How to shop low waste in normal supermarkets: 5 tips

Jun 8, 2019

With Waitrose announcing its move towards less plastic, it looks like things are moving in the right direction. But here are my tips for how to shop low waste, whatever the supermarket. 


This week, it was announced that Waitrose would be trialling a new way to shop low waste in their UK supermarkets.

Customers will get the chance to bring in their own containers and stock up on fresh, loose produce, dried goods including pasta and cereal and, most excitingly for me, frozen fruit!

Does being excited by frozen fruit mean I’m officially a grown up?

Whilst I like to think that I’ve got pretty bloody good when it comes to shopping low waste, one thing I do get every week is a pack of frozen blueberries. Not only is it way cheaper, but I think they taste better warmed up on my cereal. And I’m too lazy to freeze my own.

Of course, though, they come in plastic which is the major downside.

However, for most people, plastic is a much more common part of their shopping trolleys. It’s totally normal to buy veggies wrapped in the stuff, bottles and even tins that are lined with it! Thanks to its convenience, a lot of us don’t even think twice about it, right?

I know that I certainly didn’t until a couple of years ago!

However, when I did start this eco-living journey of mine, I knew that one of the areas I needed to tackle was my weekly shop. Living in a little London flat, where recycling was made more difficult than it should be, I could see first-hand just how much waste I was producing after a trip to ASDA.

I needed to make some changes, but unlike a lot of zero-wasters online, I didn’t live anywhere near to a bulk shop, I didn’t have the money to buy a plastic-free veggie delivery box and I was clueless on how to shop low waste.

Waitrose’s move towards being low waste is great news. If the trial goes well and the plastic-free system becomes a permanent feature, I can only imagine that other major retailers will follow suit. That’s a big “yay” as far as the planet is concerned.

It certainly makes being low waste easier for some people.

That doesn’t mean that it makes it “accessible”, though. After all, Waitrose is known for its higher prices. For example, one head of organic broccoli from Waitrose costs £1.65, whereas the same from Tesco is just £1. That’s not an unnoticeable difference for most people. On top of that, some simply don’t have a Waitrose within their local area.

My nearest is 25 miles away!

So, if you live near a Waitrose and you can afford to, I would hugely encourage you to make use of their unpackaged section. Show your support and, hopefully, something like this will become a more normal part of our society.

However, if you don’t or can’t shop at Waitrose, fear not! There are plenty of ways to shop lower waste, even if you’re on a budget and only have access to a conventional supermarket. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.

Low waste food shopping

Tips on how to shop low-waste, wherever you buy

Opt for loose produce to reduce waste while you shop

Your potatoes don’t need to be wrapped in plastic. In fact, none of your produce does.

Unfortunately, there is often limited choice with what you can buy loose in conventional supermarkets: Things like berries and salad are always wrapped. You can definitely make it work, though.

Shift the way you shop, by always checking to see if there is a packaging-free option available. Usually, they don’t cost more and, often, they actually end up costing less. Being able to buy the exact quantity and type of a product you need (honestly, does anyone eat the green pepper in a three-pack?!) also helps you to cut down on your food waste.

One investment to make if you want to shop low waste is reusable produce bags. Whilst more and more supermarkets are offering paper bags, which is a great step, getting something that will last you 5 years instead of 5 minutes is definitely the more sustainable option.

And, yep, you will probably get asked about them every time you checkout. Spread that eco-conscious word, my friend.

Related post: Why it’s okay that I failed at Plastic Free July 

Prioritise your materials whilst shopping

When it comes to anything other than loose produce, it might not be as easy to get things without packaging.

Instead, focus on the type of packaging that you buy, avoiding plastic as much as physically possible. It’s a material that can only be recycled a limited number of times and it is absolutely wreaking havoc in our oceans.

More products than you think are available in cardboard, a completely biodegradable material. For example, I buy boxes of rice and boxed washing powder. Occasionally they will have strips of plastic to allow you to see inside the box, but these can simply be separated before recycling.

A small amount of plastic is better than something made entirely of the stuff, right?

Another option is tins! For anyone trying to cut down on their food bill, buying tinned fruits and veggies that will last longer than fresh can be a real winner. Plus, tin is a material which can be recycled an infinite number of times.

Research your local area for low waste shops

Okay, I know these are tips for shopping in a supermarket, but I thought it was worth sneaking this one in here.

Chances are, you don’t have a low waste or bulk shop near you, unless you’re super lucky.

BUT, you might have more low waste options than you think. Places like greengrocers, farm shops, bakers, butchers and fishmongers usually have most of their products loose. As long as you are loud and proud about the fact that you don’t want to have a plastic bag, they’ll probably let you provide your own containers.

Extra points for supporting your local economy, too!

When in doubt, shop in bulk

Even if you don’t have a designated bulk store near you, buy long-life produce in as large a pack as possible for you.

Typically, a larger packet means less material used to store an equivalent amount of food. Whilst it’s not always true, it is a good rule of thumb. Consider switching your 500g bag of pasta for a 1kg pack. Or your “half loaf” of bread for a larger one that you can freeze!

Not only will it save you money, but it’s a super simple way to shop low waste.

Related post: Is promoting a zero-waste lifestyle elitist? 

And, please, for the love of God, remember your bags!

Come on, how could I write about how to shop low waste and not include the most basic step: Bring reusable bags.

I don’t care if they’re canvas or if they’re 5p blue ones from the corner shop. If you’re stopping something from going to landfill and not getting any new plastic, that’s good enough for me. And it should be good enough for you too!

  1. Alice

    June 11th, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Loved this post! I’m already on Amazon looking for reusable produce bags 😛 x

  2. Bethany

    July 9th, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    YAY love that!


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