Markets: The Easy Zero Waste Shop

Our intro to Zero Waste food shopping

Most of my weekly food shop is from the Bullring market in Birmingham. 

I'll be honest, shopping at a market whilst living a zero waste lifestyle used to really daunt me. I felt like the market traders would judge me and wouldn't really get what I was trying to achieve. If I'm honest, that's still sort of the case, but I've got the confidence now to know what to ask for and how to get the best deals. 

With all of that in mind, this is what I've learnt from shopping at markets...

Prepare your bags/boxes/backpack whilst planning your shopping list

Not every shopping trip is planned to a tee, so I try to have a shopping bag or two in my backpack that I take to work. When I do have the time to plan, I will take my empty egg cartons to refill, some small drawstring bags for nuts, seeds and grains and tupperware boxes for meats and cheeses. If I do ever end up with packaging I didn't want, I will try to repurpose or recycle it and make a note of what to avoid next time. 

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Shop with the season

You'll end up with cheaper and better quality produce if you work out what is in season and what isn't. It's super exciting shopping this way as it's a natural way for you to make more exciting lunches and dinners without really having to think too hard. Over time, I've gotten really friendly with some of the market traders and one man in particular allows me to select 'pick and mix' style from his fruit stall, charging me hardly anything! If, like me, you forget what's in season, free apps can help.

Shopping in season may mean you'll have to be more flexible than shopping at a large supermarkets because of this. If there's loads of sweetcorn on the market one week, I'd make sweetcorn fritters, some beany burgers and a soup. Any I couldn't eat in time would be blanched and frozen.

Experiment with the best time to shop

I've found that 4.45-5pm is the best time for me to get the end of the day bargains, but that shopping on a Saturday means I can get things like eggs cheaper. Each market is different so it's best to experiment.

Keep your wits about you! 

I often finish asking for a product with 'and no bag please,' however, I still end up having to ask a couple of times or tipping produce into my tote bag and giving the plastic ones back. 

Meats and cheeses can be a little harder than fruits and vegetables. I have to explain how the box is clean, that I'd like the meat straight into the box but to also have the weight of the box subtracted from the overall cost and usually I have to explain about why I don't want it in plastic. 

Genuinely, I have had some of my favourite zero waste conversations whilst out shopping. Other customers are usually really intrigued, and can see that some steps, such as bringing your own bags, are really achievable. I've never really had a negative experience shopping zero waste, it tends to just be that people don't really 'get' why I do it. 

Some advice if you're short on time...

Shop in large supermarkets but get wise about recycling the waste

Sometimes sticking to the perimeter of the shop will mean you can find the package-free foods. For instance, the loose fruit and the bakery. Take along your tote bags or backpack too.

Order a weekly or fortnightly vegetable box subscription

Anna gets one of these and loves it. It's surplus produce from the local allotments, which is just awesome. I used to use one of these services, but actually enjoy market shopping so decided to cancel my order. 

Keep dry foods in bulk in your pantry

Dried beans, rice, flour and nuts are always amass in my cupboard. I'll talk a little more about what I keep in my cupboard another time, but keeping this stocked up means I can always rustle up something. 

 Don't forget to treat yourself every now and then!

Don't forget to treat yourself every now and then!

Unexpected outcomes...

  • Eating healthier and to season – because I am purchasing more fresh produce.

  • Saving money – by planning my food purchases and minimising waste.

  • Talking to people more – about bags, boxes and saving the planet!