Zero Waste without a special Zero Waste store? Unconventional alternatives to „traditional“ in-store purchasing

„Can you live Zero Waste without going to a Zero Waste store?

Many people who are interested in Zero Waste have already asked me this question. They live in the countryside, do not have a car or a special Zero Waste store nearby or for other reasons have no opportunity to shop regularly in a special Zero Waste store.

Have you already read these ones?

Part II: +10 convenient alternatives for Zero Waste shopping

Part III: How to shop Zero Waste at the supermarket

Nevertheless, I can clearly answer the question of the title with „yes“! Therefore, the following article is not so much about whether you can live Zero Waste, but how you can do your shopping in a different way!

My article consists of two parts: In this text, you will read about the alternatives to shopping in supermarkets/discounters and shops in general. The possibilities are surprisingly diverse. Therefore, I also recommend reading for all of those who have the possibility to go to a special Zero Waste store regularly.

So, the question mark on the cover photo dissolves into knowledge of many new ideas for everyone 🙂…and the basket won’t stay empty!

Understandably, some people may prefer shopping in a „traditional“ store. For them, Article N°2 follows next week. It will deal with different types of stores where you can purchase products without packaging.

How to get food, personal hygiene and cleaning without packaging waste

1. Order large quantities via internet!

Embed from Getty Images

Everything can be bought on the Internet at any time and in any quality and quantity. This is an advantage for Zero Waste, as ordering large packages, such as a 20 kg bag of rice, allows you to live with nearly unpackaged products! Usually, zero waste stores buy their goods in the same way and then fill the products from the large bags into the dispensers in the shop. This saves many small packages!

20 kg of rice is a lot, of course, and often there are even larger packs to buy. Most households are not large enough to use such supplies in the foreseeable future. But you can motivate your friends, neighbors or relatives to join in! This is the way to divide the large crowd among you. When sharing and paying, you meet more frequently and can maintain contacts well on this occasion.

In addition, you save money by ordering large quantities and bypassing retailers! I prefer to order from the manufacturers‘ websites directly.

Suitable for:

  • dry foods such as rice, various cereals and flours, lentils, chickpeas, sugar,..
  • basic ingredients for cleaning agents: sodium bicarbonate, citric acid.


2. Join a foodcoop!

A food cooperative is a large, organized purchasing community. The members meet up at regular intervals. You think about what you want to buy and where you can buy it. Then members ask companies in the area whether they can order a large quantity of the required food. The larger the foodcoop is, the more room for negotiation it has here and so you may get cheaper when ordering via foodcoop. Usually, they are then delivered in large packages. Each member orders the quantity he/she needs and the ordered food is distributed among the individual members at the meetings.

It is important to find a foodcoop that is close to your home and suits your own principles: Not all foodcoops work organic and zero waste! Here you can find more information about food coops.

The practical thing about Food coops is that you can actively take the initiative yourself: If you are still need some products, you get active and contact a manufacturer or farmer. Maybe you can write to the chocolate factory and ask if you can get 50kg of loose chocolate here? Or you can organize cold-pressed sunflower oil at the oil mill for your food coop.

This makes the Foodcoop an excellent way to order all kinds of products that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. Unlike the Internet, an even more regional purchase of the products is desired and you do not have so much effort ordering food, since each member takes over his/her order tasks. There is also the possibility to pay membership fees and so you only have to pay and pick up your ordered food, but you are not responsible for the shopping.

Suitable for:

  • Dry goods such as cereals, lentils, chickpeas, muesli, flour,…
  • cooking oil
  • Fruit & Vegetables
  • Sweets: Chocolate, candy,…
  • …much more, depending on the type and organisation of the Foodcoop!


3. Grow your own fruit and vegetables!

Anyone who has a garden, a balcony or flower boxes can harvest tasty food even when there is not much space. A herb pot on the balcony spreads pleasant scent and supplies you in summer with spicy parsley or fragrant mint.

There may even be enough space on the balcony for a few large pots of tomatoes or runner beans!

