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Zero Waste Grocery Shopping in Toronto

Hi Everyone,

The first week of my zero waste journey has come to an end and on Friday I completed my very first zero waste grocery shop - whoooo! As soon as I got home from the store on Friday afternoon I spent the next three hours taking pictures and writing out this blog post.


Right when I went to post it, it deleted itself. Thank god I had saved it as a draft!! Oh, but wait. When I went into my drafts the only thing that had saved was the title.

I was so mad. Welcome to technology in the 21st century. So here is what the grocery shop looked like.... for the second time.

Step 1: Changing Grocery Stores

Unfortunately, it is pretty hard to complete a zero waste grocery shop at a regular store. As much as I love shopping at Fiesta Farms, a local Toronto grocer, I was going to need to make a switch. After doing a little research I discovered the Unboxed Market on Dundas Street West. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many grocery stores to adopt wasteful practices, such as banning the use of reusable bags in their stores. Thankfully, the Unboxed Market still allows the use of clean personal containers and reusable bags!

Pro-tip - If your grocery store doesn't allow you to bring in your reusable bags, you can request a cardboard box at the checkout. Most stores have a vast supply of cardboard boxes left over from produce deliveries.

Step 2: Preparation

I made a meal plan for the week and wrote out my grocery list on a scrap piece of paper. Before the leaving the house, I made sure that I had my reusable bags, a variety of different sized glass jars and containers, and my reusable produce bags. I wouldn't recommend going out to buy glass jars or containers. See what you have around the house first - pasta jars, pickle jars, yogurt containers, jam jars and silicone snack bags all work great! The more that you shop at zero waste or bulk stores, the more glass jars you will acquire.

Pro-tip - To get the labels off used glass jars simply soak them in warm bubble water for 2 minutes. After that the labels should peel off quite easily. To remove those stubborn sticky bits, simply rub them with a few drops of olive oil.

Step 3: Figuring Out How to Navigate the Grocery Store

I am going to be honest, this was not the most stress-free grocery shop I have ever done. When I first arrived at Unboxed Market, I found out that there were no grocery carts in the store, thus I proceeded to walk around holding all of my bags, jars, and the basket for my food. It was a bit cumbersome, but thankfully the staff members at Unboxed Market were very knowledgeable and helpful.

Takeaway Learning Points:

1) Weigh your jars when you first arrive at the store, this is called the tare weight, and record it in sharpie (or pen) on the lid of each jar. This way you can continue to shop and fill your jars up with all of the goodies they have in store, and you don't have to walk back to the scale everytime you want to fill a jar.

2) Do not shop for your fruits and vegetables first. DO THIS LAST. You don't want all those heavy jars filled with your goods to squish and damage your fruits and vegetables.

3) When meal planning, plan to make your own sauces and spreads (such as hummus and ceasar dressing). This will save you money, as good quality locally-made sauces in glass jars are very expensive. A tiny jar of mayo cost me $13.00; I easily could have made a jar of mayo myself for under $5.00.

At the end of the day, this whole process was easier than expected. It just took a little bit of planning and preparation. When the COVID-19 crisis is over, it will also be much easier to shop because you will be able to bring a friend or spouse into the store to help with filling up your jars.

Here is what my final shop looked like!

Stay safe and healthy xoxo,

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