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plastic-free grocery shopping at Walmart

January 12, 2019

I follow loads of zero waste blogs, Instagrams and YouTube channels. Every person I follow says essentially the same thing about grocery shopping.

Most zero wasters post a trendy picture of them shopping bulk at their closest zero waste shop in New York or Colorado or Seattle. They all carry mason jars in their organic cotton tote bags and buy only organic, vegan food.

And that’s all great! But it feels rather unattainable and, quite honestly, elitist.

I’m just not that person. I live in Western Pennsylvania — Beaver County to be more precise. I’m about 45 minutes from the city of Pittsburgh where one sort of zero waste shop exists. (s/o to East End Food Coop that lets you bring your own containers to bulk shop!)

But my husband Mike and I live paycheck to paycheck (quite literally) and we can’t afford to travel down to the city every week to grocery shop.

Often, I find myself going to Aldi and Walmart as often as I can because I’m broke.

Aldi is cheap, but just about everything they sell comes in plastic — even their tomatoes and peppers. So I typically opt for Walmart.

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When I look at zero waste folks or holistic and wellness gurus, they make their lives look glamorous and, quite frankly, unachievable for the average person.

But wellness shouldn’t be that way.

You can limit your waste/plastic anywhere you go — be it shopping at Walmart, eating at a fast food restaurant or gas station, or shopping at the mall. Zero waste is a mindset. And nobody’s perfect. It’s not a competition of who can use the least amount of plastic. It’s meant to be a lifestyle that prioritizes sustainability and responsibility over convenience.

I just went grocery shopping yesterday at Walmart and I thought I’d go over everything I bought. Several of these items are packaged in plastic because they’re foods I really needed/wanted and couldn’t find a better solution. Here’s a list of what I got. I’ll put an * next to food that is either recyclable, compostable or package-free.

PEPPERS*
SPINACH*
KALE*
BROCCOLI*
YELLOW POTATOES*
RED POTATOES*
ONIONS*
LIMES*
LEMONS*
GARLIC*
NECTARINES*
BUTTER*
CHICKEN BROTH*
TOMATO SAUCE*
BLACK BEANS*
MILK*
LENTILS
MEAT
BANANAS*
BAKING SODA*
EGGS*
YOGURT
THAI CURRY SAUCE*
TORTILLA CHIPS
FRESH ROSEMARY*
RASPBERRIES*

The majority of my items are either package-free to recyclable, but there are some things, like meat, yogurt, lentils and tortilla chips, I purchased in a non-recyclable container.

Here are some tips for low-waste grocery shopping at Walmart.

BRING COTTON BAGS

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Check out these cotton bags made from recycled cotton from my friend Agnes at AndindaDesign here. Use code THANKYOU to get a discount! She makes some awesome bags that are perfect for produce!

Also, bring along a few larger cotton totes to use instead of plastic bags when you check out at the store.

BUY BULK

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Obviously buying in bulk is ideal. And it’s actually relatively easy to do at Walmart. They’ve got loads of produce that comes in bulk!

Before I go grocery shopping I try to think of a recipe I want to make for dinner that night/week. If one of the ingredients doesn’t come package-free or in a recyclable container, then I’ll swap it out for another ingredient. For example, last night I made a lentil soup that called for celery. Walmart (at least the Walmart near me) doesn’t carry bulk celery. But they carry bulk peppers! So I switched the celery for peppers — I like peppers better anyways.

OPT FOR CANS, GLASS CONTAINERS AND PAPER BOXES

I thought I’d have to buy chicken broth in that weird box-type container that most broths come in. Those boxes aren’t recyclable (at least from my knowledge!). But! I found chicken broth in an aluminum can! So I bought that instead.

Opt for canned beans if you can, too! That’s usually what I do. Coconut milk also comes in cans, which is great in soups! If you want some awesome soup recipes (and vegan recipes!) check out my best pal Leesha’s nutrition website here.

You can also find rice, raisins, baking soda, chocolate, and lots of other ingredients in paper boxes/wrapped in paper. And one of the easiest switches to  make in your grocery shopping is swapping your Styrofoam egg cartons with brown paper ones!

Some sauces come in glass containers, too, like the Thai curry that’s pictured above.

GO FOR RECYCLABLE PLASTIC

One of the most important things to know when limiting your waste is finding out which plastics your curbside recycling company accepts. I have a long blog post all about that here if you’d like to check it out.

My city only lets me recycle plastics number 1 and 2 — so I want to be mindful of that when I shop. For instance, I really wanted to get raspberries because I love them, but they only come in plastic. I looked on the back of the plastic container for the recycle symbol. It had a number 1 inside the recycling symbol, which means I can recycle it from my house! I did the same thing with my milk jug and fresh rosemary. Contact your local recycling company or look at your municipality’s website for more info!

GIVE YOURSELF GRACE

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Mike really likes to eat meat. It’s pretty tough to find meat that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic. But it’s a big part of his diet, so I know that’s one part of my grocery list that is unlikely I’ll find plastic-free.

Again, nobody’s perfect! Be as mindful as you can. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to buy plastic-free. It’s a journey and a process — take your time and have fun with it!

How do you shop plastic-free at your local non-bulk grocery stores?

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