Zero Waste Exceptions: What I Still Buy in Packaging

Let's take a hot second and talk about the "zero" part in zero waste. Zero is a goal. A circle to represent a circular economy. Do you know what we have? Not a circular economy.

Zero waste exceptions. What does a zero waster still buy in packaging?

We have a linear economy, making perfection - the ultimate zero - just north of Atlantis. 

And no, I'm not talking about the resort in the Bahamas. I'm talking allegory on the hubris of nations, or the Disney movie - whatever. It's mythical, fantastical, NOT REAL.

Not real. Not possible. And, don't even get me started on up-waste. Zero waste is a goal, a representation, a call to move towards a circular economy, a vote for businesses to think about the end life of their product instead of just the here and now. 

YOLO is not an appropriate business plan. Capiche? 

SO,  Lets answer the big question.... (drum roll please.)

What do you still buy in packaging? 

I have access to probably the greatest bulk store in the world: Rainbow Grocery. However, I am accepting nominations and would love to hear about all of the cool stuff you can buy without packaging! 

It's a bit of a trek; so, it's still not practical for items I use a lot. I am trying to list everything I typically buy that comes in some form of packaging. A lot of orange stuff apparently... orange is life.


I bake a lot. I love to bake. I make sandwich bread and pizza dough on the reg... and chocolate chip cookies and brownies and banana bread. I like carbs, ok?

I go through about 5lbs of flour every three weeks. I use whole white wheat flour. And, the closest bulk store that offers any flour is roughly 20 miles away. And, I'm sorry... I'm not lugging this glass jug that fits 5lbs of flour around a store. Clean up on bulk aisle #3. 

I also never have enough browns in my compost so the flour bag is a very welcome addition to my backyard bin


I love red wine. It's delicious. There is wine on tap here in NoCal near the bulk store that offers flour. It is a little pricey at $18 for a non-organic red blend, and they close at 5 on weekdays. Working 9-5 really inhibits accessibility, plus driving 20 miles, and paying a bridge toll. 

I am much happier buying my wine at the bodega around the corner. And I can get it in my "I'm-just-out-of-college-I'm-poor" $8-$12 budget. Real talk - for those older, when did you graduate to more expensive wine? Does my wine budget get bigger when I turn 30? 40? 

Also, bonus points for personal sustainability

Glass can be infinitely recycled with out losing any quality. So, I have no qualms buying products that come in glass. Corks are compostable, but I save mine for projects. I'm not typically into crafting, (I have no patience) but I have always dreamed of having a Christmas tree full of wine cork garland. 

Dog Food

Rainbow grocery does have dog food in bulk! But, I couldn't get there as often as I need to buy it. My dog food bags are made of 100% recycled plastic and can be recycled curbside. Not perfect, but the best solution I've found so far. 


I like to brush my teeth! You can read more about my dental care here. Brush with bamboo comes in a cardboard box with no tape or glue. It can go straight into my backyard compost adding more of those browns it desperately needs! 

Baking Soda

I have bought baking soda in bulk. But, I have also bought the orange box. I plan on adding the box to my compost pile - must. have. more. browns. 

Buffalo Sauce

You will have to pry this bottle out of my cold, dead hands. Life is about balance, people. 

My love affair/addiction with buffalo sauce started my sophomore year of college. I just couldn't get enough. I'd drink the stuff. Douse everything in unending heaps of spicy, vinegary goodness. 

I have greatly reduced my intake, but deep fried cauliflower gets what deep fried cauliflower needs: buffalo sauce

I recycle the glass, and the cap. All hard plastics are recyclable in NoCal. The plastic film at the top of the bottle goes into my trash jar and I have no regrets. 

I still buy some stuff in packaging. I try to eliminate as much recycling as possible, but some things are still necessary. Read more about what the package free girls buys in a package from


I don't eat very much mayo. Justin likes it on his sandwiches. I buy it in a glass jar. With as little as we eat, it wouldn't be personally sustainable to make it. 

