Zero Waste at Conventional Stores (pt. 2)

A lot of posts about Zero Waste goods (including mine) will direct you to places like Whole Foods, co-ops, and thrift stores. These are great options because their products may use minimal packaging, the store is likely to be locally owned (aside from Whole Foods), and focus on extending the life-cycle of a product instead of buying new. But whether it’s due to affordability or access, these kinds of shops may not always be an option.

My first couple of months going Zero Waste I avoided big box stores like Target because I knew they would be a source of temptation. But now that I have gotten frivolous shopping out of my system, I can avoid the vortex of Target and get in and out with just a few Zero Waste essentials. Zero waste can be found anywhere if you just take a little time to look. I wrote about some more broad advice for this earlier this year, but here is a list of some surprisingly good places to go (and places to avoid).

Target: Target has a very limited package-free produce selection, but you can still find things like cucumbers, bananas, and potatoes with no packaging. The place to check out though is the home goods section. I found my kitchen compost pail at Target, and on recent trips, I have seen bamboo cooking utensils and even packs of reusable produce bags. Target has also been making some additions to their skincare aisles recently too, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find products packaged at least mostly in glass.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: A magical land of all things for the bed, bath….and beyond (please don’t hate me). Back in September I ventured into BB&B and found a veggie sack (to keep produce from going bad in the fridge), a dish brush made from bamboo and recycled plastic (but now I’m seeing fully compostable brushes in stores), and 100% cotton napkins in a color other than white (which were surprisingly difficult for me to find). BB&B is also notorious for sending out coupon around the time universities start up so look for those if you’re trying to make zero waste swaps on a limited budget.

Marshall’s/Home Goods/TJ Maxx: These have got to be my favorite unexpected places to find zero waste goods. Because these stores have a rotating stock of goods, you never know quite what you’ll find. I’ve been able to find things like honey in a glass jar, bar soap, and bath salts in a giant mason jar with absolutely no plastic in the packaging (I know baths are not zero waste, but sometimes a girl just has to indulge). Maybe the most exciting thing I’ve found is Nellie’s All-Natural Laundry Soda, a powdered laundry detergent sold in metal packaging. I still love my soap nuts, but this option is way cheaper per load. The container does have a plastic liner in it, but I’m still happy to have it as a middle-ground between DIY laundry soap and conventionally packaged liquid detergents.

(Mostly) Zero Waste detergent from a conventional store!

Safeway/Fred Meyer etc.: When doing your grocery shopping at a conventional store, my best tips are to pay attention to packaging (glass and aluminum are better than plastic) and country of origin (local produce=less transportation). And as with any grocery trip, buy only what you need. I tend to get over-excited in the produce aisle and end up buying too many veggies I won’t be able to use.

And one to avoid:

Trader Joe’s: Like any millennial, I used to love Trader Joe’s. But ever since my zero waste transition I think I’ve been there once. Trader Joe’s loves to package EVERYTHING, even two bell peppers. They also specialize in yummy easy meals packaged in plastic. I loved to go there for the convenience, but now I just can’t justify that. You can do better TJ’s!

Through this process, I want to find a happy balance between investing in zero waste products that will really cut back on my waste without taking a huge hit to my wallet. Living sustainably is not something that is exclusive to people that can afford to drive hybrid cars and buy only local, organic products. Even box stores have options if you know where to look, just don’t forget to bring your own bag!

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