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Zero Waste Grocery Store Hacks at Costco

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With the recent Covid-19 outbreak, having a food supply for emergencies is more important than ever. Yet zero waste grocery shopping is so hard! Purchasing sustainable, ethical, and plastic-free food products is extremely difficult. Thankfully, we have a few options.

Bulk stores (not to be confused with wholesale clubs like Costco) sell loose items in bulk bins. This method allows you to purchase as much or as little of a product you need. Another benefit of bulk bin shopping is the ability to bring your own mesh produce bags, thereby limiting your packaging waste even more.

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A BIG downside of bulk bins is that they tend to be more expensive, which excludes some populations. And now because of the pandemic, many bulk grocery stores have temporarily banned reusable grocery bags and reusable produce bags. Lastly, buying from a bulk grocery store can limit your packaging waste, but it WILL NEVER eliminate it.

zero waste grocery bulk bins

There are zero wasters who “claim” to fit all of their household waste in one small jar. But don’t believe the hype of the “trash jar.” They tend to live in big urban centers, shop exclusively from the bulk bins, and they still recycle. The not so secret (secret) is that they are still producing waste upstream. Bulk stores purchase large quantities in… you guessed PLASTIC.

Zero Waste is not just about plastic. It’s about returning to the OLD WAYS.

But all is not lost! Zero waste is really about returning to the old ways– reusables instead of disposables, low consumption, and focusing on your community. My primary individual focus is to lower my waste stream and emissions. You can immediately lower your emissions by cutting your consumption of animal-based products.

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So how am I grocery shopping and doing the zero waste thang?

COSTCO. It’s my secret zero waste grocery store weapon because buying the largest container drastically reduces my overall packaging waste. Glass packaging is not necessarily eco-friendly. Glass is heavier to transport and many municipalities have stopped recycling glass because of cross-contamination. Broken glass can be recycled, but the market to purchase glass recyclables has bottomed out.

Unlike other plastics, PETE 1 plastic bottles are in high demand and easily recyclable. Cardboard and paper are both recyclable and compostable. Aluminum is easily recyclable. So it may be better to purchase a large container in a PETE 1 plastic bottle versus in glass.

When you purchase the largest package you can find, you essentially become your own “bulk store.”

Here are some sample packaging figures based on purchasing shampoo. I purchase shampoo in 1 gallon (3.78 liter) containers. See my calculations below. ⁣ ⁣

  • 1 liquid gallon = 128 ounces (3.78 liters) ⁣
  • 1 mid-priced shampoo bottle = 25.4 ounces (0.751168 liters)⁣
  • 1 gallon of shampoo = 5 bottles of shampoo⁣ ⁣
  • 25.4 ounces is 2.5 x 3.5 x 9.2 inches ; 1.1 pounds (0.498952 kg)⁣
  • 1 gallon is 6 x 6 x 11.6 inches; 8.7 pounds (3.94625 kg)⁣ ⁣

 

I was never very good at geometry so I will not (cannot lol) attempt to calculate the surface area, but at first glance, if you multiply the 25.4-ounce bottle dimensions times 5, that is a larger number than the bottle dimensions of the 1-gallon bottle. ⁣ ⁣In addition to the bottle packaging, you will save extra bottle tops as well.

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Zero Waste Grocery Store Hacks at Costco

1. Stop Receiving Costco Print Mail

The first zero waste grocery store tip is to stop receiving grocery store flyers. I stopped receiving junk mail from Costco by logging into my account on Costco.com, clicking “Account,” scroll down to “Preferences,” remove all checkmarks under “Print.” I was receiving the Costco coupon book and Costco Connection magazine monthly. Thankfully Costco has an app! See item #2 below!

2. Download the Costco App

All of Costco’s ads and deals can be accessed through its app! Download the app for iPhones or Androids. Have your user name, password, and Costco member number handy! The Costco app has all of its sales on it. After you log-in to the app, click on “Savings” at the bottom of the app, click “Member Only Savings” for all the current sales in the store.

3. Bring your reusable bags to Costco

Costco is still allowing members to bring their reusable bags. The only caveat is you have to pack your reusable bags yourself. My favorite grocery reusable bags are the foldable reusable grocery bag 5-pack. They’re so easy to store in your purse, in your car, in your desk drawer, or anywhere that’s easy to access.

4. Use Costco’s Same Day Delivery through Instacart

If you’re short on time, you can use Costco Same Day grocery store delivery, which uses Instacart. I have used both Shipt and Instacart for grocery store delivery. I don’t have a preference, but Instacart has a relationship with Costco. Whereas Shipt works with Target. The prices through Costco.com are occasionally cheaper than the Instacart app. So you may be able to get the same product delivered cheaper if you go through Costco directly.

You can also ship pantry items directly to your home. Costco has a 2-day shipping option, but there is a $75 minimum order to avoid shipping fees. Instacart has $35 minimum to avoid most fees. If you order through Costco directly, you have to be a member. You do not have to be a member to order through Instacart.

5. Buy Canned Goods

Aluminum is THE rock star of the recycling world.

Aluminum is easier to recycle than disposable plastic, it’s metal which has value, expends less energy in the recycling process, and can be recycled indefinitely. Most aluminum cans you use are already made of 70% recycled materials. There is some aluminum in the system that dates back to the 1800s.

You may find canned goods at the regular grocery store for cheaper, but Costco’s canned goods prices are extremely reasonable. Costco has different types of canned goods, such as their 106 ounce (6.6 lb | 2.9 kg) massive cans or 12 packs of individual cans (which is what I purchase). This allows me to open a can when I need it, thereby limiting food waste. Here are some of my favorite canned good purchases from Costco.

