As many of you know, a year ago A and I took a big leap and moved to Austin, Texas from Columbus, Ohio. We knew one person here, and had no real idea what we were getting ourselves into….mostly we were just eternal summer children chasing the sun. Truth be told, I think moving here was the second best decision of my entire life (next to marrying A…cue cheesy “awww’s”).
Austin is the most unique place I have ever lived (and that includes Santa Cruz, San Francisco AND New York) because it is filled with a plethora of interesting folks. There are constant a festivals celebrating different cultures and foods and weird made up holidays like Eeyore’s Birthday. There is music everywhere and despite the fact that we are in the heart of Texas, Austin is MEGA vegan friendly. It is also a VERY eco-friendly, and has a boat-load of farmer’s markets, and low/zero waste grocery stores.
Before we moved here, being zero waste seemed totally unattainable and frankly like too much work to pursue. Now, I really think that we might be able to do it! I am going to be detailing our mini switches to zero waste lifestyle in a series of upcoming posts. I am breaking it down to really small steps, like a zero waste toiletry kit or in this case, a zero waste shopping kit.
After that, I am thinking we will go room by room and figure out how to change our kitchens and bathrooms to be zero waste. This is the start of a lengthy and in depth process, but I am excited to live in a space so conducive to it. If you don’t happen to live in an especially eco-friendly town, do not despair! I have several tips in here that are workable at any location. If you are unsure if you are near any stores with bulk options, there is an app for that (is that phrase still relevant?). Bea Johnson, the zero waste hero of many and my patronus, created this app that allows you to search bulk stores by zip code.
So let’s take a peek at what is in my zero waste shopping kit:
A Reusable Bag/Tote
I am a donor to a billion+ organizations and a bunch of them have sent me reusable totes overtime. It has worked out really well since a.) they were all free and b.) now A and I both have a full collection of totes in our car and have no excuse to use a plastic bag at the store. I always have one fully stocked with the below in my trunk, just in case I make an impromptu grocery store visit.
Medium-Large Canning Jars
On Black Friday Target had a huge sale on canning jars. I bought a 24 pack for $5! Amazing. Anyways, if you want to take the greenest approach possible, you can always find canning jars at Goodwill, that is normally where I get most of my mason jars and food storage container. Weirdly last time I looked they were more expensive than new ones. Here are some things that I put in my canning jars: flour, bulk rice, quinoa, organic sugar, nut butters, powdered sugar etc.
Small Mason Jars
We keep all of our dry goods in mason jars on our stainless steel open shelving. I personally just like the clean look of it, and it leaves more room in our pantry for unsightly things (like bulk containers of coconut oil from Costco). This means that they are really easy for me to just pop into the afore mentioned reusable tote when they run out. It is easy to remember and it saves on a boatload of waste to bring your own jars and fill them with bulk items. Some things I keep in these jars: cornmeal, chocolate chips, almonds, pecans, wasabi peas, dried fruit, etc.
I am not really a huge beer drinker, and I have recently decided to cut out gluten. However, I am a huge sucker for cider! We got a growler from a local brewery here and we refill it every time we visit. It is fun because it makes it like a weekend date for A and I, but it is really a chore. Plus we get to support local breweries and it looks way hip to have our own growlers in our fridge.
A Swing Top Bottle
Same thing here as with the growler, but we use this for wine. We have a few of these we got from IKEA in college because they are perfect for chilling tap water (instead of wasting money on bottled water). We have since realized that they are also awesome for buying bulk wine. Again, we are also supporting local wineries this way and saving a ton of glass waste (we obviously recycle but so much of what you put in the “recycle” bin really just goes to landfills.
An Oil Dispenser
I saw this really cool looking oil and vinegar set on West Elm’s website, but I just couldn’t justify dropping $30 on two empty bottles. So as I always do, I cheaped out and D.I.Y.ed it myself. I am thrilled with the results! Normally we just keep these bottles in the kitchen and when they run out we can bring them down to Sprouts to have them be refilled.
Multiple Produce Bags
I love these bags from Baggu because of their fun bright colors and patterns, but also because they keep me from having to purchase produce bags! They are perfect for the farmer’s market or just your regular old grocery store. I have also been considering making my own mesh produce bags….more on that later.
A Pillow Case
Finally, you can bring a pillowcase to pick up bread. Turns out that if you ask Whole Foods (and maybe other grocers too?) to bake you fresh bread for pick up, they will let you put it in a pillowcase or your own bread bag, hooray no plastic! Back in the day, I used to reuse bread bags for kitty litter, which seemed eco friendly at the time. Yikes. Now we are getting flushable kitty litter we won’t have to do that, and the bags have just been piling up! Pillowcases are a great way to prevent waste and you can even freeze bread in them.
For my fellow non-gluten friends who are suffering out there, Whole Foods has an extensive GF bakery.
A Sharpie Pen
For those of you who have never bulk shopped before, Tare refers to the station that you go to when you first arrive at the bulk store. That means that the first time you bring a container into a bulk store, you weigh it while it’s empty at their “Tare Station”. You then write the tare weight on the lid of your container. From that point forward, you will always be able to calculate [empty weight – filled weight] to determine the item cost.
And that is my complete list of zero waste shopping materials! For those of you who are new to zero waste shopping, I understand that it might seem like a lot. When I first heard Bea Johnson talk about this I thought “This chick is crazy! This must take forever!” But honestly I have noticed it actually saves us time. We don’t have to mill around the isles of the grocery store anymore. All we do is go to our specific spots and sang a few things.
Plus, we have noticed that it makes our life a lot more fun! Going to a farmer’s market feels like a date, not a chore. Plus when we go pick up our beer or wine, we always do a wine tasting or grab a beer together 🙂 It is just an all around better lifestyle.