According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging make up 23% of landfill waste. And the United States throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging every year. Food packaging and containers make up a large component of this.

Across the country, more and more supermarkets are addressing their waste output. Some shops are reimagining their business models entirely. Enter zero-waste grocery stores. Zero waste grocery stores have removed all forms of unnecessary waste from their business models. This means plastic bags, cardboard boxes, single-use plastic wrappers – all food sold is package-free.

If you’re a zero-waste grocery store owner or a regular supermarket looking to reduce your total waste output, here are 5 tips on managing a zero-waste grocery store.

1. Minimize your store’s food waste and packaging

As a zero-waste grocery store that encourages its consumers to reduce their carbon footprints, it’s important to practice what you preach. All grocery stores generate paper and carton waste, but as much as possible, try to eliminate disposable packaging waste on both the supplier and consumer side. Audit your store’s waste habits to see where you can make changes.

Use reusable containers to avoid any emissions for the production and disposal of packaging material. If none of your suppliers are able to reuse containers, reuse any packaging material internally if possible.

Try to think outside the box when it comes to removing food waste and packaging from your own processes. One grocery store interviewed in a study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, invented a paper made from used material to wrap fish and meat. Another store designed plastic-free bulk bins that they sell to other stores.

2. Reduce waste by composting

Amongst a long list of benefits, composting is a great option to reduce methane production in landfills and treat soils that have been polluted by hazardous waste. Consider providing composting bins in your store for both employees and customers to deposit any food scraps and limit the waste your store is sending to landfills. Local haulers are frequently able to provide businesses with compost containers that can be picked up, so you don’t need to handle that process.

Additionally, any excess perishable food can be donated to a local food bank or shelter. If you have any non-perishables, you can try to use leftover food (unexpired, of course!) in counter service or catering orders.

3. Choose suppliers that also integrate a zero-waste philosophy

Many food distributors use external packaging to ship food in such as cardboard boxes or styrofoam – yet another source of waste. Choose suppliers that provide reusable shipping containers instead of boxes triple-wrapped in styrofoam.

If you can, source your products from brands with similar zero-waste missions that are transparent about the ethical impact they have on the environment. Potential criteria for evaluating a supplier could include responsible farming practices, supply chain transparency and a willingness to improve the food supply chain.

4. Be open to customers bringing in their own reusable containers

Grocery stores that aren’t completely zero-waste can still take measures to reduce waste. One easy way to do this is to implement a reusable container policy for consumers purchasing from the bulk foods or prepared foods sections.

While this might seem like an abnormal choice, consumers are choosing to bring their own containers more and more—even at restaurants. Try to be receptive to customers using their own jars, containers, and cloth bags in place of plastic containers. Make sure all your employees are educated on this practice to ensure that customers have the best experience.

Pro tip: Remind customers to clean their reusable containers before coming into the store in order to prevent food contamination.

5. Educate your consumers and employees on the value of zero-waste

Although many customers who choose a zero-waste grocery store over those that are not are presumably already environmentally conscious, there is always room to learn more. One way to set your store apart is by offering services that help educate current and future customers on the value of zero-waste.

This could take shape in many forms: pop-up events that provide tips on starting a zero-waste lifestyle, cooking workshops using only food scraps around your house – you name it.

Another important aspect of education is correct container placement. For example, always having a compost or recycling bin next to a trash bin in the stock room and in the different grocery departments. Making it easy for both customers and employees to make the right decision will go a long way.

Additionally, sharing your store’s progress and impact with customers will help increase their awareness of zero-waste, inspiring them to continue making environmentally responsible choices.

Across the world, shoppers are looking for ways to make more conscious shopping decisions in every corner of their lives. Zero waste grocery shopping is not just a way for grocery stores to join in on this effort but can also be a way to connect with their shoppers, too. As consumer needs change, so too should their market offerings. Offering zero waste groceries is one way to do this work.

Want more information on the effects of food and packaging waste on our planet? Check out our 14 food waste facts that will blow your mind!

If you’re looking for more help managing your waste, don’t hesitate to contact us! We’re always happy to help you find new solutions.