If you’re new here, you don’t know that I’ve already written extensively about the topic of keeping a well-stocked pantry! From what to buy and how to store it, I’ve covered all of that and more in previous posts. But today, I want to take it a step further and talk about setting up a zero waste pantry.
How is it the same? How is it different? What are some pro tips for success? Keep reading this blog post to find out!
What is zero waste?
Remember that zero waste falls under the umbrella of sustainable living. In zero waste, we focus on eliminating the packaging waste we produce as consumers.
That looks like filling your own containers at the local bulk store or adding unwrapped produce directly to your reusable produce bags.
The overarching goal is to ditch the trash. To skip the plastic. To live with a lighter footprint.
Is it hard to set up a zero waste pantry?
Setting up your zero waste pantry is likely easier than you think! You can often find bulk bins even at the largest chain grocery stores & source secondhand items to reduce your carbon impact.
But in other ways, yes, it is challenging. Especially if you’re on a budget, there are times you might need to compromise on the products you buy. You will likely not have a 100% zero waste pantry and I want you to give yourself grace for that before we even start!
Our current economic system is set up in a way that shopping waste-free is abnormal. You are trying to go against the grain.
This means you will experience some tension in the process. Maybe it will feel a little weird filling bulk containers the first time or you might get frustrated that you just can’t find a plastic-free replacement for food you eat often.
This tension and discomfort doesn’t mean that you’re doing the wrong things.
It simply means you’re moving against the current. The more often people do this, the easier it gets and the more you’ll help normalize zero waste living for others!
What to Keep in a Zero Waste Pantry
So, when I think of a pantry, I think of where I store all of my dry goods. These ingredients are the heart of a zero waste kitchen!
For background, it’s helpful to know that we’re avid home cooks who cook from scratch every day. We love to garden & preserve our harvest. We love to bake and require a variety of ingredients to enable us to do that.
Depending on your lifestyle, you may need to include different items than we have here!
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Set up a zero waste pantry the easy way
For the dry goods & non-perishables in your pantry, you’re likely going to be able to use most of the items in my pantry staples checklist.
Essential Pantry Staples
- whole wheat
- gluten-free (almond, coconut)
Grains & Seeds
- brown rice
- popcorn kernels
Sugars & sweeteners
- maple syrup
- cocoa powder
- baking soda
- baking powder
- homemade vanilla extract
- dry yeast
Read: How to Stock Sustainable Baking Essentials for Beginners
Oils & Fats
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- apple cider
- red wine
Nuts & Nut butters
- walnuts or pecans
- sunflower seeds
- peanut butter
- kidney beans
- black beans
- apple rings
Prepared sauces & vegetables
- diced tomatoes
- jarred marinara sauce
- BBQ sauce
- jams & jellies
- soy sauce/liquid aminos
- canned coconut milk
- coconut flakes to make my own
- sweet potatoes
- winter squash
- chili powder
- dried herbs (basil, oregano, dill, mint, etc)
Do I need to cook everything from scratch?
Personally, I think it’s important to find the balance between your time, energy & budget with your zero waste goals.
If you are on a time crunch and need some ways to save time in the kitchen, it is really helpful to have some basic ingredients on hand. Unless you have time (and the cash) to pressure can an entire year’s worth of diced tomatoes, you need to compromise some places!
Simply focus on buying items that are packaged without plastic in glass jars, paper packages, reusable metal containers, etc.
Zero Waste Pantry Storage
The important thing to know about storing dry goods is to keep air out. You need to find containers that can close tightly or remove air to keep your products from going bad.
We have some OXO Pop containers we purchased before we started going plastic-free. We chose these because we liked that you can remove some of the air directly from the container. They also store large amounts of baking essentials like flour and sugars with ease.
Check out your local thrift store! You can often find mason jars of varying sizes or airlock jars with rubber seals, like Fido jars. We love using jars like this for fermenting too, so they’re great to have on hand!
You can also shop from your own recycling bin & repurpose glass jars from pasta sauce or pickles.
Be sure to keep storage vegetables in loose, breathable containers. I actually make my own baskets and made this onion basket to keep my onions fresh! I’ll be selling onion & garlic baskets in my Etsy shop soon.
Where do I shop to fill my waste free pantry?
Ideally, you’ll head to a local grocer with bulk bins to buy your dry goods, honey, oils, and more. Find a bulk store near you using this tool.
You’ll simply decide which containers you want to bring and you can even find the tare weight at home before you go. Simply weigh the jars in ounces and record their measurement on the jar.
When you get to the store, you’ll fill the jar and then the cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from your total price.
What sort of containers should I take with me shopping?
Like I mentioned above, you could bring glass jars. If you’re worried about traveling with heavy plastic jars, you could also repurpose plastic yogurt tubs or other jars!
We also like to bring cloth bags for things like seeds and nuts. These have a tight weave so nothing should fall out!
Learn about how to store pantry staples for freshness here.
What if I can’t find bulk bins near me?
Many grocery stores these days have bulk bins, even the big ones!
One issue I’ve found in my area is that although there are bulk bins available, the prices are sometimes higher per pound than pre-packaged items.
Some bulk stores don’t even allow you to bring your own jar, so then you’re back to using plastic bags! (You can often reuse the same plastic bags though to go waste free).
When you’re shopping on a budget, how do you decide to spend more money for an equivalent product simply to bypass the packaging?
These are some of the real issues we face when it comes to shopping with zero or low waste.
Whether you’re in a situation where you don’t have bulk bins or the bulk items are breaking the budget, here are some tips.
Sustainable shopping tips to reduce waste
1) Opt for packages without plastic. Look for paper, wood, metal, or glass.
2) Buy the largest package you can get to avoid needing multiple smaller packages.
3) Try to make your own items from scratch, like cookies and crackers, to avoid packaging waste.
A low waste alternative to bulk bins
We often order from Azure Standard a few times a year. Azure Standard is like a giant online organic bulk grocer that sells some of the highest quality dry goods, condiments, oils, meats, and more.
They ship your orders to a local drop site where you collect your purchases with other folks in your neighborhood.
We love that Azure Standard offers incredibly high-quality foods, especially organics, at very competitive prices. Plus, their bulk dry goods like oatmeal and flour come in giant paper bags that we can repurpose in the garden or simply compost.
They do sell items in plastic, but they also usually offer the option to buy a product in glass instead.
We find that Azure Standard is a really reliable source of pantry essentials for us while allowing us to save money at the same time.
See our Azure Standard review here.
Dealing with Food Waste
If you’re trying to set up a zero waste pantry, the most important thing to remember is that you need to make the most of the food you already have.
Food waste is a huge environmental issue with 30-40% of all food grown in the US being wasted. (source)
This food waste happens at various levels, but about 40% of all food waste happens in our own homes.
When food waste is sent to landfills, it releases methane which is a way more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
It’s super important that we minimize the foods in our trash cans to help the environment and watch our pennies!
I’ve written at length about reducing food waste in your home, including this ultimate guide to zero & low waste frugal food hacks.
Simple strategies to avoid food waste
- Only buy ingredients you actually use
- Store older items in front of newer ones to use them first
- Only buy what you need right now
- Meal plan to use what you have on hand
- Store perishables in the freezer (raw seeds, nuts)
These are simple eco friendly options to reduce waste that work in pretty much any home!
Start eating real food every day
Get the inside scoop from my years of cooking from scratch & preserving the harvest. Learn how to eat seasonally & sustainably… even on a budget!
What are some things you do in your eco friendly pantry? Are there any tips we missed? Tell us in the comments below!