  • Green Beans
  • Sweet Corn
  • Tomato Paste
  • Beans
  • Fruit
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Four bean salad
  • Capers
  • Beets

Made Trade ethical fashion and home goods
 

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6. Baking supplies

zero waste baking supplies costcoI love to buy my baking supplies from Costco. Most of Costco’s baking supplies are wrapped in paper or cardboard, which I compost. If you love to bake then stocking up at Costco is a great idea. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • Yeast
  • Oil
  • Wax paper
  • Foil
  • Fair Trade Chocolate Chips
  • Salt

 

7. Produce in Cardboard Boxes

zero waste costco produce sectionCostco is starting to use less plastic packaging in their produce section. There was a time when their apples were wrapped in plastic and then wrapped in plastic again. Apples are still in plastic bags at Costco, but now Costco is selling loose fruit in cardboard boxes. I have seen oranges, mangoes, watermelon, bananas, all without plastic packaging.

8. Ethical and Organic Options

Organic food products are grown and processed to exclude synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. There is typically less water pollution and better soil quality. Synthetic is another word for “fossil-fuel” based. Not only do we as consumers suffer from ingesting this, but the workers do as well.⁣⁣⁣⠀

There are fair trade products, which ensures that workers are treated fairly. Organic farming also incorporates humane farming practices for animals. This doesn’t apply to every food crop. For example, a few crops (like organic peas and wheat) are worse for the environment than their non-organic counterparts. But overall, organic, fair trade, certified humane, or ethically sourced products are better for the environment and your stomach. I listed a few of my favorites below. ⠀

  • Bread
  • Ethical coffee
  • Fruit
  • Peanut butter
  • Chips
  • Rice and Quinoa
  • Jam and spreads
  • Coconut oil
  • Cane sugar
  • Raisins
  • PB protein powder
  • Stevia
  • Annie’s Organic Homegrown Macaroni & Cheese

 

9. Vegan and Vegetarian Options

Avoiding meat and dairy is the “SINGLE” biggest thing you can do to reduce your environmental impacts.

Limiting my consumption of animal-based products is an essential part of my zero waste journey. Some of these products may have more plastic wrapping, but the emissions from plastic are significantly lower than the consumption of animal-based products. Stacy Homemaker has a wonderful exclusively vegan product list you can purchase at Costco. Here are my own vegan and vegetarian favorites.

  • Beyond Meat Burgers
  • Peanut Butter
  • Loma Chipolte bowls
  • Morning Star veggie sausage
  • Dr. Praeger’s Organic California veggie burgers
  • Indian lentils
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk
  • Kombucha
  • Monkfruit sweetner
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpea pasta
  • Dried fruits
  • Organic chickpea puffs Hippeas
  • Seaweed chips
  • Flaxseed
  • Organic Millet ramen noodles
  • Chia seeds
  • Kale chips
  • Riced cauliflower

10. Large Quantities

buy large package zero waste costcoCostco is my favorite place to buy large quantities of almost ANY grocery item. Food waste is a big no-no, so I only purchase items that are shelf-stable or freezable. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Waffles
  • Large bags of lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Salsa
  • Soda
  • Maple Syrup
  • Bertolli Pasta Sauce
  • Spices
  • Rice
  • Olives
  • Olive Oil
  • Jams and spreads
  • Honey
  • Canola Oil
  • Large condiments
  • Lemonade
  • Bisquick
  • Pasta
  • Pecans

 

11.Wine and Beer

I purchase a 1.5 L of Costco wine for about $8 and I have no regrets! Costco also sells 24 can packages of beer in aluminum or glass. The jury is still out on disposable glass, but thankfully the corks can be composted or reused easily.

12. Cleaning Supplies

zero waste cleaning supplies costcoCostco has a 1.32 gallon (4.9 liters) bottle of white vinegar in disposable plastic. It may seem counterintuitive, but purchasing a large quantity in a PETE #1 disposable plastic bottle is more ecofriendly than purchasing a small bottle of vinegar in glass. Glass is heavier to ship, thereby creating more emissions, and can be difficult to recycle in certain municipalities. I use vinegar for most of my cleaning supplies, including an all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, and shower cleaner. One bottle of vinegar will last me 8 months to 1 year.

My other cleaning supply favorites are these microfiber cloths and powder Tide laundry detergent in cardboard.

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13. What NOT to Buy at Costco

You’d never know this in the midst of a pandemic, but paper towels and toilet paper are not good to buy at Costco.

Costco double packages their paper products in plastic. I’ve heard it’s double packed to keep out moisture, but I haven’t confirmed this. Not only are Costco’s paper products over packaged, but they are more expensive than regular grocery or big box stores. Visit your local Target, Walmart, or Amazon for a better deal.

Don’t buy large quantities of perishable food that you won’t use, especially produce.

Most of their produce is in large plastic clamshell packages, which could lower your overall packaging waste, but may increase your food waste. There is evidence that people who buy perishables from Costco have more food waste. Unless you’re planning a social gathering (which ain’t happening now!) or you have 5 or 6 kids to feed, you probably don’t need a huge tub of strawberries.

Don’t buy quantities that have higher per ounce prices.

You may be able to find lower prices with a small package at your local grocery store. Cereals are typically more expensive at Costco for some reason? Who knew!


I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on my favorite zero waste grocery tips and ideas! If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share with me in the comments or on Instagram

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