Week 25: Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

Anybody who’s ever took any interest in zero waste will know that bulk shopping is like the ultimate zero waste thing. It’s usually cheaper, you only need to buy as much as you actually need, and of course no unnecessary packaging!

I’ve already spoken about our little food coop at university, but unfortunately their selection is very small, as they’re only allowed to sell non-perishable and non-processed food. It essentially boils down to flour, sugar, oats, pasta, couscous, some spices, some dried beans and lentils. They also have other, packaged stuff, but these are the only bulk foods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for the selection they offer as this improves my zero waste balance greatly. But it’s also sad to have no choice but buying packaged food for the lack of alternative (or completely stopping to eat it, but this is impossible in a lot of cases. Think oil or rice).

Did I say there is no bulk shops?

Well, I was very recently proven wrong! I’m proud to present what seems to be Scotland’s only ethical, package-free, organic and worker-led coop: The New Leaf Co-op in Edinburgh.

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The first (and so far only) time I entered this zero waste heaven, I think the cashier was more than bemused by my enthusiasm (“LOOK they even have bulk vinegar this is SO AWESOME!”). It was like a child walking into candy land. They have everything a waste conscious soul would crave for: grains, pasta, flour, sugar, herbs, beans, oil, vinegar, loose veg, loose tea, …

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Bulk liquids!? Take my money!

I got the hint to check it out by lovely gerkengaby in a comment, and looked it up online almost immediately. It took a while until we managed to get there, and only on short notice, which is why I came utterly unprepared and bagless. I eventually found a paper bag and a cloth bag (and used some of their paper bags provided) to buy some rice, licorice tea, thyme and garlic (the things we needed most urgently), and we came away okay in terms of cheapness. They actually do a 10% off for students on bulk goods!

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Fresh fruit and veg, seasonal, local & organic.

Before you jump up to congratulate me on this find, there is a downside, and a pretty huge one as well.

As it’s in Edinburgh and we live just outside Stirling, the place is actually over 1h away by car, even more by train (and the train doesn’t even stop anywhere near). Regardless of the amount of petrol we’d burn every time we went there, it’s also the expense that’s an issue.

Simply speaking, we don’t have the money to go there on a regular basis. It makes me sad and if I could I would buy all my groceries there (even though it might be more expensive), but the time and money is too much, which means we will have to restrict ourselves to once a month maximum and buy as much as we need in one go. I guess it could be worse, but even with careful planning it is probably not a workable option for my zero waste efforts. Too often, I’m unexpectedly running out of something and have to compromise on short notice.

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They also sell other delicious stuff πŸ™‚

So far, zero waste food shopping in Scotland generally proves to be a really tough one:

  • Loose produce is only available in large supermarkets, but even there some things are always plastic wrapped (cucumber, celery, chili).
  • Our Farmer’s Markets are too infrequent and sometimes rightout poor (once they didn’t even have a fruit & veg stall at all). A lot of produce offered is either available in supermarkets (even though I’d prefer to buy from Farmers) or, again, shrink-wrapped in plastic.
  • I can’t seem to find any dairy around selling any milk produce in glass, and since my boyfriend requested to go lactose free, substitute items are plastic packed as well.
  • Cheese at counters in supermarkets is plastic-wrapped. What’s the point of counters, then!?
  • We can buy meat, fish and salami in our own containers, it’s still a stuggle not to get an extra piece of plastic on top of the stuff.
  • I can get some grains, like flour or pasta from uni, but they stopped selling rice, and if I want to mix it up with barley, spelt, quinoa or beans, I again have to go with packaging from the supermarket…
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Porridge, glorious porridge.

Do you live in Scotland? Do you know of any good places to buy things in bulk? What about hidden supermarket bulk bins I don’t know about? What does the rest of the UK do? Give me some ideas to work on!

And don’t forget: Zero Waste Week is approaching fast! Next week it’s all about reusing instead of tossing. If you haven’t signed up for the great and informative newsletter, do so now and add your pledge at Zero Waste Week! I’d love to hear from your efforts next week. For more inspiration in the general sense, read a few of our network blogs πŸ˜‰

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6 thoughts on “Week 25: Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

  1. Caz says:

    I also live in Scotland and it’s so frustrating. At the moment there are very few options for bulk buying zero waste. New Leaf Co-Op in Edinburgh and also there’s one (I forget the name) in Giffnock, neither of which are anywhere near me. I emailed several big supermarkets to ask whether they would consider something like this in future but their answers were rather vague. Their excuses for not allowing ‘wet’ foodstuffs in our own containers as opposed to excessive packaging, was ‘health and safety’ πŸ˜‘ I can’t understand why they don’t offer bulk in this country.

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  2. Nuria says:

    I know you don’t leave in Edinburgh, but here I bought cheese from IJ Mellis Cheesemongers on my own containers, and they have wrapped butter too but the one I tried is wrapped in grease proof paper which is not recyclable. In general is really expensive anyways to buy there, but the experience was lovely.

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  3. Compost_Lady says:

    I don’t live in Scotland, but have encountered similar problems! I live in a small town in British Columbia and there are few options for bulk shopping; as you said, we have most “dry” items, and then the odd liquidish: honey, peanut butter, coconut oil. One company in particular I emailed regarding oils and vinegars, but apparently those are only in bigger centers 😦 I’ve also cut out cucumbers completely out of my food inventory because they seem to be wrapped even at the farmer’s markets. Either way, good on you for celebrating when we do come across something zero-waste-helpful!

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    • thingio says:

      Yes, same here. I feel better when getting something in a glass bottle or jar, though, because I know I will reuse it and can eventually recycle. With other things, it drives me nuts that I don’t have any plastic-free options. Cucumbers are the same here, as well as celery, rice or noodles! I try to cut down, but I refuse to give up on the food I like because of packaging. It should not be US eating different foods because of Zero Waste, like we are doing something ‘wrong’, it should be the companies starting to offer us the Zero Waste alternative because THEY are doing something wrong. Maybe one day in the future it will be like this… until then there is hope and celebration of what can be achieved πŸ™‚

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