What is a Zero Waste Shop and how does it work
A zero waste shop is a special kind of shop that has its doors open for those who want to adhere to a zero or low waste lifestyle. All the products sold in this type of shop are either sold in bulk, without useless packaging or packaged in a way that doesn’t impact the environment in a negative way.
In order to enjoy a positive zero waste shopping experience, it’s advisable to prepare and use your own containers and reusable bags. If you don’t have these already, you can find different options to purchase these and reuse them next time. Bulk produce are sold in bulk and priced per 100g or individually and there is no minimum or maximum amount you can buy.
How does it work? Just like a normal grocery store, except most things are kept in dispensers and need weighing. Other items are sold and priced individually. You will need to weigh your container first, fill it with whatever you need and then weigh it again. Some shops have self-service electronic scales, in others the staff will help you weigh your items.
What can you buy in a Zero Waste Shop
Most zero waste shops have pretty much the same products that are generally considered essential for everyone. You can find different types of grains, seeds, cereals or nuts but also detergents or toiletries. Some even have fresh fruits, veggies or sell drinks.
This is a list of products you can find in most zero waste shops offline or online:
- Coffee and Tea
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Soap, shampoo, conditioner, bath bombs
- Dental care products: toothpaste tablets, floss, toothbrushes
- Dried Fruits
- Cleaning supplies
- Liquid laundry detergents
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
How are the Prices?
The price range varies, depending on the product. Some items can be more expensive than in regular shops, but the advantage of buying from a Zero Waste Shop is that you can actually buy as much as you need. For example, if you only need 100g of flour for a recipe, that’s fine. So in the end your total bill might seem smaller than when buying from a regular supermarket.
I found some items to be cheaper, especially household items like fabric softener and laundry detergent. Other items, such as lentils and chickpeas were £0.25/100g which I would normally pay for in a supermarket. The advantage on buying from a Zero Waste shop is that there’s no plastic packaging.
Overall, zero waste shop products are slightly more expensive, but I haven’t noticed necessarely a huge price gap between these shops and others.
In the end, I guess it’s more down to what’s more important for you: buying organic, plastic-free products and spending an extra penny or buying from wherever is cheaper.
My first Zero Waste shopping experience
My first zero waste shopping experience was a bit...let’s say messy. I knew it would be. Although I read about how to prepare before going into one, I could have done better. I prepared my backpack with a few jars and another container and a short list of things I needed to buy.
The shop was a short walking distance from my house and I discovered it when I went for a walk one evening. I’ve been living in this small town for 10 months and had no idea there was one here! Zero Joe’s in Windsor is a family-owned business and a small but very well-stocked shop. It had pretty much anything you need, from spices and grains to toiletries and cleaning essentials.
I bought some polenta because it’s really hard to find in other shops and some cinnamon rolls. I haven’t spent too much time inside because the shop was already supposed to be closed when I arrived. The staff was kind enough to let me in although I was 2 minutes late so I didn’t want to keep them at work for longer than necessary. I worked in retail long enough to learn to be considerate about other people’s time. I mentioned in the beginning that my experience was a little messy because I managed to spill some polenta on the floor when I tried to fill my container from the dispenser. This was my zero waste fail moment (facepalm!). Before filling my container I had to weigh it on an electronic scale and put a label with a barcode on it. After filling it, I went back to the scale, scanned the barcode and weighed it again. The cinnamon rolls were in the frozen department and they didn’t need weighing. I didn’t have a container for them so I had to use a paper bag provided by the shop for those who, like me, don’t come very well prepared.
Overall, it was a good experience and I was definitely going to go back. I got my eyes on some bar soaps that I want to try and some cleaning supplies. Promise not to spill anything ever again!
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Other people’s Zero Waste Shop Experiences
After having my Zero Waste Shop experience, I was curious to find out what others thought about shopping in a zero waste shop. The lovely ladies who were kind enough to reply to my survey unanimously gave a positive feedback on their overall experience.
