We've all been there: shopping down the aisles of a grocery store, enamored by pretty packaging; the sleek font, the complementary color scheme. Food companies are using appealing packaging to draw consumers in – and contribute to the plastic pollution problem while they're at it. Packaging is responsible for over 40% of plastic pollution, a great deal of which comes from food-specific packaging. By now, you know the world is in a climate emergency. The more we demand plastic, the more large corporations will manufacture it. But what if I told you there was a way around this fossil-fuel-based material? Here are six easy steps to help you on your journey to zero waste grocery shopping. 

Step 1: Shop in the Bulk Section

Zero waste grocery shopping involves shopping with low to minimal waste. Almost all major grocery stores, including Publix, Kroger, Sprouts, and Whole Foods, offer bulk areas where you can bring your own containers and fill them with dry goods such as beans, lentils, flour, nuts, seeds, and pasta. Some grocery stores even have snacks like yogurt-covered pretzels, cereals, and chips.

Bulk buying is much more eco-friendly because you aren't getting all that unnecessary packaging only to throw it away afterward. Also, the price per pound of bulk goods tends to be cheaper than buying in package form. This is because a large percentage of the cost pays for the food packaging.

Step 2: Bring Reusable Grocery and Produce Bags

Whether you got them as freebies at a college fair or have collected them over the years, I'm sure many of you already have tote bags lying around. Try bringing them to the grocery store to avoid using disposable bags. Even though Whole Foods and Trader Joe's use paper bags instead of plastic, it's still much greener to BYOB – bring your own bags. 

Keep reusable bags in your backpack or hang them on your doorknob so you remember to grab them before you leave for the store. If you don't already have bags, look into investing in a good, sturdy, foldable set. This brand is a certified sustainable B corp and comes with reusable produce bags attached to them for a compact shopping experience. 

In addition, try and use these reusable produce bags always, or buy the produce loose and bag it once you exit the grocery store. This can help save a ton of plastic waste. Although some grocery stores state their bags are made of 35% recycled plastic, you are still likely to throw the bag away once you are done with it. To avoid this, bring your produce bags and reuse them as many times as possible!

Step 3: Bring Your Own Containers

Do you have some dusty glass jars sitting in the back of your kitchen cabinet? This is the perfect opportunity to use them! Wash them thoroughly before popping them into your reusable grocery tote. Glass jars make great zero waste shopping containers because you don't have to transfer product to and from containers once you get home. The items look very aesthetically pleasing once you have a line of glass jars in your kitchen cabinet. My philosophy is the more imperfect or unmatched your jars, the better! Feel free to add labels with a label maker or write directly onto the jar with washable markers. 

Try stasher silicon zip lock bags if you want an alternative to glass jars. Stasher bags are highly durable and can last for years. They are convenient, lightweight, and efficient for goods like rice and cereals. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and are dishwasher safe. 

Step 4: Subscribe to Produce Delivery Boxes

Produce subscription boxes are a great way to reduce your plastic usage. The boxes are delivered once per week, and you can customize them depending on how often you cook and how many people you are cooking for. The produce typically comes loose or in compostable cardboard containers. Berries are notorious for coming in plastic containers, but most subscription boxes package them in cardboard for an eco-friendly option. This means you can still enjoy your daily smoothies without all that waste!

Misfits Market is an imperfect produce subscription box looking to fight food waste across America. They only use organic "ugly" vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste. Keep in mind that the minimum order is $30, so splitting the cost with a roommate or friend might be wise.

Fresh Harvest is a local produce subscription box. All the fruits and vegetables are organic and farmed using sustainable practices such as restorative soil methods. Another perk of Fresh Harvest is they use reusable packaging. The boxes are customizable by size (small, medium, large, and XL, depending on household size). You can also purchase pantry items and meat, dairy, and eggs, which come directly from the farmer. Therefore, you are supporting local, small farmers and being eco-friendly by minimizing your waste generation! 

Step 5: Buy Bread, Meat, and Cheese from the Counter

Most grocery stores have a fresh deli and bakery where you can buy items in your containers. Bring a cloth produce bag for bread and use a stasher bag dedicated to meat and cheese. You can also use Beeswax wrap for cheese and request they put it in your wrap rather than wrapping it in ambiguous-looking paper or plastic. Most counters are happy to do this if you simply explain you are transitioning to a more plastic-free lifestyle. Plus, by buying it from the counter, you ensure it is as fresh as possible. You don't know how long that sourdough has been sitting on the shelf.

Step 6: Be Kind to Yourself

Being zero waste can be difficult sometimes, so don't beat yourself up if you don't get it right the first time. Many goods like tofu and jarred sauces don't have zero waste buying options, so don't worry if you have to purchase those in the given containers. It is much better to do what you can rather than not do anything. 

By trying these six zero waste tips whenever possible, you are doing your part in helping the planet. As Anne Marie Bonneau said, "We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly; we need millions of people doing it imperfectly." 

Happy shopping!