Denver Recycles: Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

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Denver Recycles: Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

Even better than recycling, the number one way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. With a little planning, you can stop waste before you bring it home from the grocery store. By refusing unnecessary packaging and reusing containers and bags that you already have, you’ll be on your way to zero waste.   
Make changes to your routine today with the help of these quick tips: 

  • Make a Grocery List. Buying only what you need is the first step to reducing waste.  It may seem obvious, but a grocery list can help you save time and money and cut back on food waste. Fresh fruits and vegetables often come with no packaging, so plan meals around them to automatically reduce your packaging waste.
  • Purchase Produce Loose. Choose fruit and vegetable options that are package free and place them directly in your cart or basket or in your own reusable produce bag.  If you are bagging produce items that are charged by the pound, make sure to use reusable produce bags that have the weight of the bag noted on them. 
  • Remember the Bakery. If your grocery store includes a bakery, you may be able to find a loaf of bread or bulk rolls or bagels that can be placed in your own fabric bread bag or wrap. Some store bakeries will slice the bread for you too.
  • Buy in Bulk. Many stores have bulk bins where you can scoop what you need into your own small bag or jar. Check the bulk section for staples likes grains, nuts, flour, sugar, and snack items. If your bag or container does not already have its weight labeled (often called the tare weight), be sure to weigh it and write the weight on it before filling it at the bulk bins. Each item in the bulk bins will include a product code which the cashier will need when you check out.  Use a washable marker to write the code on your bag or container, or simply take a photo of the product code to reference when you are at the register. The customer service desk can help with this if you are not sure what to do.
  • Shop with Reuse & Recycling in Mind. When buying packaged items, prioritize those that come in refillable containers (for example, milk that comes in a returnable glass bottle), and in easily recyclable materials like glass, metal cans, and paperboard.
  • Be Ready at Check-Out. Place your reusable grocery bags on the conveyor belt first, so the cashier can see that you have your own bags. Group loose items of produce (apples, tomatoes, etc.) together to make it easier for the cashier to weigh them. And lastly, have your photos of bulk item codes open and be ready to tell the cashier the codes in case they have questions. 

To make remembering to bring your bags as easy as possible, try these tips until they become habits:

  • Write “Bring Bags” at the top of your grocery list and put your bags with your list.
  • Post a reminder note by your door.
  • Hang your bags by your door or keep them in your car or bike basket.
  • Store an extra bag in your purse or backpack.    
  • Keep a spare bag at work. 

For more information about waste prevention and Denver Recycles programs, visit or call 311 (720-913-1311).


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