How to Shop Zero Waste at Wal-Mart

If you are like 90% of Americans, you have a Wal-Mart at least 15 minutes from your home. And for many of you, that’s one of your only options to shop for groceries. That can be rather frustrating when you’ve taken on the zero waste lifestyle. Wal-Mart is not exactly known for bulk bins (some stores actually do have bulk I learned) so how does one shop zero waste at Wal-Mart?

With a few strategies, it is possible to drastically reduce your grocery-packaging waste. You might have to change your diet to avoid disposable packaging but if your primary goal is waste reduction, then I’m sure you’ll bring on the challenge. And of course, you may already eat a rich plant based diet so no change is necessary.

Why a plant based diet?

Meat and dairy is all packaged in disposable, non-recyclable plastic (not to mention how factory farming affects the environment as a whole). Unless, you see if you can get deli items in your own containers. And if you’ve been following zero waste living, you know that it’s best to avoid as much unnecessary plastic as possible as plastic’s final destination will always and inevitably be the dump.

So what do you do?

I’m going to walk you through my tactics to shopping without bulk food found in my post: 7 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Waste Without Access to Bulk. And put together one of my favorite meals: Vegan Coconut Curried Vegetables. It’s so, so good.

Let’s get started.

How to Shop Zero Waste at Wal-Mart

Don’t Forget Your Reusable Bags

First things, first. Reusable bags. Making sure you come prepared with your cloth grocery bags, including your cloth produce bags will put you ahead. And it’s so easy to do. Just make sure you come prepared with enough. Also, don’t expect to get a discount for bringing your own bags as I don’t think Wal-Mart offers an incentive to reduce their plastic bag contribution. Ugh. Their self checkouts do have a reusable bag option so at least that’s something.

Get Your Shopping List Ready

Having a list prevents you from straying and purchasing items out of pure impulse. You know the things I’m talking about. *cough* cookies *cough* ice-cream *cough* One of my favorite grocery list apps is Out of Milk.

For this example we are making my Coconut Curried Veggies so here is our ingredient list:

  • red potatoes or 2 large russets
  • carrots
  • white onion
  • red bell pepper
  • jalapeno
  • garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ginger
  • yellow curry
  • crushed tomatoes
  • coconut milk
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil
  • And rice, of course

Keep Your Produce Naked

Look for produce that isn’t packaged or wrapped in plastic. Some of the ingredient list items may not be available loose so be open for substitutions. Let the produce roll around loose or use one of your cloth produce bags to avoid the waste.

I always start in the produce section since it is at the front of the store and is usually the majority of my shopping list. Here’s what I found:

 

So, I was able to find all produce loose except for the carrots – they usually have them but this time they weren’t in stock, so I’d substitute yellow squash, peas, or broccoli.

I found ingredients that came in metal like the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and coconut milk. The cans can be recycled. (Metal can be infinitely recycled over and over whereas plastic gets downgraded each time – and most times the demand is so low, recycling centers send plastic to the landfill.)

I found the rice in cardboard which can be composted after.

And I found the spices and olive oil in glass which can also be infinitely recycled after use.

Don’t Forget to Compost

After the meal, compost the food scraps and cardboard from the rice. With these practices, this meal will have only produced 1 receipt, plastic shaker insert for the spices, and the plastic drip thing in the olive oil bottle. Not bad, huh?

It’s About Avoiding Plastic

So you probably know the theme now, right? Try to think of it less as “zero waste shopping” but more “plastic free shopping”. Just try to avoid as much plastic as possible and you’ll see a huge reduction in waste. It is true that recycling isn’t the solution to our overall waste as a society but it is a great tool for those of us who don’t have as much package-less freedom.

Go Slow

If you are finding that shopping this way goes completely against your regular meal routine then try just 1 or 2 meals per week and gradually work your way up. I don’t recommend going cold turkey with the meal planning you do because we all know what happens when we quit anything abruptly. There’s a greater chance we will revert back to the way things were.

So give it go! Let me know how it went.

 

 

10 thoughts on “How to Shop Zero Waste at Wal-Mart

  1. This is great! I try to avoid Walmart, but on occasion it’s been my only option. And now, it’s the only place in our city that has unpackaged carrots and cauliflower, go figure.

    • I know how you feel! I don’t think anyone “likes” Wal-Mart per say but like you said, it’s the only option sometimes. haha

  2. Another thing that I always try to focus on when selecting produce is to pick out the “ugly” produce. I choose the produce that may look a little misshaped or unique since I know that grocery stores often throw out this type of produce when consumers don’t want to purchase these items.

    • And the fact that it looks a little bit worse is a strong guarantee of the fact that it has been grown in healthier and uncontrolled environments. The taste is often better as well!

    • Oh yes, I love that! And you are absolutely right, produce with an unappealing visual appearance will most likely go to waste.

  3. This is really great! I thankfully live in an area where I have more options, but when I go back to the small town my parents still live in it’s helpful to be prepared for less zero waste options. One thing about the cardboard — I thought you couldn’t compost cardboard that is shiny on the outside? Or maybe that’s just for indoor composting worm health? We’ve been recycling ours and only composting uncoated cardboard.

  4. I usually stay away from cans because of the chemicals used to make them food /shelf life safe any thoughts on this?

  5. I love zero waste living and thank you for encouraging it! BUT you cannot shop zero waste at walmart. Everything about the store is the opposite of zero waste…. cheap products made in foreign countries with harmdul practices, terribles wages that leave staff poor and dependent on government handouts, cheap produce from farmers who are poorly paid. If we really want to be zero waste we must pay attention to where stores share their profits and choose shops that respect people, animals and the earth.

    Blessings to you

    • Hi Grace, I wholeheartedly agree with Wal-Mart’s poor business practices. However, this article is referring to packaging waste and what people can do to avoid as much as possible. Many people don’t have the option of shopping anywhere else even if they wanted to. As someone who’s lived in rural north MO for most of my life, my family is affected by that fact. I feel that just by saying “shop somewhere else if you want to be zero waste” isn’t inclusive and considerate of other’s obstacles when trying to reduce waste.

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