7 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Waste Without Access to Bulk

7 ways to reduce food packaging waste without access to bulk

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7 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Waste Without Access to Bulk | The most common thing I hear when I talk about how I reduce my shopping waste is “I don’t have bulk options near me, I can’t live zero waste.” A lot of people live without access to bulk.
I grew up in a town of 6000 people with one grocery store so we couldn’t be picky when it came to where we purchased our food. And when it comes to waste, yea, it can seem impossible to reduce food packaging waste without access to bulk food.

Despite the frustrating lack of options that most of us have to deal with, there are still ways we can reduce our shopping and food packaging waste without access to bulk. I, myself, only have one store within 30 miles of me that carries a diminutive amount of bulk options so I use the following tips a lot to keep my zero waste goals in view.

7 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Waste Without Access to Bulk

bulk food - zero waste

Avoid Plastic Bags

I’ve repeated this a thousand times but is so important in overall grocery shopping waste reduction. This covers produce bags too – you don’t need them.
Related: We’re Breaking Up with Plastic Bags
We should be taking our produce home to wash anyway, so really there’s no need for them other than to keep a larger quantity of items together such as a pound of potatoes or a bag of peas. In that case, bring your own reusable cloth produce bags that are more durable anyway.

avoid plastic bags

 Avoid Plastic Packaging

If you can, avoid products that are primarily packaged in plastic. An example would be, opt for the box of cornstarch rather than the plastic container. Compost or recycle that box after.
It has a very, VERY limited number of recycling life cycles whereas glass and metal have an infinite number. Once plastics’ life cycles have been completely maxed out, they are sent to the landfill – usually always.
All in all, it’s just better to avoid it. Metal and glass containers can also be easily upcycled. I use the used food jars for gifts and food storage.

Buy the Largest Container

I opt for this method for some of the items I actually can get in bulk because logically and financially it makes more sense. Yes, you can sometimes save money buying products out of the package free bulk bins but sometimes you end up spending more money.
An example for me is flour. I’ll purchase a 25lb. bag of flour in paper packaging instead of buying it package free. Why? Frugality.
I use a lot of flour and I cannot justify spending nearly 4 times the amount just to save myself from having to compost the paper from the 25 lb. bag later. Oh, and that larger bag will last me nearly 6 months.
Buying in larger quantities also eliminates several smaller containers of products ending up in the landfill. Keep in mind that I’m referring to items that have longer shelf lives. It wouldn’t make sense to buy something with a very short shelf life in a large quantity that would end up wasted later.

Eat a More Plant-Based Diet

Cutting more animal products out of our diets has many health and environmental benefits. Most animal products are packaged in non-recyclable plastic packaging which usually leads to most of the waste we toss after we prepare dinner.

By making fruits and vegetables a bigger part of our diets, we not only lessen our trash waste but also contribute to overall energy, water, and greenhouse gas reduction.

Grow and Can Your Own Food

If you have space, start a garden! Gardening will save you money, eliminate a lot of packaging waste, and is pretty darn rewarding!

Doesn’t it drive you crazy when you go to the store to buy fresh herbs and you are paying $5 for a plastic clamshell of a few sprigs?

Yea – no thank you! Keep pots of herbs on your patio or deck and have them all summer for you to access. A lot of herbs can also be brought indoors during the winter – and you can dry them.

grow your own food

Canning your excess garden produce is another fantastic way to stock up for the year and reduce food packaging waste.

Every year I plant a few tomato plants and can crushed tomatoes, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, soup, ketchup, and tomato paste that lasts me the whole year.

You may think that I just spend my whole summer canning food but that is absolutely not true.

I dedicate a couple of weekends in the summer to get all of it done and that’s it. Definitely worth it for the amount of food I stock up on and the money I save!

Start Making More Food From Scratch

make food from scratch

There are a lot of prepackaged foods we buy that can be easily made with less waste. Now, I’m not saying that you have to start churning your own butter, but spending a weekend to make a years’ worth of jam will save some waste and money.

Also, salad dressings, ketchup, and mustard are easy things to whip up.

You can also get your kids involved on taco night by having them help make homemade tortillas. Getting back in the kitchen and cooking with our families has more than one benefit! Check out my article HERE for tips on cooking Zero Waste.

Compost and Recycle

Composting and recycling are key steps for those who do not have access to as many package-free food options. Compost your paper and cardboard and recycle your glass and metal to keep them out of the dump.

Related: How to Compost Food Waste in a Storage Tote
Related: How to Compost in an Apartment

City drop-off locations or pick-up programs are also options for composting. You can also see if a friend or family member will let you dump your organic waste into their compost  – if they have one.

As you can see, there are so many ways to reduce food packaging waste without having access to bulk. In my opinion, some of the above options are better than buying out of the bulk bins, anyway.

What are the ways you reduce food packaging waste without access to bulk?

