ZERO WASTE GROCERY GUIDE: TRADER JOE’S

Zero Waste Grocery Guide to Trader Joe's

It was Trader Joe’s that pushed me over the edge.

I had been flirting with the idea of zero waste living for a few months. Reusable water bottle, cloth grocery bags — you know the drill. Sometimes I brought them, sometimes I forgot them on the kitchen counter.  

But one afternoon when I was unpacking my favorite ranch-flavored chickpeas, the kids’ dried banana strips, and the frozen tortellini I bought for my husband from Trader Joe’s, I saw it. 

There, all wrapped around the delicious food I was about to eat, was plastic. 

Landfill plastic. Not the kind you can toss in the curbside container or drop-off at a plastic film recycling center. The kind of plastic my grand kids could dig up in 50 years and find in more or less the same condition. And there was a helluva lot of it. 

I write a lot about perspective-shifting moments. This was one of my first. 

We still love Trader Joe’s. 

It’s organic. It’s affordable. It’s full of friendly, helpful employees. 

And it’s totally possible to find enough zero waste groceries there to feed your family for a week. 

Zero Waste Grocery Guide: Trader Joe's

Check out this haul! I spent $77 and got almost everything I needed to feed our family of four (plus a baby) for a week. You’ll find our grocery list and meal plan below. 

Zero Waste Grocery Guide: Trader Joe's

Zero Waste Tip: Stick to the produce section and canned and boxed foods aisle at Trader Joe’s. (Recyclable containers totally count as zero waste in my book.) You’ll find the most options for zero waste shopping here.

Zero Waste Tip: Look for zero waste fruit and vegetables in the middle of Trader Joe’s produce department, not along the cooler-lined walls.

The center bins are where you will find plastic-free potatoes, avocados, squash, and other fruit and vegetables with peels. 

In the coolers, you’ll be hard pressed to find a green bean or zucchini that’s not wrapped in cellophane, but you might find  lettuce tubs that can be recycled at the curb! (Plastic salad bags, on the other hand, contain additives to keep the lettuce fresh longer. They can’t be recycled.) 

Here’s what we got.

Produce:

  • Acorn Squash
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Bell Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Potatoes
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Canned/Boxed Aisle:

  • Applesauce
  • Black Beans
  • Green Chilis
  • Red Kidney Beans
  • Salsa

Dairy:

  • Eggs
  • Milk

What we had at home:

  • Rice
  • Bread (French loaf from bakery department at our co-op)
  • Oatmeal
  • Flour, etc. to make pancakes and tortillas

Here’s what we made.

Breakfast:

  • Scrambled Eggs and Potatoes and Peppers
  • Avocado Toast
  • Pancakes with Applesauce
  • Oatmeal with Bananas

Lunch:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Sliced fruit and vegetables
  • Leftovers from dinner

Dinner:

Trader Joe’s Zero Waste Rating: 3/5 Stars

Quality: Organic produce that isn’t mushy or wilted. 5/5 

Price: Can’t beat the prices of organics at Trader Joe’s. 5/5

Variety: For a small store, there are lots of options. 4/5

Non-recyclable plastic packaging: Plastic packaging everywhere. 1/5 

Bulk Section: No bulk section available. 0/5

Overall impression: Yes, it’s possible to shop zero waste at Trader Joe’s. No, I didn’t come home with everything I wanted.  Trader Joe’s is a good place to stock up on affordable organic produce, but we buy rice, lentils, pasta, snacks, and other staples from the bulk food department of our local co-op. Don’t have a bulk section near you? You can minimize packaging waste by purchasing the largest container and choosing metal or cardboard packaging over plastic. And if you have the choice between a hard-sided plastic tub or a plastic bag, remember that plastic tubs can be recycled at the curb (but produce and freezer bags cannot.)

Share your zeroish Trader Joe’s finds with us on Instagram with #zeroish or post a picture on our Facebook page. Happy shopping! 

Jenna Bergendahl is a homeschooling mom of three in Minneapolis. She loves biking, camping with her husband and kids, and staying up late reading sci-fi novels. In 2018 she’s taking on a zero waste challenge, trying out veganism, and catching up on episodes of Game of Thrones. She’s also the editor of Zeroish.

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