The glass and the lid are recycled and the plastic safety seal is in my trash jar. 

Caesar Dressing

Same as above. I really like vinaigrette on my salads which I can make from Olive oil and vinegar bought in bulk. Justin isn't a huge fan of salads or vinaigrette in general. 

The exception is caesar salad. It takes 3-4 months to go through one glass bottle, so I buy it instead of make it.  

Pasta Sauce

I know, I know what you're thinking. "Why would you ever buy pasta sauce when you have the best recipe in the world on your blog!?" To be honest, I didn't make enough to last through winter. 

I'll try and do better this year. I also really like freezing in old pasta jars. It doesn't take away from my mason jar collection and if they break, I'm not heart broken.  

They're also great to keep on hand for guests. They can take home leftovers. Or if I'm headed to the bulk store and they need me to pick something up for them.  

White Vinegar

I buy white vinegar in a glass bottle. I'm not familiar with anywhere that sells it in bulk. 


I am from the south. We. Love. Butter. You can by both vegan butter and real butter in cardboard and wrapped in paper. I compost them. Browns. All about the browns.  

Zinc Oxide

This is a new one. I have ventured into the land of homemade sunscreen.  

Wrinkles and skin cancer are some things I would like to avoid. I'm planning a camping trip in August; so, we'll see how it goes. This is what I have.   

Allergy Medicine

Comes in a plastic bottle and everything. No. Regrets.  

Hay fever is real, and it sucks. I don't know what I'd do with out it the full swing of spring. I haven't been ill recently. But, I will never not fill a prescription/go to the doctor for wanting to avoid waste. That's crazy. 


Your health always comes first. Take care of yourself.  


This might be a strange thing to see on the list. But, I make my own soap/shampoo/shave bar. 

I can buy soap without packaging, but I don't like that Good Soap uses Palm oil. We have an artisan soap maker in town whose soap is AMAZING.  

But, it's not in my budget unfortunately. Making it right now is the most practical for me. The lye I buy comes in plastic #2 so it has a pretty good chance of getting downcycled. 

Razor Blades  

The razor blade refills come in a giant box Saran wrapped which is in the trash jar.  Then they're in tiny little cardboard boxes separating the blades in packs of five. 

Can you guess what I'm gonna do with all that cardboard???  

And, it still prevents a ton of waste compared to plastic disposable razors.  

Hydrogen Peroxide and Rubbing Alcohol

I lump these two together since they're first aid/cleaning. They do come in plastic. We've had the bottles for over a year. They don't see much use, but they do come in handy for certain situations. I would recommend having them on hand.

Safety first! 

Anything else? 

Not that I can currently think of...  If I discover something, I will add it to the list. Or maybe make an update in the next couple of months.  I do have an earthquake kit which contains large jugs of bottled water and canned goods. 

Any regrets? 

I do regret not buying a physical copy of the Hamilton soundtrack. Justin told me to buy it. And, I was like - nah, zero waste! But, he was so right. I don't have one of those cool things that plays the iPhone in your car. 

How am I going to improve my rapping skills!?  My carpoolee's are probably very, very happy I don't have a physical cd.... 

In all seriousness, zero waste should not be about depravation. It should not be a great sacrifice. Will it be a temporary inconvenience to change some habits? Sure. That should be expected.

But, after a couple of months of changing your habits, there shouldn't be any resentment. If there is, you've stretched yourself too far somewhere along the way. And, no dish washing doesn't count. Be an adult. Wash your dishes.

This is not black and white. Zero is a goal - not and ultimatum.  

Be conscious, be aware, do your best. It's not about perfection; it's about making better choices. 

My step dad asked me this question once, "Is this the hill you want to die on?" 

It was a question in reference to an argument, but I use it to frame a lot of questions in my life. And, let me tell you - the hill I want to die on has buffalo sauce, red wine, and that penguin plate I bought at the thrift store with a giant sticker on it. No. Regrets.

Happiness is important. Balance is important.