Last month, I was SO excited! I was going to do my first ever, (almost) completely Zero Waste Grocery Shopping trip. With my reusable bags, bulk bags (handmade from an old torn sheet even!), and grocery list in tow, I was ready. I even previously scoped out the stores in the area that would be the best for my Zero Waste venture. This was going to be SO easy!
*Cue obnoxiously loud sarcastic laughter*
Yeah, that’s not how it happened.
I went into the store, and suddenly all my confidence melted away. What was I doing?! I didn’t know how to shop Zero Waste! Everyone was going to stare at me with my weird bags and they were going to see that I’m an idiot who had no idea what I was doing.
I got my produce and shoved them in my nifty bags and tied them. A couple of bags in, I realize I don’t have enough bags left for my bulk items. Fail. So, I combine some of the produce into one bag and tie them back up.
Then I head to the bulk bins. I start clumsily dumping beans into my bag. Beans were definitely spilled. I had good intentions to write the bulk bin numbers in my phone, so I didn’t have to use the twist ties. But those quickly faded as I realized a) once I tied up the bags, I couldn’t see what was in each individual bag to tell the cash register what bag belonged with what bin number and b) I was already sweating bullets thinking of how annoyed the cashiers were going to be having to deal with my weird shopping habits, and the thought of interacting with them more than I had to felt just too scary.
So, I used the twist ties. Fail again. During all this, my toddler decides to get hangry and begins a consistent whine in the background.
Then I grab the few items I need that are packaged, doing my best to at least avoid plastic packaging. The hangry little creature is increasing the level of whine, so I head to the check-out stand.
The thought of dealing with the cashiers comes crashing back and I think to myself, “Just do self-check out! It’ll be totally fine…” I start checking items and hangry toddler is squirming in the cart. I decide to let her out for a minute, what could go wrong? She starts picking the items I’ve checked out off of the scale, pissing the machine off and necessitating the employee that watches over the self-check out to step in. I wrestle hangry minion back into the cart. Fail.
Then I start checking the bulk items. The machine has apparently decided to be a trouble maker and starts malfunctioning. The employee steps in and fixes it. I do the next bulk item. Malfunction. Employee steps in. This happens TWO MORE TIMES. The employee asks me in her “I have to be polite, but you’re the type of customer I hate” voice to scoot over so she can finish. I try helping and she waves me away and tells me I should take care of minion child. I get minion out of the cart and try helping again. She waves me away and says she’s got it.
Meanwhile, she has to undo my produce bags because she can’t see what’s inside them, and she has to take things out because there’s a plethora of items inside. Fail. She’s looking more and more annoyed. She finally finishes and says, “Next time you probably shouldn’t do self-check out.”
I walk out to the cart, feeling like a TOTAL failure. I load up the groceries and the gremlin, feeling like tears are seconds away from spilling over. I get in the car, take a deep breath and realize….I didn’t fail at all! I just learned so many awesome lessons and took my first steps into Zero Waste grocery shopping. I just had the wrong expectations.
So, in hopes that I can help you have an even more successful first Zero Waste grocery trip, without further ado, here are the lessons I learned:
- TRY TO DO IT ALL AT ONCE: Pick one area or big item to work on at a time. Some swaps are relatively easy to make, like switching to reusable shopping, bulk and produce bags. Others are more difficult and will take more planning and research.
- EXPECT PERFECTION: Just do what you can! Every change counts! As Zero Waste Chef, Anne Marie Bonneau said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
- GO AT A BAD TIME FOR YOUR KIDS: I’d say leave the kids home if you can, but that’s not always possible. Instead, try to do it when your child is fed, not tired and not sick. Bring snacks if you can, or other ways to entertain. Even better, if your child is old enough, involve them in the process!
- DO SELF-CHECK OUT THE FIRST TIME: Just don’t! When you’re trying something new like this, take all the support you can get, even if it’s just from the cashier who can making checking out easier! After you get the hang of it though, by all means, go for self-check out if you’d like!
- GO WITHOUT A GROCERY LIST: I highly suggest using a grocery list every time you grocery shop. They help you get only what you need, thus reducing waste. But even more importantly on your first Zero Waste grocery shopping trip, it helps give you focus, which helps make it feel less overwhelming (especially if you’re new to bulk!). Additionally, it will help you to know what kind of tools you need to bring in preparation (jars, bags, etc).
- GO WITHOUT SOME PREPARATION: Check out your list and gather all the necessary supplies: jars, produce bags, bulk bags, spice containers, honey or oil containers. Then put them together with your reusable shopping bags in a condensed, easy to transport way.
- FEEL EMBARASSED: you’re swimming up current while everyone else is swimming down. It’s easy to feel like everyone is looking at you and wondering why you’re being so weird. But really, it’s amazing if people ARE looking at you! Maybe they’ll even ask what you’re doing. And then you get to inform people about your cause and why it’s so important.
Now what about some do’s? I have a few of those for you, too!
- GIVE YOURSELF SOME GRACE: the fact that you’re trying makes you successful! Don’t let perfection ruin progress.
- REMEMBER IT TAKES TIME: each trip, just try to make one, or a few changes. You know what they say: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
- TALK TO PEOPLE: The second time I went, I tried to be braver and went out of my way to put myself in situations where I had to talk to people about what I was doing. It was an incredible experience! The cashier started telling me about the things she was doing to be more sustainable. The bagger complimented me on my onesie produce bags I made. I got to have conversations that left everyone feeling more positive and motivated about living sustainably! It was awesome!
I wish you so much luck on your first trip! Hopefully these tips will prevent you from having an experience like mine! Haha! You are amazing, and it takes amazing people like you to help this planet thrive!