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15 Ways to be Zero Waste Even if you Don’t Have a Bulk Store

Zero Waste Kitchen

Last Updated on January 23, 2024

One of the main things I hear from readers is, “I can’t be zero waste because I don’t have a bulk store (or I have severely limited bulk options) near me.” 

15 ways to be zero waste even if you don't have a bulk store from #zerowaste #gogreen #sustainable #ecofriendly #lowwaste #bulkbins

Depending on where you live, it can be really frustrating having to buy your groceries in plastic and/or packaging when you’re trying to avoid it. Do not despair!

Zero waste is not all or nothing. It does not hinge on perfection. It hinges on everyone giving it their best! Do what you can, where you can, in your circumstances. Everyone can join this zero waste party! 

related: Can you be Zero Waste Without Bulk Options? 

My upcoming project is al about being zero waste at regular grocery stores. I am working with four other awesome bloggers in different regions of the US to highlight regional store chains.

here’s the lineup:

I am so excited about this challenge and cannot wait to share it with you. We’re going to be doing a different grocery store each month. Sign up for my email list to be notified when the first round of stores goes live!

While you’re waiting for that mega resource, here are 15 zero waste things you can do!

get started: 

1. reusable water bottle:

Don’t leave the house without a full reusable water bottle. If you don’t like the way your tap water tastes, check out this awesome plastic free way of filtering it.

2. reusable bag:

Ditch those plastic and paper bags for a reusable one! Plastic is bad news, we already know that. But, paper bags are still very resource intensive.

It takes 3.8 liters of water to produce one paper bag! The best solution is to bring your own. While you’re at it, why not throw in some reusable produce bags too!

3. to-go cup:

Do you occasionally indulge in a coffee out? Why not bring your own to-go mug? If you’re sitting in, ask for a mug. Even Starbucks has real coffee cups for those dining in.

4. cloth napkins:

Keep it simple or go big and bold with a fun pattern. I love my cloth napkins. I have a multitude of colors because I like to keep it fun and coordinate for certain events and holidays. Zero waste doesn’t have to be boring! 

5. dishes:

Keep it real! Whether it be dinner, lunch, or breakfast make a habit of using real plates and cutlery. 

6. don’t waste food:

This is huge! Americans throw out 40% of the food they buy. Make sure you’re storing it properly and you have a plan when going into the store. Meal planning does not have to be complicated. Get my tips for making a five-minute meal plan to avoid food waste!

7. compost:

Composting is so important! Organics cannot break down in a landfill. They release methane which is 20x more powerful than your average green house gas.

If you live in an apartment without access to a backyard, see if there’s a local garden club or community garden that would be willing to take your food scraps.

Find out more about backyard composting here.

8. rethink your commute:

Guess who grew up where the closest store was a gas station 4 miles away? *this girl*

Vehicles are a part of our lives and most of our morning commutes. I consider myself to be moderate in pretty much every aspect of life. (Except for musical theatre. The only way to be is extreme.)

I don’t believe vehicles are inherently bad. They serve a very important purpose especially for those of us who live spread out. I.e 90% of the South.

For many, giving up the car is not possible. Instead, rethink things a little. Can you carpool? Can you grab any public transit? Can you consolidate all of your across town errands into one trip? Can you make trips less frequently?

9. ditch takeout packaging: 

Did you think I was going to say, ditch takeout!? Never. Never, ever, ever. I love takeout. I get takeout all the time without the nasty packaging.

Once you ditch the packaging, you’ll hate going back to stinky, messy, disposable takeout boxes all over the house and in the bin. They take up so much space. 

If you want to get takeout zero waste style, check out this post

10. eat more whole foods:

Even if you don’t have a bulk section, ditching processed foods is an excellent way of reducing packaging waste.

Opt for more fresh fruits and vegetables. Reduce your meat intake, keep the meals filling by adding in legumes. Stock up on dry goods in that still come in paper and cardboard.

Or act like the bulk stores and buy big bags of rice and beans. Get my 15 tips for saving money on real food here. And, get tips for grocery shopping when you don’t have a bulk store here.

11. shake up your bathroom:

I just wrote a great post on this all about 15 swaps for a zero waste bathroom. Try your hand at a DIY or keep it simple by sending your bathroom product packaging back to TerraCycle.

12. look local:

I live in a pretty small town. Yes, I’m in the bay area so I do have access to all things package free like Rainbow Grocery, Berkeley Bowl, Green 11 etc.

But, these are all day trips. I can’t just pop by. However, my downtown has some unique shops. Like a random bulk tea store and a tortilleria. One little café makes kombucha and keeps it on tap. You can fill up your own wine bottle!

Little shops like these exist in almost every little town. Your town probably has something cool, and it most likely doesn’t have a web presence… or they have a very poor web presence.

The best way to discover these places is by foot in my experience. Get out there and explore your town! You never know what neat treasure you might stumble upon.

13. go second hand:

Always check the local second hand market first. Do you have a thrift store you can pop by?

Maybe you find their offerings to be lackluster. Thankfully there are a slew of online second-hand markets. Craigslist, eBay, Thread Up, Poshmark, etc. These sites typically require shipping. Get my zero waste shipping tips in this post.

14. shake up your kitchen:

Just because you can’t buy ALL your food without a package doesn’t mean you can swap out single-use items in this room.

If you only use it once and toss it, even if it’s recyclable, look for an alternative.

Remember, zero waste is more about the use of resources and less about the landfill. Any item, even a recyclable one takes a lot of resources to produce.

It’s always better to find something to reuse. I’ll be coming out with a guide for kitchen swaps soon! But, if you have any specific questions, I’ll answer it in the comment section and check out my kitchen tab

15. raise awareness:

We live in a consumer society and often forget that the consumer has the power.

If you don’t like that everything is packaged in plastic, request a change. I can promise you, you’re not alone. But, someone has to get the ball rolling. Maybe you’re that person?

The internet has provided us with a great tool to interact with those around us that share like-minded values. If you feel you’re under represented, make your voice heard. Start a facebook page. Hell, start a blog! (Let me know if you’d be interested in knowing more about blogging and I can write a post on that as well.) Go to city council meetings. Talk to your local government. Just start talking about the problems and the solutions.

We can all work together as a team to bring some serious change. 🙂

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  1. Nice tips but my problem is combining numbers 1-4 with 8. I cycle everywhere (well, most everywhere) and it’s so much easier going places without a backpack stuffed with just-in-case items. I’m reluctant to take my big containers to work just in case I might have time on my home to stop by at the bulk store…

    1. I’m surprised you cycle without a water bottle in the cage. A cloth napkin folds up to almost nothing. I don’t think you’d have to have a stuffed backpack to carry at least those items with you. Also, if you think you might be hitting up the store on the way home but never know, I would keep a pack at work. That way it’s always there when you need it.

      1. Well, my commute is 11km and that’s fine without water. But I could keep a bottle in the cage, that’s a good idea.
        As for storing stuff at work – with some tweaks that’s doable. Not necessarily the big box I use for muesli as I need that at home but there are options…

  2. Is it possible for you to write a post of the Bay Area stores you frequent for bulk ? I’m having a hard time finding any and my career does not allow me time to go out and look and google doesn’t provide much information unless I already know the store name or area