7 ways to reduce food packaging waste without access to bulk


38 thoughts on “7 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Waste Without Access to Bulk

    • Hey! I grew up on a farm and have been composting all my life. You need what people call “carbon product” this means dry leaves, sawdust, anything that is dry and compostable. I keep a 5gallon bucket under my kitchen sink (with a lid). When I have food scraps I toss them into the bucket and then add a thick layer of the dry material. When the bucket gets full(ish) I bring it to my larger bin outside. The second bin can spin so I make sure to spin it at least once a day but hopefully twice. This helps break everything down faster. After I spin it I add a thinner layer of the dry stuff on top. They dry keeps down your smell and yes that really works. My dad once shit into a bucket for a month in the garage covering it with sawdust and a wooden board to see if it would work. He told me months later and asked if I ever smelt something funny in his shop since I payed RIGHT WHERE HE HAD THE BUCKET all the time. I was grossed out by him but it did work and now as an adult I’m thinking of making a compostable toilet. So yeah sawdust works a treat but in the fall I use my dry leaves. . If you have a woodshop in your local highschool you can ask if you can come by once a week to pick up their sawdust or whatever works for you. Happy composting 😁

  1. Great advice on reducing the waste!

    Once you are in the “zero-waste” mode, it can be frustrating to see that you are still producing waste 🙁 As you said, we need to focus on reducing, and realize that it’s a slow and long process.

    When grocery shopping, I try to shop for both the food and the package. Oftentimes, the package can be up-cycled: glass containers, boxes, etc.


  2. In alot of grociery stores they do still have a meat counter (even the superstores) if you find a cut of meat for the family alot of stores will gladly repackage it into butchers paper for you upon request. Some even have the same cuts in the back about to be packaged that they will show you before packaging rather than have to repackage another product. It never hurts to ask!

    • Just remember if they have already packed the meat they will just throw the package away when they put it in butchers paper for you. Then you are using both the plastic and the paper and the plastic is more likely to be recycled at your house than in the supermarket. Maybe you can use your meat trays for seed raising…

  3. Food waste is now getting a serious issue day by day. Therefore to reduce food packaging waste, food manufacturing companies are taking beneficial steps. It includes several footsteps as mention in the above article and really these points are appreciable. We should take positive steps to reduce food waste issues.
    Recycling Tennis Balls

  4. I enjoyed this list, as we're reducing waste also. O,attic is our biggest contributor to our waste stream and I get so frustrated with plastic packs inside the boxes!!

  5. What's the difference between the store throwing away packaging and me throwing it away? It still goes into a landfill.

  6. I just found out that my new town does not accept any glass at the recycling centers. I always try to buy the glass options so I’m not sure what to do now. I repurpose as many as I can, but I won’t be able to reuse everything.

    • See if neighbors could use the glass jars to save leftovers in? Or maybe there are artists/artisans/craftspeople who could use the glass. Worst case — wash and donate the jars to Goodwill?

  7. It seems like all the free range eggs are packed in plastic containers in our supermarket. Why is that? The regular old cheap eggs are in recycled cardboard. It seems the wrong way around!!

  8. Christine, Glass is often still better than plastic, even if your town doesn’t recycle it. It is relatively inert and will probably crush in the landfill. Should it get into the ocean, it’s rough edges will be smoothed by the action of waves. Plastic will remain for decades and cause serious problems for ocean life. You might also check around to see if you can find a drop off center that takes glass.

  9. Thanks you for focusing on the concept of reducing waste. While elimination is the ultimate goal, it’s a long road with lots of obstacles. This article was motivating rather than overwhelming. I believe your positive attitude will help people make the changes they want to make!

  10. I don’t know that I entirely agree with the eating a more plant based diet being the better or best option for reducing food packaging waste. If you hunt & butcher your own animal, you are able to package it in paper packaging, not to mention, I see so much (unnecessary!) packaging for produce nowadays, such as premade fruit &veggie trays, sliced apples in plastic bags, etc. It’s a sad thing.

    • Sure but who is actually hunting and butchering their own food? Practically no one. I just looked up quick stats and only 6% of Americans hunt, I’d be surprised if even half that number butcher their kills. So yeah, not really a realistic option.

      • But don’t forget about your local family farms. Small family farms are working hard to farm sustainably and keep their environment cared for . We provide fresh eggs and veggies ( usually in used cartons people recycle to us ), or just BYOBasket as well as pastured ethically raised pork that you can request the butcher wrap in paper. Many farms sell by the half or quarter if you don’t have a ton of freezer space.

  11. Well to reduce waste start using eco friendly pouches which are environment friendly and best thing is it is cheaper in price that every shopkeeper can give it to their customers moreover there are other things more which are environment friendly.

  12. I compost. Not only our own stuff but neighbours cardboard, spent flower bouquets, garden prunings. They donate them to me. I also collect empty glass jars from neighbours. When I have about twenty or so I put them on the Pay It Forward site for someone to pick up who does their own jams or preserves. I buy in glass rather than plastic whenever possible. I refuse to buy fruit in plastic punnets – such as tomatoes, cherries, strawberries etc. Instead I grow my own. I buy milk in cardboard cartons rather than plastic bottles. On the odd occasion where we have gone plastic, the bottles can be used to cover seedlings in the garden. Or sunk into the garden beds with pin holes in them to help water the garden veg beds down at the roots where the water is needed. We use cardboard in the garden for no dig garden beds or to line raised garden beds. Can also be used under mulch to suppress weeds in the garden. I won’t buy bread in plastic bags. I will buy from the bakers and ask them to package in paper. We have a few bags from when hubby does shopping and buys it in plastic and I re-use those bags to repack the paper wrapped bread for the freezer. Or to pack my own home made bread into for the freezer. We take our own mesh produce bags so we never use the bags on a roll in the produce section.

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