Anyone looking to have a zero waste kitchen knows they have to tackle their pantry at some point. I’ll admit, it’s not easy crafting a zero waste pantry. It took a while for me to get my pantry looking the way it does now. Part of that has to do with the fact I live with my folks, and I don’t necessarily control everything they bring into the house. That said, I’ve drastically helped them reduce the amount of packaged goods they buy and our pantry is honestly pretty impressive! Thankfully, I have access to bulk bins at my local health food store, which greatly helps me keep my pantry plastic free. It might not be the MOST Instagram worthy pantry on the block, but it still gets the job done. I go to the bulk food store with my glass jars almost every two weeks, give or take, to refill on things. Sometimes I’ll also use my produce bags too (it depends on the items I’m grabbing). First I’ll make sure all my jars are tared, then I’ll fill them up with whatever I need. I carry them all in a cute wine bag so they stay put and don’t clink together too much. Then I get everything weighed up front and pay for it! It’s super simple, but if you’re new to bulk food shopping, I have a whole guide on how to use the bulk bins without creating any waste. Today though, lets talk about stocking your zero waste pantry!
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If you’ve always wanted a zero waste pantry, fear not! This mini guide will help show you how to get one. I cover what kind of jars I use to transport the goods, how I store them at home, and what exact food I get to stock my pantry. You’ll be set after reading this! I can’t wait to see what kind of pantry you make for yourself. Feel free to tag me in any of your pretty pantry pictures on Instagram! My handle is (@greenifyme).
First things first, lets talk about glass jars.
Having a zero waste pantry means no plastic, right? So, how do you store all that food? I bet you know the answer.
Mason jars, my friends.
Now, some people like to use the mason jars solely for purchasing the food at the store – once they get home, they empty out the food into a bigger glass canister. I think that’s really nice and works even better if you’re using produce bags at the bulk food store too.
That said, I don’t really do that. I’m not really picky or fancy.
I use a lot of salvaged, emptied out jars that used to hold tomato sauce or pickles for my pantry. Yeah, not all of them match, but I think it’s kind of cute that way. Gives character, you know? Also saves money too.
To transport my jars, I use a wine bag with dividers. I take about 6 jars with me to the bulk food store every two weeks, give or take. Some people go once a month and do a huge haul, but that doesn’t really work if you use public transportation like I do. I can only carry so much for so long, you know?
If you have a car, you can easily do a big haul once a month at the bulk food store. I recommend taking someone with you to help you carry all the bags though!
To transport your jars: Get at least ten 16 oz mason jars and ten 32 oz mason jars. That’s a good start for creating a zero waste pantry. You can transport these to and from the bulk food store with ease, especially if you pair it with a wine bag. I usually just use one wine bag, but if you’re doing a big haul, two to four wine bags are ideal.
To store your food: Once you get home from the bulk food store, you can transfer your goods to bigger containers, specifically glass canisters. This will free up your mason jars for use. I personally don’t do this – I just stick the jars into the pantry as is. But to each their own, right?
If you do want to transfer your food to glass canisters, here are some I recommend getting:
- 4 Piece Glass Canister Set with Stainless Steel Lids
- 4 Piece Airtight Acrylic Canister Set
- Glass Airtight Canister Set with Airtight Clamp Caps
- Glass Gallon Canister
Any one of these will make great additions to your pantry. It all depends on the look you’re going for.
Also, some people like to label their jars using a sharpie or stickers. There are some cute chalk board stickers you can get, and using a chalk board marker you can write the contents inside. Some people like to use letter stickers as well.
It’s up to you – I usually just leave mine blank because I remember what’s in them. Plus, stickers will eventually become waste so I try to avoid them when possible.
Once you know how you want your pantry to look, it’s time to stock up! This is the best part of course, because – food, duh.
Hit up your bulk food store utilizing your mason jars, wine bag, and sharpie. I usually take just one wine bag and about 6 jars with me, but if you’re doing a big haul to fill up your pantry, you’ll definitely need to bring more jars than that.
Grab as many wine bags and containers as you need. Heck, throw some produce bags in there too while you’re at it.
I also recommend making a list of the items you want to stock up on before you go. If you’ve never shopped at a bulk food store before, here’s a guide to navigating the bulk bins without creating waste.
Now, without further ado, here are some zero waste pantry staples you should consider grabbing.
I’m obsessed with oats. I go through them like crazy. It’s definitely the biggest staple in my zero waste pantry. Sometimes, I’ll go to the bulk food store JUST to stock up on oats. That’s how much of them I eat. I also have been eating a lot of wild rice and quinoa lately – it’s so good! I’ll put quinoa in my salads, or use it to make a stir fry. Wild rice makes a great side dish for dinner too. And I’m in love with popcorn – it makes such a healthy snack so I scoop them up all the time at the bulk store!
