In the ideal zero-waste world, stores would be package free and sell things in bulk. Unfortunately, package-free shops are not the norm so I still end up shopping at places like Safeway and Target. In addition to the obvious (bringing reusable bags) here are some of the tricks I use to minimize my waste at conventional shops

1: Know what you need.

And when I say need, I actually mean the item you went to the grocery for. Last week I needed honey for a DIY Cough Drop recipe and didn’t have any at home. I stopped by Target and breezed right past the clothes and makeup (which used to be my first stops on every Target trip) and went straight to the food aisles. They didn’t have what I needed so instead of wandering aisles looking for something to buy, I just left.

2: Pay attention to packaging.

The reason I left Target empty handed was that the only honey they sold came in plastic bottles. We’re told to recycle plastic, but plastic can only be recycled once, something I didn’t know before my zero-waste journey. Glass, on the other hand, can be recycled infinitely, making it a far better alternative. Once my honey is gone, I can keep the glass jar for storage. I also found some cloth napkins at Bed, Bath & Beyond that had a paper tag attached with paper ribbons that I can repurpose later. I look for packaging with minimal plastic or packaging that can be repurposed or recycled. As a rule, I choose plastic as the last resort (or not at all).

Zero-waste essentials picked up at conventional box stores… because Whole Foods doesn’t always cut it.

3: Be diligent 

Our world is pretty much built around convenience, which is why we have things like disposable cups, paper napkins, and Uber Eats. I went to three different stores to find everything I needed on my failed Target trip. I was tempted to be lazy, but I reminded myself that my actions today have permanent repercussions for the planet. By taking a little extra time to find products with more sustainable packaging you can still get things you want or need without cluttering the landfill.

4: Know that it’s ok not to be perfect

I am not the biggest fan of the term “zero-waste” because it sets unrealistic expectations. As much as I want to reduce my consumption and make choices that don’t harm the planet, I know that I’m going to make choices that aren’t always green. I’m not going to use this as an excuse to buy whatever I want, but by reminding myself that I can’t expect perfection I won’t get overwhelmed by trying to maintain unrealistic self-imposed expectations.