Get Ready for Zero Waste Shopping With These Great Reusables

Oatmeal, lentils, and another grain in cotton bags

Photoboyko / Getty Images

Waste-free shopping requires the right tools to make it successful for shoppers and storeowners alike. Do you have what it takes?

In exactly one week, Canada’s largest bulk food retailer, Bulk Barn, will start allowing shoppers to use their own reusable containers. This is a very big deal, but it will require some advance planning on the part of shoppers. Make sure you’re ready with proper tools and containers to ensure a smooth, successful shop on February 24th.

TreeHugger asked the folks at Life Without Plastic (a favorite Canadian website with loads of incredible plastic-free products) to weigh in what they think are the most useful reusables. They shared the following suggestions.

NOTE: Cleanliness is absolutely crucial. Use containers that can be washed easily and sterilized thoroughly, and will not absorb smells and stains. Ideally, avoid Tupperware and other reusable plastics.

Cloth bags

Get solid organic cotton bags for bulk items. (Mesh is best for produce items at the grocery store, but definitely worth having.) These are good for nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, pasta, rice, beans, candies, chocolate, and seeds.

Drawstring cotton bag (14”x16”), US $8.95

Snap-top hemp and cotton sandwich bag (4”x4”), US $8.95

LifeSewSweet reusable food bags with Velcro, US $4

Simple Ecology organic cotton muslin produce bags, US $8.95 - $16.45

Stitchology sells a zero-waste shopping kit that includes 9 cloth drawstring bags (small, medium, large), 1 washable crayon, and tare weight stamped on the side. US $35

You can also make your own from old sheets if you want to be really green. Bags tend not to work well for powders, flours, and spices.

Glass containers

Leek soup in an open weck jar
annick vanderschelden photography / Getty Images 

Life Without Plastic recommends Weck jars because they are good for wet or dry storage and also great for freezing: “Most people freeze in Mason jars but those don’t always keep the food in the best condition as it cannot always create the best seal.” Weck jars have a convenient wide-mouth shape, rubber seals, and glass lids, and come in a variety of sizes.

Mason jars are always useful, particularly wide mouth ones. Bea Johnson of the Zero Waste Home uses French-made Le Parfait jars, which you can buy on Amazon.

Square glass containers with stainless steel lids are another option. 6”x6”x3”, US $32.95

For small bulk items like spices, use small Mason or Weck jars. One good idea from Life Without Plastic is purchasing Riviera dairy products from Quebec, which come in cute little jars, with reusable porcelain or plastic lids available to purchase.

Stainless steel containers

There are many stainless steel options on the market these days. I’m a big fan of the airtight-watertight containers (US $23.95) I bought from Life Without Plastic years ago. They freeze, refrigerate, stack well, and work for dry or liquid contents.

The store sells extra-large stainless storage containers that can be frozen, refrigerated, and even reheated on the stovetop. You can write on the steel with non-permanent marker. 20L/5.3 gallon container, US $95.95 (also available in smaller size)


Woman with blank labels for mason jars
Ian Spanier / Getty Images

It’s important to be able to write on cloth bags to identify easily what’s inside, particularly if you’re shopping in large quantities.

Aquacolor Water-Soluble Wax Crayons, US $22.84 via Amazon

Buy some Sharpies! For recording tared weights or contents of glass containers, you can use a Sharpie. Erase with a swipe of rubbing alcohol – although tare weights are useful to keep on a jar if you keep shopping with it. It’s less finicky than paper labels.

Reusable vinyl-backed chalkboard labels are an ingenious idea. Available on Etsy, Jade & Julia, or craft stores. US $8.99 for 50 labels


Shopping with a hard plastic box is more convenient than grocery bags, especially if you’re transporting heavy, fragile glass jars to and from the store by car. This is how I do it – with the help of a big grocery bin.