Take a look in your garbage and recycling bins: I bet a majority of it is food-related packaging and disposables. As a sustainability writer, advocate, consultant, and educator, I encourage people to check out their garbage (yeah, I’m that person), and one of the things that often comes up in conversation is how to shop in bulk and avoid packaging in our increasingly scarce grocery hauls.
Zero-waste grocery options are popping up all over and are making it easier than ever to shop waste-free. These shops and delivery services streamline the process of shopping and make living zero-waste a lot more feasible for the average consumer.
Package-free grocery stores like Precycle in Brooklyn and Nada in Vancouver are known for offering produce, spices, nuts, and even milk and eggs without packaging. According to Nada’s website, they’ve diverted over 30,000 containers from ending up in landfill or the recycling stream. They also house an in-store zero-waste cafe that uses surplus from the produce department, creating a circular economy within their shop.
And for those who like the convenience of shopping from home (many of us these days), Denver-based zero-waste delivery service Infinity Goods was founded by Ashwin Ramdas and co-founder Dani McLean to make zero-waste shopping as easy as possible.
“Dani and I were trying to live a plastic-free life — but with groceries, it was almost impossible,” explains Ramdas. “So much food comes in single-use packaging, we had to give up many of the foods we loved like pasta and ice cream, not to mention lugging around containers to multiple stores that had limited selections. We knew that if it was this difficult for us, it was that difficult for anyone trying to cut down on waste.”
Infinity Goods offers same-day delivery and provides provisions well beyond the bulk section, delivering hard-to-find package free items such as tofu, energy bars, and even ice cream (yes, they delivered me vegan, gluten-free ice cream in a mason jar and my life was basically complete). You save your jars, bags, and even recyclables and give them back on your next delivery, the company ensuring they get reused, properly recycled, or composted if necessary.
While Infinity Goods is currently local to Denver, other initiatives are reaching across the country and the world. The Wally Shop started as a zero-waste delivery service in New York City, and recently raised over $50k to expand its service nationwide.
Loop, founded by TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky, was started with the mission to make it as easy as possible for consumers to shop in a low-waste manner for their usual goods. Launched in 2019, Loop has partnered with some of the largest companies that are making consumer packaged goods such as Unilever, P&G, and PepsiCo, as well as smaller brands like Burlap & Barrel and Melanin Essentials, to offer some of the most popular food, beverages, supplements, and beauty products in reusable goods. Once you’re done, you simply put your items back in the tote and they pick them up. This both lowers the barrier to entry and allows consumers to keep enjoying their favorite products in a zero-waste manner. Loop is currently available in the mid-Atlantic, as well as select regions in Europe, with hopes to expand.
While zero-waste grocery shopping has felt pretty niche for some time now, with the proliferation of options and larger companies getting on board, zero-waste delivery services such as Loop and Infinity Goods could well rival Amazon’s delivery services.
The important part is that shopping this way be simple — or maybe even easier — for the consumer.
“We want to shift the conversation away from personal consumer responsibility,” Ramdas explains. “We will never solve the pollution crisis if we burden each individual with the responsibility of waste management.”
And to do my part, I’ll continue to take my ice cream in mason jars, front door style, thank you very much.
Sara Weinreb is a writer, sustainability consultant, and design-thinking facilitator on a mission to support people and businesses in being kinder to themselves, each other, and the planet. She is the host of the Medium Well podcast and writes for Forbes, mindbodygreen, Cherry Bombe, and more. She recently moved to Denver, Colorado, in pursuit of a slower and more nature-driven pace of life, and is training to be an herbalist.