I really love red lentils. My mom makes a KILLER red lentil soup, so I make sure to grab plenty of red lentils for her at the bulk food store! Also, I have a whole bunch of dried chickpeas I got from the bulk food store sitting in my pantry – I want to make roasted chickpeas with them! Just have to stop being lazy and soak them overnight first…I’d also love to make some homemade hummus with them too!
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Coconut shreds
- Bread crumbs
- Chocolate chips
- Cocoa powder
I really love baking but don’t do it too much because I try to limit the amount of processed foods I eat. Still, it’s always a good idea to have a few baking staples around the house! I make absolutely AMAZING chocolate chip cookies. Seriously, they’re the best – soft and chewy, not burnt or overcooked. At some point, I really have to share the recipe with all of you. You’ll die once you taste these. But I digress… Essentially, I make sure I always have sugar, flour, baking soda and chocolate chips on hand. That way, if a special occasion pops up, I can easily make my famous chocolate chip cookies!
Spices + dried herbs
- Garlic powder
- Nutritional yeast
- Chile powder
- Onion powder
I use a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg to make my oats, so those are two staples I always have to have on hand. Also, salt, pepper and garlic powder are necessities in my cooking! So I’m always sure to stock up on those. Did you know you could make your own vanilla extract? If you’re lucky enough to find vanilla beans whole at your bulk food store, I’d say give it a try (zero waste chef has an amazing vanilla extract recipe on her blog).
Nuts + Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
I love eating seeds and nuts! They’re so good for you. I literally have a stash of walnuts in my pantry just for when PMS and cramps set in. They’re supposed to be really good for helping your body deal with that, and so far it’s been working. Also, I have a stash of pumpkin seeds I like to eat at night to promote a good night’s sleep. Plus, pumpkin seeds contain zinc which works wonders on your skin and helps clear up acne! I love adding them to my oats in the morning as well. I still want to try making my own nut butter – specifically peanut butter. I’ve made cashew milk and almond milk before, using what I’ve purchased from the bulk food store.
- Maple syrup
I got a whole stash of dates sitting in my pantry right now. They’re just waiting for me to use them. They make excellent additions to smoothies or homemade nut milks. I also love using them to make vegan truffles! They are to die for. I make a batch and give them to my boyfriend every Valentine’s Day – it’s kind of our tradition. If you want the recipe to that, check out my ebook How to Reduce Food Waste. It’s on page 71. You’ll thank me later!
Also, if you’re lucky enough to have maple syrup, honey and agave in bulk, I envy you! I don’t, but I know places that do, which is why I listed them here. Instead, I get my honey from a local vendor at the farmers market. It comes in glass jars I can reuse once emptied!
Teas + coffee
- Raspberry leaf
- Earl grey
- Rose hip
- Coffee beans
As an avid tea drinker, I definitely stock up on loose leaf tea a lot. I love grabbing chamomile, lavender, raspberry leaf and hibiscus the most. My folks are the ones who drink coffee. I once bought a French roast coffee blend for my father from the bulk food store and he really loved it. I have to get it for him again soon. My bulk food store has a wide array of coffees to choose from! They don’t have as many teas though, sadly. Still, I make do! I love drinking the chamomile at night – sometimes I’ll blend it with the lavender for extra soothing properties. I also drink the raspberry leaf specifically when I’m pmsing or have cramps – works wonders and lasts a while that way!
Sauces, oils + vinegar
- Olive oil
- Grapeseed oil
- White vinegar
- Apple cider vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Sesame oil
- Fish sauce
- Avocado oil
- Soy sauce
I sadly do not have access to any sauces or vinegar in bulk. I wish! Still, I know plenty of bulk food stores that sell them so I figured I might as well list them. If you’re like me and don’t have access to something in bulk, make do by purchasing it in a glass container you can reuse! Or, find it in compostable packaging. For sauces, I usually just buy them in glass jars. I do have access to olive oil in bulk – but I have to go to another store entirely to get it, which is kind of annoying. Still, good to have an option for that since I use a lot of olive oil!
- Yogurt/Chocolate covered pretzels
- Chocolate snacks
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruit
I wouldn’t say I’m a huge snacker, but every once and a while I do like to have something to nom on. I try to keep it as healthy as possible. If I’m not reaching for fresh fruit, then I’ll go for pretzels or chips. We get these amazing tortilla chips at a local Mexican restaurant that fills them up in bulk for us. I pair them with my homemade zero waste salsa all the time and it’s the bomb. But, I’ll also snack on popcorn, yogurt/chocolate covered pretzels, raisins, seeds and nuts. It all depends on what’s in the house and what I’m in the mood for. My bulk food store also sells an assortment of chocolate snacks. In fact, they have a lot of snacks in bulk now that I think about it. It’s so tempting. For more zero waste snack ideas, check out these 33 plastic free snacks.
What are you zero waste pantry essentials? Did you find this guide helpful?
For more zero waste kitchen tips, check out my favorite zero waste farmers market essentials, or these handy zero waste kitchen swaps.
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