A lot of people don't. I grew up in a town of 6000 people with one grocery store so we couldn't be picky when it came to where we purchased our food - and again - it's not about being ZERO, it's about reducing. 

Despite the frustrating lack of options that most of us have to deal with, there are still ways we can reduce our shopping and food packaging waste. I, myself, only have one store within 30 miles of me that carries a diminutive amount of bulk options so I use the following tips a lot to keep my zero waste goals in view.

Avoid Plastic Bags

I've repeated this a thousand times but is so important in overall grocery shopping waste reduction. This covers produce bags too - you don't need them. We should be taking our produce home to wash anyway, so really there's no need for them other than to keep a larger quantity of items together such as a pound of potatoes or a bag of peas. In that case, bring your own reusable cloth produce bags that are more durable anyway. 

Avoid Plastic Packaging

If you can, avoid products that are primarily packaged in plastic. An example would be, opt for the box of cornstarch rather than the plastic container. Why avoid plastic? It has a very, VERY limited number of recycling life cycles whereas glass and metal have an infinite number. Once plastics' life cycles have been completely maxed out, they are sent to the landfill - usually always. All in all, it's just better avoid it. Metal and glass containers can also be easily upcycled. I use the used food jars for gifts and food storage.

Buy the Largest Container

I opt for this method for some of the items I actually can get in bulk because logically and financially it makes more sense. Yes, you can sometimes save money buying products out of the package free bulk bins but sometimes you end up spending more money. An example for me is flour. I'll purchase a 25lb. bag of flour in paper packaging instead of buying it package free. Why? Money. I use a lot of flour and I cannot justify spending nearly 4 times the amount just to save myself from having to compost the paper from the 25 lb. bag later. Oh, and that larger bag will last me nearly 6 months.

Buying in larger quantities also eliminates several smaller containers of products ending up in the landfill. Keep in mind that I'm referring to items that have longer shelf lives. It wouldn't make sense to buy something with a very short shelf life in a large quantity that would end up wasted later.

Eat a More Plant Based Diet

Cutting more animals products out of our diets has many health and environmental benefits. Most animal products are packaged in non recyclable plastic packaging which usually lead to most of the waste we toss after we prepare dinner. By making fruits and vegetables a bigger part of our diets, we not only lessen our trash waste but also contribute to overall energy, water, and greenhouse gas reduction.

Grow and Can Your Own Food

If you have the space, start a garden! Gardening will save you money, eliminate a lot of packaging waste, and is pretty darn rewarding! Doesn't it drive you crazy when you go to the store to buy fresh herbs and you are paying $5 for a plastic clam shell of a few sprigs? Yea - no thank you! Keep pots of herbs on your patio or deck and have them all summer for you to access. A lot of herbs can also be brought indoors during the winter - and you can dry them.

Canning your excess garden produce is another fantastic way to stock up for the year and reduce food packaging waste. Every year I plant a few tomato plants and can crushed tomatoes, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, soup, ketchup, and tomato paste that lasts me the whole year. You may think that I just spend my whole summer canning food but that is absolutely not true. I dedicate a couple of weekends in the summer to get all of it done and that's it. Definitely worth it for the amount of food I stock up on and money I save!

Start Making More Food From Scratch

There are a lot of prepackaged foods we buy that we can easily make with less waste. Now, I'm not saying that you have to start churning your own butter but spending a weekend a year to make jam for the year will save a lot of waste and money. Also, salad dressings, ketchup, and mustard are easy things to whip up. You can also get your kids involved on taco night by having them help make homemade tortillas. Getting back in the kitchen and cooking with our families has more than one benefit!

Compost and Recycle

Composting and recycling are key steps for those who do not have access to as many package free food options. Compost your paper and cardboard and recycle your glass and metal to keep them out of the dump. If you don't have a way to compost your food and paper, look for city drop off locations or pick up programs. You can also see if a friend or family member will let you dump your organic waste into their compost  - if they have one.

As you can see, there are so many ways you can reduce your food packaging waste without having access to bulk. In my opinion, some of the above options are better than buying out of the bulk bins, anyway.

What are ways you reduce food packaging waste without access to bulk?



  1. Hello! I found your site via an Instagram hashtag. What do you do with your kitchen compost? Could you share your process? Thanks!

    1. Hello! I have a compost pile in my backyard. I basically dump it in a caged in area so it can naturally biodegrade on its own.

  2. Great advice on reducing the waste!

    Once you are in the “zero-waste” mode, it can be frustrating to see that you are still producing waste :( As you said, we need to focus on reducing, and realize that it’s a slow and long process.

    When grocery shopping, I try to shop for both the food and the package. Oftentimes, the package can be up-cycled: glass containers, boxes, etc.


  3. Thank you for sharing this knowledge. Preparing to store food for emergency situations or camping experience requires that you have some knowledge about which foods can still be edible after years. Of course, if a disaster strikes and your only food source is the basement where you keep it, you’ll want to find the food in good shape. See more

  4. In alot of grociery stores they do still have a meat counter (even the superstores) if you find a cut of meat for the family alot of stores will gladly repackage it into butchers paper for you upon request. Some even have the same cuts in the back about to be packaged that they will show you before packaging rather than have to repackage another product. It never hurts to ask!

  5. It might be best for you to experiment only on easy food combinations. This is also true with drinks and juices. Chris paul

  6. Food waste is now getting a serious issue day by day. Therefore to reduce food packaging waste, food manufacturing companies are taking beneficial steps. It includes several footsteps as mention in the above article and really these points are appreciable. We should take positive steps to reduce food waste issues.
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