Interested in living a waste-free life? Following a vegan diet is easy, but going waste-free can be an excruciating process. By choosing to follow this path you’re accepting the opposite of normal on a layer much deeper than veganism.
Everyone participates in waste, it’s ingrained into our human experience and we are taught from birth that it’s normal to throw things away. I’m transitioning into this lifestyle slowly. My first waste-free shopping trip felt more like a camping trip, much less a typical Saturday morning errand. I had to stop and think during each phase of the trip, making sure I had everything I needed. Fortunately it does get easier, but it takes time to develop a routine. Before I delve into what a typical waste-free shopping trip is like, I’d like to establish what I believe to be the “Five Phases of Waste-Free Shopping”.
Five Phases of Waste-Free Shopping
1. Gather reusable containers and reusable bags for your shopping trip.
2. Ask cashier for tare weight on reusable containers.
3. Fill containers with item and record item name, price, and PLU# on phone.
4. Communicate item name, price (if they ask), and PLU# to cashier during check out process.
5. If available, have your receipt emailed.
My most recent Waste-Free Shopping trip
Gather reusable containers and reusable bags for your shopping trip
Saturday morning ( approximately 8 am) at Whole Foods, I arrive via bicycle with my reusable containers in my reusable bag. Everyone is on the patio enjoying breakfast out of throw-away hot bar boxes. I feel confident about today’s trip, I have everything I need and I only need a few items today: baby spinach, carrots, celery, beans, and fresh squeezed orange juice.
Ask cashier for tare weight on reusable containers.
Before I begin shopping I make sure that all of my containers have the tare weight labeled, which they do, so I don’t need to get that from the cashier.
Fill containers with item and record item name, price, and PLU# on phone.
I always start my trip in the produce department, then I move into bulk department, and finish at the juice bar.
In the produce department…
Spinach is first on my list so I pull out my reusable produce tote and obstacle arises, the bulk baby spinach isn’t stocked. I ask an employee if there’s any bulk spinach available and wait patiently as they stock it. After the spinach is stocked, I fill my usable bag, and pull out my phone to record the item name and price. Another obstacle arises, there’s no label on the spinach. I ask the employee for the price.
(I typically record the item name and price for all the items I buy, maybe this is overkill but the cashiers appreciate the extra attention to detail and preparation while you’re checking out. We’re not they’re typical customer so the way you shop creates a disruption in what would otherwise be a mostly automated process.)
The employee returns with the price and I grab a few carrots and a bundle of celery. I also grab a couple of navel oranges, all without using a plastic bag.
In the bulk department…
My jar already has the tare weight so I begin to fill it with beans, but as open the lever beans start to fall everywhere, into grate below and onto the floor. Bulk departments are designed around placing food into plastic bags, and because there are no funnels to help fill your container, its inevitable that you will spill food. I press my hand up against the opening and guide the food as best as I can. But when it spills onto the floor, I always let the closest employee know right away, as this could most definitely cause a slip and fall accident. After I fill my jar with beans, I record the item name and PLU# on my phone.
The only item left on my list is fresh squeezed orange juice for my smoothies. I head over to the orange juice machine with my reusable container. I quickly realize that the machine isn’t plugged in and the only available outlet is being used by a cafe patron to charge their laptop. Another obstacle. I apologize to the patron and explain that I need to use the machine, they’re friendly and disconnect right away. We share a moment of laughter as we face the inherent awkwardness of the situation. I start unwinding the cord wrapped around the machine and an employee runs over to help. I thank him, the machine gets plugged in, and I fill my orange juice.
As I check out I communicate the item names and PLU#’s as needed. I also let the cashier know that I need to pay for a gallon of water and 16 oz of orange juice from the machine. I receive a $0.25 discount for using my own container.
I let the cashier know that I don’t need a receipt and the receipt isn’t printed.
I had real human connections with the employees and other patrons in the store. We worked together to solve problems and shared a laugh. I also spent less than I’d anticipated, probably because I’m writing down the price of everything as I go. Something about my orange juice tasted especially good that day, probably because it was drank out of a reusable container.