Depending on the location and soil, various kinds of fruit and vegetables can be cultivated in the garden. By planting hedges of berry bushes or hazelnut instead of ornamental bushes (boxwood, thuja,..), you can grow even more food in your own garden in a clever, space-saving way.

In my country I also notice a strong trend towards keeping farm animals in the own garden. Especially in rural areas with lots of space, many people keep their own chickens, quails or honeybees in the garden.


Potatoes from our own garden: particularly easy to grow and versatile to enjoy

I grow potatoes (see above), runner beans, tomatoes and various herbs such as mint, lemon balm, sage & wild marjoram,….. These vegetables are not very labor-intensive and are well suited for my soil conditions!

In my opinion, it is very important not to use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other toxic substances so that the quality of home-made food is also better than that of discounters. Only in this way you can manage a garden according to the concept of Zero Waste! For example, I collect slugs every day in rainy weather instead of scattering poisonous slug pellets on the soil. That preserves the soil and is good for organisms in the garden, my wallet and provides movement for me.

Furthermore, I always keep seeds from the old year so that I can put them back in the ground next year. So I don’t have to buy new seeds and cultivate traditional varieties instead of hybrids or GMO. Attention: This only works with seedfast nonhybrid varieties (in Austria, they are available e.g. from „Arche Noah“)!

The use of old chicken breeds instead of hybrid breeding and controlled organic feed is important for owners of chickens & co.

To sum up, it requires a lot of know-how to manage a garden in harmony with nature and with zero waste. To list everything would go beyond the scope of this article. Therefore only one final tip from my own experience: If you have never grown vegetables before, it is best to start slowly and not expect too much yield. In any case, you should not cultivate what you like best (then my garden would be full of blueberry bushes, sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes 😉 ) but to select varieties that are suitable for your own soil conditions. Over time you will gain experience and the harvest will be richer – that’s a promise!

=> Your own garden can only rarely meet all your fruit and vegetable needs. Nevertheless it is a valuable addition for all Zero Waster, who like to eat tasty food and are ready to use some time for the work in the garden and the harvest!

Suitable for:

  • Fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, mushrooms
  • honey bees, eggs from ducks, quails, chickens


4. Order a box of vegetables!

Hint: In german-speaking Europe, there are a lot of companies that offer vegetable crates. You pay and the company delivers the ordered vegetables. However, I am not sure whether this is also common in the English-speaking world. Anyway, if you miss this opportunity in your country, it might be a great idea to start up a company! 😉

The vegetable box is delivered comfortably to your home and you receive a suitable quantity of seasonal fruit and vegetables every week or day. Choose a smaller crate first to see how much fruit & vegetables are suitable for your household and can be used up completely without producing any food waste. As always, I advise you to buy the vegetable crate only from organic suppliers.

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Picture: Fresh, seasonal organic vegetables delivered directly to your home – a great opportunity to reduce your waste as well!

As I heard in a zero waste group, it is also very important to ask how the vegetable crate will be delivered before the first order. Is the crate reusable, is it always picked up by the supplier and refilled? Does the supplier avoid plastic bags and paper packaging for the vegetables? Only if both are true, the box is really suitable for waste reduction.

Once you have found a suitable supplier, the vegetable box is an excellent addition to your own diet and perfect for people who do not have a garden and cannot or do not want to grow vegetables. The organic vegetable box is also great way out of the dilemma you face in the supermarkets (phenomenon in the European Union): Organic vegetables in plastic and cardboard trays or „conventional“ vegetables unpacked?

In addition, you often get to know new vegetables through a varied vegetable box, which adds variety to your daily dishes.

Suitable for: vegetables, herbs, fruit if necessary


5. Do it yourself!

Many products are only available with a throwaway packaging. The best known example I can think of is cleaning agents. In the supermarket there are various colorful plastic packaging whose contents are very chemical- and waste-intensive. You can make your own cleaner with only two ingredients! I use lemon and orange peels, which I put in vinegar for two weeks[1]. This results in a fragrant cleaner that protects your wallet and the environment.


