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Beginner's guide to zero-waste shopping

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Want to cut down on single-use plastic by using zero-waste stores – but not sure where to start when it comes to container etiquette and navigating filling stations? Kathryn Lewis made the newbie blunders (so you don’t have to)

Earth, Love, Food, Totnes

1. Don’t rock up empty handed

Pack jars, Tupperware and recycled containers so you’ve got plenty of vessels to transport your shopping home. Chuck a variety of shapes and sizes into your canvas shopper including larger containers for bulky dry goods such as pasta, and smaller ones for spices, grains and nuts. Some shops stock a collection of donated containers which are free to use – as well as new ones to buy.

2. Make sure your containers are sterilised and super dry

No one wants to find their porridge oats sticking to the bottom of the reusable container which still honks of yesterday’s cheese. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time to wash – and dry – your reusables properly.

3. Don’t be over-ambitious

If you’re travelling by foot or bike, remember your bag is going to be a helluva lot heavier on your return trip. ‘Little and often’ will lighten the load.

4. Remember to weigh your empty containers

Most zero-waste shops work on a weigh-fill-weigh-pay basis. It’s a simple set-up: weigh your container empty and print out a barcode; fill the container with your food of choice; weigh the filled container and zap the barcode to print out an accurate price based on weight; and then pay at the till.

5. Don’t be trigger happy

Items such as rice and nuts can stream out of bulk bins at an alarming rate so go easy on your first go. Take it from experience, decorating the shop floor with yogurt-covered raisins is pretty embarrassing (even if the staff are super chill about it).

6. Be prepared to switch up the norm

Zero-waste shops won’t stock the same mind-boggling selection as the supermarket so be prepared to make some swaps. No white rice? Try brown. Can’t find the nutty granola? Shake up your morning routine with a fruity number. Never heard of fregola? Give it a go.

7. Don’t stop at the food shop

The majority of zero-waste outlets also sell planet-friendly beauty products, cleaning items and kitchen bits, so pack a few extra containers to replenish your washing-up liquid, shampoo and detergent stocks.

Also try

Mukti Mitchell from Mitchell & Dickinson

Mukti Mitchell, Devon-based carpenter, sailor, author and director of Mitchell & Dickinson (insulation solutions for period properties), tried going plastic-free for a month. He tells us what happened

Nourish of Topsham, near Exeter

As an increasing number of consumers swerve plastic, zero-waste shops are cropping up across the South West. Here are a few to add to your hit list

Darts Farm

Keeping it local is the easiest way to cut your plastic use, says Michael Dart of Darts Farm, one of the biggest independent farm shops in the South West