How can grocery stores go zero waste?

Topics Discussed

Grocery stores can make the transition to becoming a zero waste store by following some basic zero waste shopping principles.

Some examples of sustainable shopping principles include:

1. Adopting a ‘package free’ policy (or at the least using only recycled packaging)

According to the University of Southern Indiana, “around one-third of an average dump is made up of packaging material. Every year, each American throws out about 1,200 pounds of organic garbage that could have been composted.”

With this in mind, a plastic free supermarket policy is paramount if a zero waste status is to be achieved. Supermarkets can take this matter into their own hands by selling package free items, or at the very least packaging that is 100% recyclable. 

The supermarket ‘Original Unverpackt’ (meaning “in the original packaging”) in Berlin, Germany, is an example of a supermarket selling only package free goods. 

The package free concept at Original unverpackt works as follows: Customers bring their own containers with them or else have the option to purchase a container directly from the store. Original unverpackt then weighs the empty containers and makes a note of their weights. After the customer has filled up their containers with produce, the containers are weighed again in order to determine the final cost / weight.

Although package free stores are still in their infancy in terms of global adoption, there are now over 80 package free stores in Germany, highlighting the consumer demand and interest for this eco friendly concept. 

eco bags

2. Selling locally sourced products

As a result of sourcing and selling locally sourced products, supermarkets can move a step closer to achieving a zero waste status. There are a number of reasons for this, including:

– Sourcing local produce helps to reduce transport pollution that would normally arise as a result of exporting products from one continent to another.

– Sourcing local produce helps to support sustainable agriculture. According to, sustainable agriculture can be defined as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long term: satisfy human food and fiber needs.”

Environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity are the main goals behind adopting a sustainable agriculture policy.

– Locally sourced goods also tend to be fresher as a result of reduced transport mileage that would otherwise be necessary to transport the goods. This also helps to reduce the likelihood of food preservatives that are often used in foods that must first travel thousands of miles before reaching their destination.

3. Selling fair trade certified products

In order for supermarkets to qualify as fair trade certified, they must meet the criteria and standards defined by

These requirements include worker’s rights, fair labor practices, and responsible land management. These standards ensure that goods are made with care to people and the planet. Since fair trade criteria also takes environmental protection into account, zero waste stores should look to abide by these requirements if they are to embrace a zero waste shopping culture.

Fair Trade Certified is the global brand associated with fair trade practices in the USA ,(a nonprofit organization). Fair trade certified products should always include a seal / badge visible on the products.

fair trade badge

4. Where package free is not possible, supermarkets should at least offer recycled, reusable grocery bags in place of single use plastic bags

Since plastic waste is a major global issue when it comes to environmental pollution, moving away from plastic bag usage is a must for sustainable supermarkets.

Reusable shopping bags are a great alternative to plastic bags, some of the reasons for this include:

– Reusable bags are generally made using muslin (a cotton fabric of plain weave), mesh or other recycled materials

– Eco friendly produce bags help to reduce land and sea pollution, resulting in a cleaner environment

– Reusable produce bags are made using biodegradable and natural fibers, and use less water, energy, and oil, helping to reduce air pollution

– Plastic bags may suffocate food, and/or seep toxic chemicals, affecting how the food is preserved and tastes

Why do we need zero waste?

Simply put, a zero waste culture is necessary in order to preserve and protect our planet from environmental chaos and ultimately, to prevent animal and human extinction as a result of rising temperatures leading to uninhabitable living conditions. 

The goal of zero waste is for no waste to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or oceans.

A zero waste culture helps to conserve the earth’s natural resources

Human activities such as mining and logging require and use a significant amount of energy. Aside from energy consumption, these activities often result in large amounts of pollution.

A zero waste culture helps to reduce pollution

According to, each year, “1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, stormwater, and industrial waste are dumped into US water.” Since a zero waste culture aims to reduce, reuse and recycle, less pollution arises as a result of more people following eco friendly practices.

A zero waste culture helps to create circular economies and strengthens communities

A zero waste culture helps to promote a circular economy i.e. the creation of more jobs as well as enhancing local economic prosperity. A circular economy aims to ensure that waste is turned into something new / something with a new use-case.

climate justice movement ethics

Is Walmart going to stop using plastic bags?

According to, Walmart has “not only has the largest share of the U.S. grocery market but is also the largest retailer overall in the world.” With that in mind, the supermarket giant has a responsibility to promote a sustainable shopping culture and lead by example.

Despite this, the supermarket chain still has a long way to go in order to eradicate and cut down on their plastic bag waste and distribution. In recent years, Walmart shareowners have voiced their concerns about the current level of plastic waste that arises as a result of plastic bag distribution.

The shareholders have subsequently requested a report inquest assessing the environmental impacts of single-use plastic shopping bags.

According to, “Walmart distributes an estimated 18 billion to 20 billion single-use plastic carry out shopping bags per year. About one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the globe, or 2 million every minute.”

In April 2019, the company announced plans to launch a reusable bag initiative, whereby reusable bags will be available at checkouts at a cost of around 98 cents. The company has announced plans to adopt 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2025, but no apparent policies or plans are yet in place to phase out single-use shopping bags.

As a result, there have been different petitions condemning Walmarts contribution to plastic pollution, in an effort to raise awareness and accelerate its plans to cut down on plastic bag distribution.

You may also like:

Which country recycles the most?

Tips on how to reduce and stop littering

Are balloons bad for the environment?

How to live waste free (on a budget)

How much food is wasted in the US annually?

What are the environmental benefits of zero waste?

How to choose the right composter?

What is considered zero waste?

What are the different types of composting methods?