Zero Waste Grocery Shopping in Walmart: My Experience

As a very budget-conscious college student living in Sioux City, Iowa, I don’t have many zero waste shops at my disposal to shop at whenever I need groceries. Whenever I go shopping for anything, I mostly go to Dollar Tree and Walmart. This can be very hard to shop plastic-free, and I have yet to get by completely zero waste, but I have considerably cut down my plastic consumption by having some strict rules for myself. I try my best to not buy things in plastic and look for alternatives in glass or aluminum cans or no packaging at all if I can help it. If I can’t find what I’m looking for in sustainable packaging, then I go without. If I absolutely have to get that thing then I try to find it in plastic that is recyclable or in packaging that I can reuse or repurpose.

So I went to Walmart yesterday to get some food and snacks for my room that were a little healthier. When I first walked in, I was faced with my first disappointment.

In the produce section was a large display of strawberries, but of course those strawberries were all in large plastic clamshells. Since I decided that I could go without and didn’t know another possible use for the plastic clamshell, I had to walk away from the strawberries.

Because I wanted more to snack on than just fruit, I decided to go to the way back of the grocery section and walk aisle by aisle, seeing what I could find that would be great to snack on and plastic free.

The first thing I found was in the dairy and yogurt section. It was a cute little jar of organic, French pudding called Petit Pot. I found it while looking at another yogurt brand that I knew came in a glass jar, Oui by Yoplait. I thought that it would be interesting to try this pudding since I definitely have a sweet tooth that yogurt can’t satisfy, so I put one in my basket and decided to keep looking. The cool thing that I thought that not only was it in sustainable and reusable packaging, but its vegan and dairy-free!

As I went through the snack aisle, I was appalled that everything that I wanted and was used to snacking on had some sort of plastic packaging. I thought I found a saving grace when I came to the candy aisle and found the cardboard-boxed theater-style candies, but a quick shake test confirmed that the candy inside some of those boxes were in a plastic bag as well. So I decided begrudgingly that I would not be getting any candy today.

I got to the breakfast aisle and thought that maybe I could find some granola. The two brands of granola that I usually gravitate towards is Honey Bunches of Oats and Nature Valley. They, however, come in resealable plastic bags. I tried to reason with myself and look for a recycling sign on the bags but I couldn’t find one. Thankfully another brand below them came in a cardboard box, Kashi. I grabbed their chocolate flavored variety (my sweet tooth was strong that day). Unfortunately enough for me however, no shake test prepared me for the fact that like cereal, the granola inside the box was in a plastic bag, so sadly, I did accidentally buy some plastic.

I then made it to the baking aisle, which for some reason also has fruit cups and applesauce which I have never quite understood (even in the small town grocery store I worked at in high school was this way). But I thought I could find some applesauce in a glass jar that would last me a while. Again I was thwarted by brands like Musselmann’s, which I distinctly remember having a glass jar in the past, switching to a plastic jar instead. So I decided that applesauce was not on the agenda for today. However, on the very bottom shelf with all the other fruit cups, I saw mandarin oranges and peaches in glass jars! Hooray! So I scooped up one of each and continued looking for things.

I thought I would try and get some loose leaf tea if I could find any in the tea and coffee aisle, since most tea bags are not biodegradable. Tea bags can contain harmful chemicals and can pollute the environment. I was happy to see that my favorite tea brand Lipton had their black tea in a loose leaf option. I had just gotten my own tea strainer so I could make my own tea in the dorm instead of having to go to the on-campus coffee shop and spend more money. Because I like my tea on the sweeter side, I also picked up a small bag of sugar in order to sweeten as needed.

You may be wondering why I did not get any produce on my trip to Walmart, and the answer is simply due to the fact that I am able to get apples, oranges, and bananas for free at my dining hall, so I don’t really need to buy that much produce. I would have liked to get some strawberries, but again like above, they were only found in plastic.

But that was my first real experience zero waste grocery shopping at Walmart. Let me know if there are any product or brands that you’ve found that are plastic-free! I would love to give them a try!

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