Zero Waste Grocery Shopping at MOM’s

Welcome to the thrilling second post of Zero Waste Vegan! (pause for applause and general merriment, celebration, throwing of roses, etc.) Today I come to you with news of my weekly zero waste grocery excursion, which involved a thirty-minute bus ride to that most holy of holy sites, MOM’s Organic Market.

(I’ve resolved to use far fewer gifs in my posts here than I do over at my author blog, but I hope you’re imagining a chorus of angels, a sunrise, and perhaps a white dove.)

For those who are unfamiliar, MOM’s Organic Market is an organic grocery store with locations in Maryland, Virginia, D.C, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania with a sizable bulk section, which doesn’t mean a COSTCO 100-rolls-of-toilet-paper-wrapped-in-plastic situation so much as it means that you can scoop awesome things out of bins and into your own containers and then purchase them, thus saving both money and The Planet.

(Captain Planet gif would go here if I were not maturely avoiding the use of gifs.)

Anyway, this was only my second visit to this particular MOM’s, but I found even more amazing stuff this time, including the fabled, the legendary, the impossible…


If you’re new to bulk shopping or zero waste, you might not realize what a Big Freaking Deal this is, but the fact is that the vast majority of shops sell tofu only in plastic packaging, so finding a big refrigerated bin of water with tofu floating in it at MOM’s today was a tiny bit of a religious experience for me. I’d heard that this particular MOM’s had bulk tofu, but I didn’t believe it – until the evidence was right there in front of my own unworthy, doubting mortal eyes. I may or may not, in the aisle of the grocery store and within hearing range of several other people, have gasped, “THE LEGENDS ARE TRUE.”

In any case, I’m sure you’re all desperately longing to see the results of my shopping trip, so I shall now share a skillful aerial photo of what I bought:

Sharp-eyed and possibly judgy readers will notice that my haul is not totally plastic free, but life is a journey, no one is perfect, judge not lest ye be judged, and so on and so on and so on. But here is a rundown of all that I was able to get in my own containers:

  1. Cashews
  2. Sunflower butter
  3. Liquid Dish Soap
  4. Almonds
  5. Granola
  6. Rice (in a plastic bag from some other product that I’ve been reusing)
  7. Pasta
  8. Tofu
  9. Oranges
  10. Fuji Apples
  11. Bananas
  12. Carrots
  13. Kale
  14. Cilantro
  15. Mushrooms
  16. Brussels Sprouts
  17. Vine Tomatoes
  18. Freshly baked french bread, in a paper sleeve (technically not my container, but not plastic either)

The items I was not able to get waste-free were blueberries, soy milk, and the Beyond Burger, and the Beyond Burger is not something I typically buy, but sometimes a burger is necessary, and today was one of those days.

Now, if you’re currently staring at your screen with a deep and burning jealousy, first of all, these feelings are natural and I Do Not Judge You. Second, you may be wondering where you can find your own bulk grocery store to patronize, and I would like to offer a handy link to aid you in your quest:

The Litterless website has a handy list of bulk stores in the United States, so if you’re anywhere within these fifty states, have a look and see if there’s anything near you.

But the bulk bins are scary. I don’t know what to doooo. How do I check ouuuut? Hellllp.

The bulk bins can indeed be intimidating at first, but FEAR NOT. I am here to guide you.

So, the key to using your own containers at the bulk bins is that you first need to know how much your containers weigh. You have a few options on this front: You can take them to a store employee and ask to have them weighed (or ask the process for weighing if you’re not sure), you can weigh them yourself at home if you happen to have a good digital scale, or you can weigh them in the actual bulk section of the store, as it will generally have a scale right there for your convenience.

Fair warning, there will probably be someone standing in front of the scale contemplating the universe or taking 6,000 years to finish weighing whatever they’re trying to purchase, but if you are patient, you’ll get there and all will be well.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a photographic memory for random series of numbers, I would suggest writing the weight of your empty container (called the “tare”) on the container with a marker, or you can open a memo file on your phone and store that info there. After you fill the container with whatever glorious bulk product you’ve chosen, you also need to write down or record in some way the PLU # of the product, which will be printed on the front of the bin or just below.

This might sound like a lot of trouble, but if you go to the same store, buy the same things, and use the same containers, you’ll only really need to do this once.

After you’ve recorded all the info and filled up your containers, you check out as usual and can then return home and bask in your low waste awesomeness.

Questions, comments, or tales of your own adventures with the bulk bins? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

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