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Sustainability has a tendency to be viewed as something that only more affluent and educated people can participate in. But if there’s one thing that any of us should be grateful for, it’s that living a sustainable lifestyle is not only trendy, but is slowly becoming more accessible, especially in major cities like New York City. California has already placed a fee on all plastic and paper bags, urging people to start using their reusable ones, but in contrast, places like NYC still have trash, and more specifically food packaging and waste, floating around on the streets. In hopes of combatting this issue and to simply become a more sustainable member of society, zero waste grocery shopping has seen a huge surge in popularity. If you’re timid about starting and not sure where to go, this list will help you eliminate a huge chunk of single-use plastic out of your life.


Do you ever see people on the street with their Trader Joe’s canvas tote bags and think, “Wow, they’re really freaking cool”? I do, which is why I was inspired to buy some for myself when I moved into the city. Now I have an endless amount of reusable totes that I use for shopping, and it helps that I feel good about making a more sustainable option each time I buy something. This snowballed into me buying all sorts of reusable materials- sandwich bags, produce bags, metal straws, nut milk cloths, you name it. You can find these items on Amazon or check out your local grocery stores and coffee shops. Owning reusable variations of typically single use plastics cuts down on the amount of plastic that is added to landfills and takes hundreds of years to decompose.

One of my favorite brands of reusable bags is Baggu. They have a storefront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with tons of reusable totes in different prints and sizes to choose from, but there are also tons of options online. I found that using my own bags makes shopping way more fun and I won’t stop anytime soon.


Once you have all of your reusable shopping accessories sorted out, a quick Yelp search will lead to a whole list of grocery stores that sell bulk food items. Buying in bulk is great in reducing waste simply because it requires far less packaging, but if you bring your own packaging, you’re effectively creating no waste. Whole Foods is a fantastic option, but it’s definitely not the only one anymore. Even smaller health markets and bodegas are offering bulk food sections, making it more accessible to people who don’t have Whole Foods or plastic-free-specific grocery stores nearby. Shopping at zero waste grocery stores will help eliminate the amount of single-use plastic that is used and thrown out, whether it be through packaging or plastic bags.

The first entirely zero waste grocery store recently opened up in Brooklyn. It’s called Precycle NYC, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. The store has all sorts of goodies, ranging from nuts and seeds to even oils and spices. All you have to do is bring your own packaging with its known tare weight and pay for the food itself. 


Generally, shopping at farmers markets will reduce the amount of waste that comes with food packaging. It’s basically like shopping at a zero waste grocery store, so bring your own materials, but you’re also gaining the added benefit of supporting local farmers. The easiest things to buy packaging-free are produce, so make sure to check the farmer’s market before you go to your local grocery store, and you might even be able to haggle with the prices.

My favorite farmers market in New York is in Union Square, and it’s held every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday- rain or shine. You can get products such as produce, meat, oils, condiments, and baked goods, and there’s even a compost system to bring your produce waste to. Nearly every city and town, no matter how small or large, has a farmer’s market, so take a peek around to find where the one closest to you is.

All in all, it’s cool to be sustainable, and living in a progressive society that is starting to focus more heavily on sustainability gives us so many options to shop zero waste. Not only will you feel good about yourself, but you are seriously doing the environment a favor. 

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