Zero Waste Pantry Essentials

If you’ve always wanted a zero waste pantry, this mini guide will help show you how to get one. Zero waste pantry gets us off the cycle of buying groceries in single-use packaging. Plastic is harmful for the environment and that most forms of it will linger for hundreds of years. Even paper and cardboard materials involve resources that simply aren’t necessary to consume. So moving to a zero-waste pantry helps with environmental impact.

This approach also saves money. When you buy in bulk, you’re paying just for the product, not all the packaging or advertising. And you can get just the amount you need, rather than buying what is offered. And there is something super satisfying about abandoning garish packaging and having grocery items tucked up in glass jars with matching labels.

Glass Containers

Glass jars work very well for the pantry. Re-use spice jars and glass juice bottles for items of which you only need small quantities. Mason jars are wonderful and are available in a variety of sizes. Repurpose spaghetti sauce and jam jars. For larger containers, glass jars with close-fitting lids work well. To deodorize jars, soak them in water and baking soda for 30 minutes. To remove sticky label residue, try scrubbing with eucalyptus essential oil. For labels, try your own label maker, make paper labels, or use chalkboard paint. Here are some we recommend getting:

Reusable Grocery Bags

Yes, you’ll need to take a few items with you to the store. Re-usable grocery bags and reusable produce bags. Also bring glass containers to get cheese from the deli counter. And finally, bring cloth bulk bags for dry goods like pasta, rice, beans, nuts and seeds. Buy preserved peaches in glass jars and reuse them in my pantry. It only adds seconds to your shop and can quickly become a habit. We recommend these 100% reusable cotton totes and produce bags.

Organic Cotton Reusable Grocery Shopping Bag

Earthwise Reusable Mesh Produce Bags

At the Bulk Store

When shopping with containers, whether at the deli counter or at the bulk store, they simply need to do a tare weight on your container – basically weighing your empty container so that you are only charged for the weight of your food. At the deli counter, they can do this and then immediately start filling your containers. At a bulk store, take your (clean and empty) containers to the cash first, where they will do the tare weights on all of your bags and containers, and then you shop. Easy peasy!

Where do you write the food item number?

SKU, PLUs, barcodes, whatever you want to call them…. these are the printed numbers outside each bulk bin that the cashier will punch in to ring up your purchases. Of course, stores provide tags and pencils to label these items, just as they provide flimsy plastic bags for your bulk food. But all these items are unnecessary and just create waste. Instead, I suggest using your phone. Utilize some variation of Note-pad App, or even open a text or email and write the PLU number and short hand description of the item:

You can also just take a picture of the item code and show it to the cashier.
If that’s not an option try using a scrap piece of paper, or even some old mail. Just try to avoid using new materials, like a fresh piece of paper, just for this purpose.
Now, when you get to the cashier, you can confidently and quickly read off the numbers as they scan each bag.

Zero Waste Pantry Staples

1. Grains: brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa

2. Oats: thick-rolled and steel-cut

3. Beans: black, garbanzo/chickpeas, kidney

4. Nuts: cashews, almonds, macadamia

5. Flours: oat, brown rice, tapioca starch, potato starch, xanthan gum.

6. Dried fruit: cherries

7. Coconut: Unsweetened chips and shredded

8. Chocolate chips

9. Seeds: chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp

10. Baking: baking soda, sugar, brown sugar

11. Spices

12. Honey

13. Coffee and tea


Finally lets talk about recycling which is the last thing to focus on to reduce your waste. This means trying to ensure that if you have to purchase things try and make a conscious decision in buying an item that can be recycled. Always check the recycling number on the product and ensure that this is able to be recycled. As an example here in Aotearoa (NZ) we can only recycle #1 and #2 plastics, as China no longer takes our plastic waste. This means a lot of plastic containers, and soft plastics are just dumped into land fill. So it’s extra important to know this so you make sure you buy wisely.

We’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite tips? Is there anything you tried that didn’t work? What purchases have you made that have been great investments? Is there anything that you are still searching for a solution for? Leave your comments below!

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