As I’ve written many times before, I became interested in the zero waste philosophy last year after reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home, and have since found some wonderful blogs, including Zero Waste Chef and Trash Is for Tossers.
A quick definition for new readers:
Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
In practical terms, this led me to take a hard look at our consumption, and the resulting garbage and recycling we generated each week. While I’ve tried to implement this in several aspects of our life–cutting down on clothing shopping with a 10-Item Wardrobe and buying baby toys and furniture from Craigslist instead of new in the package, the most relevant area for us was food shopping. I love food–good food–and I love to cook, so this is where I could affect the biggest difference for our family.
These are the changes I made, in no particular order:
- Monthly menu planning, to try to eliminate excessive food waste (I am 50/50 on this so far and plan to write more on this topic)
- Saving vegetable scraps and bones to use for stock
- Composting food waste (Portland offers a city-wide option)
- Shopping from the bulk bins–no packaging if I use my own containers, and it’s usually cheaper
- Using reusable shopping bags, as well as cloth bags for produce and bulk items like beans and pasta
- Using glass jars and plastic bottles (where allowed) for wet bulk items like maple syrup, peanut butter, shampoo, and conditioner
I made the changes gradually, and now they feel completely normal–I just make sure to pop my bags and containers in the car. Since then, I’ve been a busy bee, exploring the many grocery stores here in Portland to try to figure out which stores will actually let me use my containers, which have the best selection, and which is most convenient.
Unfortunately, there is no “one-stop shopping” option that gives me everything I want, and driving around to two or three stores every week not only uses a lot of gas (which pretty much zeroes out my zero waste efforts), but it’s not always feasible with a baby in tow. However, by evaluating what each store has to offer, I’ve found that I can plan a monthly trip to a few and cover (most) of my bases.
Note: What I should say is, in a perfect world, I could plan out a monthly visit to two or three stores and get all of our groceries. In reality, life happens: I agree to make cake for 40 people, we have unexpected dinner guests, etc.
This is far from a complete list of grocery stores in the area, but these are where I go most often:
Best for: Inexpensive produce (Kruger’s), glass bottle milk and cream, local seafood/meat and eggs (Flying Fish).
Doesn’t offer: Any other groceries.
Zero Waste: Can use own bags for produce. Unfortunately, the fish and meat are all pre-packaged in plastic in smaller (.5 to 1 pound) portions.
Kruger’s is a great local farm stand here in Portland, with Flying Fish housed in a little shack on site. The produce is often cheaper here than at the grocery store, and of high quality. Since it’s largely local produce, Kruger’s may sometimes be out of certain fruits and vegetables. While this is something you should expect when eating locally, it can be frustrating if you have your heart set on something specific. The seafood and meat at Flying Fish is spectacular, but they too can run out of items.
Best for: Practically coined the term “one-stop shopping” in Portland. In addition to groceries, Fred Meyer offers sporting and automotive goods, office supplies, gardening tools, toys, clothing, home decor, etc. etc.
Doesn’t offer: Most bulk wet goods, like oil, vinegar, honey, etc.
Zero Waste: You can use your own cloth bags for produce and bulk goods, but glass or plastic containers are not allowed. You can’t use your own containers for cheese or meat. Bulk section is somewhat limited: some types of pasta, a basic collection of baking supplies, nuts, granola, candy, etc.
Fred Meyer used to be my go-to, because they have everything, plus really good cheese and deli counters. I still go there if I have limited time (it’s close to my house) and need to know I can get everything on my list, but I wish the bulk section was more varied, and that I could use more of my own containers.
Best for: Local produce, glass bottle dairy. Wet bulk goods–they have an amazing selection, including vinegars, soy sauce, honey, different types of oil, maple syrup, salsa, peanut butter, and much more. Their bulk spices and teas are also extensive, as are their grains, rice, etc. This is also where I can get items like shampoo, conditioner, and bar soap in bulk, as well as cleaning products like laundry detergent and dish soap (liquid and powder for both).
Doesn’t offer: Meat, many “typical” items like linguine. Limited selection of cheese/dairy.
Zero Waste: You’ve hit the jackpot, tiger! You can use cloth bags, of course, but also glass or plastic containers. They have scales where you can weigh your containers and mark the “tare” (weight) on them, so you’re not charged for the weight of your jars and bags.
People’s Co-Op goes far above and beyond letting people use their own containers: they’re committed to local, sustainable, ethically sourced foods. I love that I can get so many unusual items in bulk (sesame oil?!?). However, they don’t have what I consider more typical items like spaghetti, cocoa powder, etc., which can be frustrating. I mostly come here for wet bulk items.
Best for: The best selection of bulk dry goods I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously. I can find Bob’s Red Mill flours, every kind of sugar, blocks of dark and milk chocolate, organic coconut flour, almost every pasta shape, grains, dried fruit, nuts, cereal, candy, pet food and treats–the list goes on and on. But WinCo is a huge grocery store–you can pretty much find everything you need, from packaged goods, meat, cheese, produce, bread, frozen foods, baby items, and more.
Zero Waste: You can use your own cloth bags for produce and bulk goods, but glass or plastic containers are not allowed. You can’t use your own containers for cheese or meat.
Doesn’t offer: Most wet bulk items (although they have honey), bulk shampoo or condition, bulk cleaning agents.
WinCo is where I do my major shopping these days, mostly because they have such an incredible bulk section, and because they’re the cheapest! If WinCo had the wet bulk selection of the People’s Co-Op and a better bread selection (and let me use my own glass or plastic containers), I would almost never shop anywhere else, frankly. While it is not as committed to sustainable and local food as the People’s Co-Op, it is employee owned.
I’m not reviewing New Seasons, because while they do let people use their own jars and containers, I find their bulk selection is limited, and something about that store just gets on my nerves (great cheese, though). If I’m going to Kruger’s, I’ll also stop by the nearby Grand Central Bakery to pick up bread. They offer a small discount if you bring your own bag–I just hand them one of my cloth ones and they’ll pop a loaf in, completely package free. And, of course, it’s amazing bread!
Because as I said above, I love good food. While I will make some concessions to cut down on trash (and we have, tremendously), none of the above measures would be sustainable for us if the food suffered. And it really hasn’t! Don’t be afraid of the bulk bins–especially at a busy store at WinCo with a high turnover rate.
So there you have it. In a perfect world, I would make my monthly grocery list, make one major trip to WinCo and the People’s Co-Op, and then visit Kruger’s or our local farmers market for weekly produce. Also, in a perfect world, I would be able to bring my own containers for cheese, meat, and deli items–will someone in Portland please make that happen? Because I have no delusions of veganism. It ain’t gonna happen.
So what do you say, Portland? Are there awesome, sustainable grocery options I’m missing here? Where do you shop? Also, while this list is Portland-centric, Zero Waste Home does offer a Bulk app to help you find options in your neighborhood!