- Breanne researched their social media accounts mostly to see how they were responding to COVID-19. She bought dish soap, dishwasher pods and oral care and said she’s going fairly often to the zero waste shop. Breanne promotes a healthy and natural lifestyle on her blog, Essential moves to Wellness and it’s worth following.
- Ruby thought about what she needed first and if she needed to take jars, bags, etc, to fill up. The first thing she bought was some nuts. About the overall experience, she said: „Loved it, its normally more expensive but you can get the perfect amount. Sometimes you only need a small amount for a recipe - rather than a whole packet. Feels good not only not wasting food, but not using unnecessary plastic either!” Ruby goes shopping in a zero waste shop once a week „We get mostly buy our fruit and veg from the market. Then a refill shop, and a few bits we can't get elsewhere or from Sainsbury’s”. Ruby’s blog, Ruby Rose Sews documents her journey of sewing and sustainability.
- Steff had no idea what to expect or what stock they might have. She got popcorn kernels, fruit and veg, honey, refills for hand soap and conditioner. When asked about her overall experience she said „It was good but I felt out of place. I wish their stock was available online to browse before going so a list could be prepared”. Steff has an Instagram page
that I absolutely enjoy following because it’s just so cool and funny! So, follow her if you want to see her journey on being an eco adult, mom and wife.
- Sarah seems to have made her homework before going shopping to a zero waste shop for the first time. She wrote her normal shopping list and gathered a load of old take away tubs and headed there before going to the supermarket.The first things she bought were some cleaning products and shampoo bars. Her first experience was „Amazing! The shop was quite quiet so the staff helped making the whole experience super easy”
Zero Waste Shopping tips
How to prepare
If you want to do zero waste shopping properly, it’s recommended you do some preparations. It’s easy to prepare and to put it simply, all you need to do is shove some jars and tins in a bag and you’re good to go!
The Zero waste shop I went to has a Facebook page and an online shop where I could see what they sell and this way I'm able to make a list prior to going there. It’s not always the case and there are plenty of shops that are quite invisible online. A list is useful but not mandatory.
Jars, containers and sachets are a must. In my opinion, the whole point of going to a zero waste shop is to waste as little as possible. They do have paper bags, all sorts of containers and solutions for every need but if you already have some jars or equivalents, take them with you. Equally important is to bring your own bag.
Shopping in a zero waste shop should be a good experience and you’ll notice the staff is very helpful and lovely, so don’t overthink too much this preparation.
How to find a zero waste shop in your area
I discovered the zero waste shop in my area just by going for a walk. I lived for 10 months in the same place and had absolutely no idea this shop existed. I must admit I didn’t really bother asking anyone either, maybe I would have found out sooner. Now I know better.
If you’re not sure where to start looking, try asking on your local Facebook group.
If you live in the UK, this is a very useful map for finding a zero waste shop near where you live. I tried looking on Google maps before, but I think this map is way better for this purpose.
Online Zero Waste Shops
Finding a zero waste shop close to where you live is of course, ideal. It saves you time, money and resources. However, for those unlucky to have one in their proximity, there is always the online alternative. For instance, I don't have a car (terrified of driving) so I would not go too far to get to one.
The best way to find one is to do a quick search on Google. I saved you the trouble and these are the online zero waste shop that I've found for the UK, in no particular order.
Have you been to a zero waste shop yet? We would love to hear about it! Comment below and let us know how it went!
Read next all about Becoming Zero Waste >>
About the author
Adela loves researching and writing about sustainability! Her passion for ethical living started early in her childhood, being born and raised in a beautiful remote village in Romania, where life was much simpler. Life took her to the great city of London where she discovered that sustainability in a big city is not only needed but also possible. When she’s not at her desk , she loves discovering hidden gems of London and travel to unique places. She also volunteers for various charitable actions and events.