Home-made bear’s garlic paste: mix  wild garlic and high-quality olive or sunflower oil in a 2:1 ratio in a high-performance mixer, ready! Cover the paste with high quality oil and keep in the fridge for a few weeks. Or deep-freezing

Not all recipes are that simple and quick: baking bread, for example, is more time-consuming. Nevertheless, I sometimes do it, because DIY in the field of cooking & baking gives me a lot of pleasure. But I have no great talent for sewing and couldn’t even imagine sewing something as simple a sleep mask myself. Therefore I ordered one online a few days ago.

Doing it yourself is usually cheaper, but takes time. I therefore think it is important that you only do the things yourself that you love to do!

It is also important to pay attention to the origin of the raw materials: When I bake bread myself, I still have to buy the individual ingredients Zero Waste and ideally from organic farming.

DIY can therefore both simplify or make your life more difficult. And the possibilities are endless (see list below)! Concerning very fast and easy doable products like bear’s garlic paste or cleaner, I recommend to do it yourself. This is also because there is usually no ready-made zero waste alternative. More elaborate products (hair soap, rolls) can be purchased unpacked in the shop and thus save time.

It simplifies everyday life with Zero Waste if you don’t do everything yourself, but if you get together with other people that live Zero Waste and exchange your DIY products. For example, I bake bread, you do the pesto, John mixes the cleaning agent for us,…

Everyone can then DIY what he/she likes to do and everyone benefits!

Suitable for:

  • Dairy products such as curd cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, mascarpone
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Cereal milk, nut milk and almond milk: i especially love oat milk (tasty, simple and healthy)
  • Homemade frozen vegetable mixtures: I freeze mine in old yoghurt buckets, sometimes also in stainless steel containers
  • Herbal salt, chili salt and own spice mixtures
  • Herbal tea
  • Vegetable spice paste (instead of vegetable stock powder), pesto
  • Bread and rolls, pizza, cakes, pies and biscuits, muesli bars
  • Baking powder = sodium bicarbonate
  • Noodles
  • Snacks: chips, popcorn, crackers
  • Dried fruit
  • Jam & fruit puree (the latter I freeze)
  • Nut nougat cream
  • Boiled fruits and vegetables
  • Fruit syrup
  • Ice & Parfait
  • Detergents: All-purpose cleaner, descaler = vinegar, detergent for clothes, dishwashing detergent for hand and machine washing, rinse aid = vinegar,
  • Body care: toothpaste, hair conditioner, lip balm, peeling, soap (a little more time-consuming)
  • Cosmetics: Face mask, hair mask, deodorant, hairspray

Recipes: Just enter the search term into the internet or have a look at my recipe collection (still under construction)!


6. Purchase directly from the farmer

An important argument for purchasing directly from the farmer is the freshness of the unprocessed goods offered. In addition, you build up a relationship of trust with your farmer because you can see the animals or plants that you will eat later. Another advantage is the usually lower price.

I know, I am repeating myself, but I cannot say it too often: It is important for you & nature that your farmer produces organic food: When I was a child, we also bought our milk from a local farmer. But when the cows are standing in the barn, cannot go outside and receive concentrated feed, that is just regional factory farming, which I do not want to support with my money.

Especially for people who do not normally deal with such topics, sustainable and organic farming is often difficult to distinguish from factory farming. An important distinguishing feature is the organic certificate of a farm. The EU respectively US organic seal is a suitable standard, in my opinion it can still be further developed. When it comes to animal products, I therefore always prefer DEMETER.

Where can I find a farmer who offers something? Bio-Austria has issued an organic purchasing guide for each Austrian province. This will give you a good overview of the possibilities of buying from the farm. I am not too familiar with agriculture in other countries, therefore I just recommend to search for similar purchasing guides in your country or to ask an organic farmer in your neighborhood!

