Five easy ways to reduce grocery store waste – without planning ahead!

Ever found yourself at the grocery store or market completely unprepared? 

“It’s just so hard to remember the reusable bags when I go to the store! And sometimes I have them in my car but leave them out there and don’t remember until I’m almost done!”

I’ve heard this statement a few times. I am not really sure why it’s a big deal to go get the bags in the car, but apparently it is. Probably because the kids are DONE with shopping at that point, and the freezer section items are already in cart (do enlighten me, lazy bunch!)

Let’s leave the car-bags scenario off the table for now and consider if you’ve come to the grocery store completely unprepared: no reusable (shopping and produce) bags to be seen. Maybe you just stopped on your way home from work or an outing. How annoying!

But, are there ways you can reduce your waste output anyway? 


Here’s my quick guide to bringing home less packaging, waste and fewer plastic bags, even when you are completely unprepared.

1. Most produce don’t need a bag!

Pineapple, melon, kiwi, carrots, potatoes, oranges, onions, avocados, eggplant; anything protected by a peel does not need a bag, so skip the produce bag altogether. Tomatoes, cucumber and bell peppers (most veggies) actually have a protective layer and the dirt you bring upon them from riding the cart is minimal compared to what they’ve already been through before you picked them up. However, I get that it can seem strange to let them go bare. Start with produce with peels and work up the courage to never bag anything – except tiny things like mushrooms and berries that could literally fall through the bottom of the cart if you don’t. (Reuse any bags you do take!)

While you are in the produce department, ask if you can have the lid of a banana box – you’ll use this to pack in later.

Zero waste plastic free grocery shopping
“We don’t want plastic covers – we want to ride bare!”

2. Go for paper cartons, glass containers or metal cans

Rice, beans, eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda and other items will provide you with the choice between paper cartons and plastic packaging like bags or styrofoam (yuck!). Always go for carton, it’s recyclable (and/or compostable).

So is glass and metal, which makes these two materials good choices as well when selecting items like sauces, oils, PB and jams. Of course, you have to remember to recycle them!

3. Place the things you don’t absolutely need on hold

I’m sure you’ve got a few items on your list (or on your mind) that you planned on buying this time, which you could actually do without another couple of days. Leave them at the store until your next shopping trip, one when you hopefully remember your reusable produce, bread, bulkbin and check out bags. 

4. If all else fails – Skip the dairy

If your cart is filling up with plastic anyway, maybe you need some pre-made foods to get you through the week ( NO judging here!) you might feel bad about all the waste you’re creating. Lessen the blow by skipping the dairy aisle! Yes, dairy is a waste nightmare: a farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. There are many good alternatives to diary, just a browse away (in the dairy section).

5. Be alert at check out

No time to snooze! Tell the crew to not use any plastic bags, you have a banana box in your cart! Big, bulky items like juice jugs, six packs of beer, paper towels and such, can go straight in the cart since you’ll be driving the cart to your car.

In order to encourage stores to stop printing receipts remember to say “no thank you” to receipts and printed coupons too. Did you know that the material that makes receipts “shiny” to the touch is actually BPA – a dangerous plastic coating PROVEN to be hormone disrupting? Knowing that, you don’t want to touch that receipt anyway, on a waste saving mission or not. 

(If your favorite foods in the whole world come in plastic or simply has too much packing, email the maker. Tell them to rethink their packaging: reduce or switch. If we all reach out when we see bad eco-habits, we can make a change!)

Do you have any other tips and tricks for the unprepared when it comes to avoiding waste at the grocery store? Let me know!

17 thoughts on “Five easy ways to reduce grocery store waste – without planning ahead!

  1. I carry reusable bags that fold into tiny pouches and made it a habit to put them into my purse immediately after I’d put away my groceries. No forgetting! I also really like to do self-checkouts and just put the items right back into my cart with no bags at all. There’s no confusion or explanation necessary since I’m doing it all solo :)


    1. I need to get better at self-checkout! I always mess up the monitor thing at Target LOL. My technique at the store is to place all my bags on the belt first, that way the cashier sees them :) I do like it when the reusables stir up a conversation about plastic!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Most self-checkouts I’ve used get “upset” if you do not place the item in the bagging area after you scan it–you can’t put it in your cart. I avoid self-checkout anyway because it is making me do work (which I don’t want to do) instead of having a person paid to do that work, and people need jobs!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Becca, I love that you wrote that “people need jobs” because this is an important part. Sustainability is not just environment, it is also people having income so we all have a solid economy. And yes, the Target ones go cray cray if you don’t place things in the bagging area!! (And then I go crazy too with all those beeps LOL!)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I always place the item in the bagging area, but I sometimes place it back into my cart after the transaction is complete. It doesn’t know I didn’t place it in a bag… I don’t think it even cares lol ;) I also don’t mind the work of scanning my own items, and we’ve become quite friendly with the employees that oversee and assist with the self checkout areas. Jobs are fulfilled by the people working that area as well as the employees that implement, create, maintain, and repair those machines. It’s a win win for everybody! Thanks for commenting :D

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My fiance just went to the grocery store yesterday and for the first time ever, came back with reusable bags he had found at work, and no produce bags! It was a miracle as I was unpacking the groceries! Now I know I don’t always have to be there to remind him!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another good tip if anyone forgets their bags or happens to run a quick errand on the way home is to ask for paper bags at checkout. It’s not great, but those brown paper bags recycle or can be reused and then recycled. I use mine to clean the dog mess in the yard because it will all break down MUCH faster than plastic that way. :) Thanks for the article!


  4. My tip for remembering reusable bags when traveling by car: Put them on top of your purse so that you’ll grab them when you reach for your purse before getting out of the car.

    If you do get stuck with plastic bags, be sure to recycle any that you don’t reuse! It’s not as efficient as recycling other materials, but plastic bags can at least be recycled into plastic lumber which then lasts for decades. My city doesn’t collect plastic bags at curbside, but there are bins for them outside every Giant Eagle supermarket and near the front of every Target store. Giant Eagle’s bins are made from plastic lumber!


    1. There are bins for them outside my stores as well (Houston, TX), so I do recycle them there – can’t avoid them all ;)
      You’ll be surprised how HARD my friends think it is with reusable bags! It’s like it’s a moon journey, so I wrote this post for them, knowing they will not prep even putting the bag in or on the purse. Snooze. I agree though, it’s a good tip so thanks for leaving that comment :D

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Moon journey. :-) What they need is to have a plastic bag full of small, rounded items suddenly tear open as they are walking to the car. A reusable bag won’t do that! That experience is what converted me. In 1994. Except that I wasn’t walking to the car because I didn’t have one; I was walking across my university campus and happened to be on the sidewalk along the top of a steep hill….


  5. This is such a great list. There are so many other ways to help reduce waste at the grocery store besides skipping the plastic bag (but it’s still my favorite!). Thanks for sharing on the #WasteLessWednesday blog hop!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have been searching for a reusable bag that I can use for making ice packs and also for packing lunches for my little one. Every time I find one that seems good, it’s made in China. Do you know of one that is NOT made in China that you would recommend?


    1. Hi Julie! For a lunch box I’d go with something custom from You can support a local/small business that way (just search lunch box). Planet wise has the best, reusable snack bags for lunch!

      I’m not sure what you mean with ice packs but maybe yeti has what you need? They may be made in China but all products have life time warranty so it’s an eco friendly choice that way!


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