Adventures in Grocery Shopping! Talking Zero-Waste

One of my #FiftyByFifty goals is around sustainable living and "zero-waste" is an aspect of that. I have another post coming where I detail it out a bit more but one of the ways in which I am participating in a zero-waste lifestyle is to reduce the amount of grocery packaging that comes into the home. I tell you what, once you are packaging-sensitized, it is rather alarming the amount of plastic that surrounds each and every item in the grocery store! Bulk shopping helps to minimize the amount of trash you bring home! And yes, there is recycling for some of the packaging, but true waste reduction starts with reducing the waste! (Umph. How is that circular logic for ya?) Anyway gentle reader, sit back for a mini-trip down the aisles.

"...once you are packaging-sensitized, it is rather alarming the amount of plastic that surrounds each and every item in the grocery store!" ~Me

Last week, I checked out my neighborhood Kroger and was disappointed in the "bulk food" option that was available:

This is basically just "packaged foods" in a section that is labeled "prepackaged bulk", whatever that is. Now, truthfully I have not investigated to see if these prices are cheaper or in any way better than buying the alternatives that are right next to them and packaged in cardboard, but I did not have this in mind when I envisioned bulk food shopping. I also have to say that I did not feel comfortable trying to step outside of the confines of Kroger's options. I didn't have the guts to go to the deli counter with a mason jar or a glass dish and say, 'can you put my sliced turkey in this please?' (Yes, that is what zero waster Bea Johnson does in her book

Zero Waste Home

. I'm not there yet Bea.) I have been happy with the Kroger storebrand of Simple Truth organics. The prices seem to be a bit more reasonable than some organic brands and are therefore more accessible and affordable for me. I also remembered to bring my own bag for the few things that I did get (point for me)! Basically, zero-waste-wise, at Kroger I am able to opt out of putting most of my fruits and vegetables in plastic bags if I should choose to and that seems to be about it as far as not bringing home excess packaging.

Today I visited Neiman's, a nearby independent grocer that is also a Spartan store (Spartan is a wholesale grocery distributor and retailer in the Midwest that supports independent grocers, military commissaries and exchanges, as well as has their own line of grocery stores). Neiman's has more of a gourmet market vibe and they have a lot of variety as it relates to local food, organics, and they have a small-ish bulk food section.  I decided to go check them out and see what my options would be: 

A modest but lovely display of fresh organic vegetables! I got some beautiful golden beets and that Swiss chard that you see in the picture came home with me.

A nice selection of A Michigan honey.

A small bulk section which will come in handy for things such as nuts, some grains, oatmeal and granola. They did not have bulk staples such as flour and salt or spices. I don't know if I can bring my own containers… I see that they have plastic bags available. I would think I could at least bring my own plastic bag right? 

An olive bar! I see they have plastic containers with lids available to pack them in. I wonder if I could keep using the same one over and over again? Possibly I could bring my own container. I haven't scoped it out that far.

Ah! Bulk coffee roasted in Michigan! And it gets ground into a nice brown paper bag, so that's good. But will it taste as good as Peet's Big Bang? I mean I really love that coffee. #ZeroWasteTradeOffs

This was an unexpected bulk delicacy. Bar soap that has no packaging and very high-quality ingredients. The goat's milk bar smells amazing! It


pricey. That little bar fits in the palm of my  hand. It seems to be about half the size of a "regular" bar of soap. I don't know about this one. I may splurge every now and then on a bar of goat's milk soap, I really do love goat's milk soap. I will have to find out other places in the budget where I can save money in order to be able to afford it though.

It looks like I could package the bagels and donuts in my own bag or containers. They are here in the little café section. They do have a bakery in the store and I am wondering if I time it right could I get some fresh baked goodness and tuck it straight in my own bag instead of the plastic bags that they put the loaves in.

All of this led to my first conversation in a grocery store around zero-waste. I asked the cashier about a bakery schedule. She did not know if they had a bakery schedule or not but encouraged me to call the store tomorrow and find out. She kept saying, "if you have a large order I'm sure they will bake it and put it aside for you." While that is good to know, I had to explain to her I was only interested in a personal loaf or two. She looked at me kind of quizzically and I babbled on about a personal experiment around zero-waste and not bringing any plastic into the house and how I just wanted to be able to stick the bread directly into my own bag and she was like, 'uh....ok. Call the store tomorrow'. LOL.

I do think I like this grocery store better than Kroger, however they may be more expensive and I will have to keep track of that. But overall I really like their selection better. Some of my current favorite (non-bulk or zero-waste) items there are:

These huge rolls of absolutely delicious Amish butter! And its called "Brethren Butter", what could be better than butter by a brother?

Nieman's also has an impressive display of Bob's Mill products. I like Bob's Mill products:

And a great selection of frozen organic foods. Although I am trying not to buy as much frozen processed food,  I am in transition. Because...smoothies? And for folks who are NOT trying to go zero waste or cook everything from scratch or grow everything and then cook everything from scratch, these are good options. These organic conveniences may help get organic food into the shopping carts and into the mainstream.

"Although not ideal, organic conveniences may help get organic food into the shopping carts and into the mainstream." ~Me

I thought this was a pretty fruitful mission today and I am excited by the possibilities. It does not meet all of my needs but it did help me begin to imagine how I can meet my needs with less packaging. One of the more important aspects of this trip was realizing the benefit of being able to have a relationship with your grocery store. Just having that short conversation about the bakery options made me feel like more of an empowered consumer and that is a very important aspect of creating food systems that meet our needs as opposed to being at the mercy of what is stocked on the shelves.

"The empowered consumer is an important aspect of creating food systems that meet our needs as opposed to being at the mercy of what is stocked on the shelves."~Me

BTW, I forgot my reusable grocery bag in the car today so I opted for paper bags. (Paper is a good alternative but no point for me.)

Thank you for reading.

Until next time!