Tips For Reducing Packaging Waste When Buying Groceries

Buying food products that don’t have any packaging has been something that I have found challenging. Just about every store I go to only sells food in packaging. Nowadays, even fresh fruits and vegetables are wrapped in plastic packaging. While packaging is designed to keep food protected and fresh, it is not always strictly needed and can be dispensed with.

It is for that reason that I want to pass on some of my top tips and tricks for avoiding and reducing unnecessary packaging. The tips are what I have learned from my own experience of shopping for food in the Netherlands, however, most of them can be followed in just about any other country.

Prepare A Shopping Kit

Preparing a kit of reusable packaging items is going to make life much similar. All you really need is some washable containers and a few reusable bags with quality stitching. You probably already have those items at home.

A shopping basis kit should include:

  • Three large sturdy bags to transport everything (you could also use a wicker basket or backpack).
  • 7 to 10 cloth bags. They will be used for bread, candy, fresh produce, bulk products and more. A bag made from any type of material will do. You can re-purpose fashion bags, promotional bags, and goodie bags. You could even make your own material bags from old bed sheets, shirts, and duvet covers. Include a few lighter bags to use for food items that are weighed at the checkout.
  • A bread bag. This is just a long bag that can hold a baguette.
  • A selection of different sized glass jars or containers. Note that jars that have large openings will be quicker to refill. Ideally, you should reuse glass jars that come with other products. For example, if you buy pasta sauce, jam or curry sauce in a glass jar.
  • A few small brown bags. These will be used when you buy loose spices. These small bags will be easier to fill than jars and they are also a lot lighter.

Make A Shopping List And Choose A Day

When you have some idea as to which food items you are going to buy, everything will become easier. Once you know the exact quantities of things you are going to buy, you will know how many reusable items you need to pack your items. I like to make weekly food shopping lists which include items that have ran out in my pantry and everyday grocery items.

I then do all my grocery shopping on one day. My favorite day to do my main shop is Saturday, as that is when the farmer’s market comes to my local town. At the farmer market, I can find almost all the fresh produce I need free of packaging. There are some small specialist items, like granola, spices, and rice that I purchase at different markets. When I go do different specialist markets, I make sure to buy quantities of items that will last for at least one month. This is so I don’t have to attend lots of different markets every week. Who doesn’t want to spend less time shopping for food?

Go To Local Shops And Farmers Markets

The number one place to source packaging-free food, organic items, and local produce is at a farmer’s market. This is true in the Netherlands anyway. I’ve observed that just about every farmer’s market has the same basics stalls:

Fresh fruit and vegetables

Fresh bread and pastries

Nuts, dry fruits, beans and oats


Raw meat


Cooked meat products

Cheese and dairy products

Olives, feta, ground spices, and hummus

Apart from farmers markets, other good places to source food items free from packaging (at least plastic packaging) are organic shops. Organic shops in the Netherlands stock yogurt and milk in returnable jars and they have refill stations for different oils like olive oil. Small local specialist stores are also a great location to get packaging-free food items. All large towns and cities in the Netherlands have specialist stores like butchers, bakeries, greengrocers, delicatessens, candy stores, seafood shops and more.

Of course, there are some items that you might only be able to get in supermarkets. Package-free options are always limited in supermarkets, but you can often buy at least plastic-free packaged items. Look out for pasta and rice in cardboard cartons instead of plastic bags. You might also see chocolate and crackers wrapped in foil or paper instead of plastic wrappers. Choose salsa and dressing sauces in glass bottles as opposed to plastic bottles.

The most important tip I have for you is to find out which markets and stores are in your local area and get to know the staff. You might be surprised at how many items you can buy without any packaging. When you visit a small store on a regular basis, the people behind the cash register will get to recognize you and you will no longer feel uncomfortable packaging your groceries in your own reusables.

Make Using Reusables A Habit

It is thought that it can take around 21 days to develop a new habit. The time scale varies between individuals, but to make a positive change in your life, you have to begin at day one. So, start today.

I understand that using your own reusables for the first time in a store can feel a bit scary and weird. It can also be nerve-wracking to ask staff members if you can fill up your own jars with products. You might get some weird looks and some stores might even be rude to you and refuse to allow you to use your own packaging.

Just remember that it’s not personal. Stores are not yet used to environmentally conscious customers and are really just beginning the learning process. In my own experience around 80% of stores are willing to allow you to use your own reusable packaging and have a pleasant attitude toward it. Don’t be afraid to leave a store empty-handed. You can’t be forced to buy something packed in plastic. Just politely refuse and try another store if it’s practical.

I hope you find some of these tips useful. Remember to be nice to yourself; every small change you embrace can make a real difference over time.

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