For people that live Zero Waste, the purchase directly from the farmer is suitable, since the food is unprocessed and mostly unpacked. Particularly regarding meat, sausage products and dairy, however, caution is required! Often these are sealed in plastic bags, if you do not explicitly refuse, phone in advance and collect your goods at a given time.

Suitable for:

  • Vegetables & Fruits, Herbs
  • honey
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • Meat and sausages, if applicable

7. Go out into nature and collect food!


Collecting blackberries…it will always remind me of summer 🙂

As a child our favorite place to stay was the forest, where we played from morning to night, built huts and climbed trees. I still remember our forest picnic, for which we collected everything we knew in the forest, arranged it on a tree stump and shared it.

Today I know that there are many more things in the forest that can be collected and eaten or processed into cleaners. Did you know, for example, that detergent can be made from ivy?

In nature you can collect something different every season. It is important for you to know exactly which plants you want to collect, what they look like and whether there is any risk of confusion with related, toxic species.

In nature I collect mainly wild garlic, blackberries, occasionally stinging nettles and elderflowers. So I can’t call myself an expert when it comes to collecting. For tips on this topic, I therefore recommend to use the web and books for wild mushrooms and herbs.

Suitable for:

  • Herbs, Blossoms, „Superfoods“ e.g. Nettle
  • berries, mushrooms, nuts
  • Detergents (ivy, chestnuts)


8. Join a community-supported agriculture (CAS)!

CAS represents a new form of relationship between farmer and consumer. Consumers and farmers work together here: Consumers give a fixed amount of money to the farmer and receive fruit, vegetables, meat and any other products produced from it from the farmer for a certain amount of money. This gives the farmer more security and you get fresh food in a great quality (similar to point 6 „Buy directly from the farmer“).

At CAS, contact with farmers and other people who participate in CAS is more intense. People meet, exchange ideas and maybe even work together in the fields!

CAS is not yet available everywhere: For the US, you can research here whether there is a CAS near your home town.

CAS is particularly suitable for people who like to try something new and are ready for an unconventional model that rethinks agriculture. And, once more: Choose organic!

Suitable for:

  • Fruit & Vegetables
  • honey
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • meat and meat products


9. Go to the container of supermarkets!

I do it at least twice a week: I put a torch, a few bags and, if necessary, a cookie jar in my bike basket and go to the supermarket after business hours. There I save the food that these shops illegitimately throw away.

The container is always a miracle bag: I never know what I’ll find. But it is free, exciting and a sustainable way to consume exotic products. Since I started containering, I eat at least five excellently ripe bananas every week, but I don’t pay a penny for them. I also enjoy mangoes, potatoes, passion fruits and much more depending on the season.


My full bicycle basket after a successful „dumpster diving tour“

„Dumpster diving“ is one of my favorite ways of shopping! You can find more information here. Containering is suitable for all people who like to try something new, cook spontaneously and creatively and are not averse to a little adventure in the evening.

Of course, you can go containering at different food stores, not only at supermarkets! It always depends on your location and the stores that are situated in your town.

When you go to the container you will find different goods depending on the shop. I save fruit & vegetables most often, because I like it best. But I could also take bread and cake with me every day!

Suitable for:

  • Fruit, vegetables, herbs
  • Breads and rolls, partly even ready to serve
  • cakes and pies
  • Depending on the shop, also all other expired goods that a supermarket offers in this way

These were my alternatives to the shopping in a classic supermarket or shop. I’m surprised myself how many possibilities we have to get our everyday goods. And I hope you also found a possibility that you like and that you will try out!

What alternative to shopping in the classic shop have you already tried? What alternative would you like to try next week? Can you think of any other options? I look forward to your comment!

Next article: In my next article I will introduce you to more „classic“ stores where you can shop without waste. So you keep the classic shopping feeling and don’t have much more effort than with the previous purchase.


1] Just place the peel of untreated organic citrus fruit in a large jar and top up with vinegar so that everything is covered. After two weeks strain through a cloth, ready! Idea from (webpae in german language)

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