A Step By Step Guide To A Zero Waste Pantry (with checklist)

The kitchen brings much joy, it's a place we cook with our families, create beautiful memories around the dinner table, celebrate milestones, and create a ton of waste. The last one is a real downer when you consider how much food we are tossing into the garbage, in the USA: 108 billion pounds and in Canada: 5 billion pounds, and how much plastic waste we are creating? In the USA: 27 million tonnes and in Canada: 3 million tonnes. Two reasons why a zero waste pantry might be an essential step to living a more zero waste life.

A good recipe for a zero waste kitchen is learning what can and can't be composted, using the right kinds of indoor compost bins, choosing environmentally friendly garbage bags, and using paper-towel alternatives. All of these little eco actions add up over time and once you start doing them they just become habits. A no-waste pantry takes a little time in the beginning, but before you know it, you will be well on your way!

What is a zero waste pantry?

First, do you know what the 5R's of zero waste are? It's a good place to start on your low waste journey. The 5 R's are reduce, refuse, recycle, rot and reuse. In this post, we will be focusing on REUSE because a waste-free waste pantry is one that uses as little plastic as possible to store food.

Shopping for food that does not come in single-use plastic can be challenging thanks to limited access to better alternatives like paper or glass (which also have an impact on the environment) and are a little pricer than their plastic counterparts, and since most people are trying to save as much money as possible in our current state of inflation and soaring prices across the board, I get it, sometimes plastic seems like a better option.

But, a zero waste pantry is all about shopping in bulk, saving you time and money!

What are the benefits of a zero waste pantry?

  1. By trying to eliminate as much plastic as possible you are indirectly helping to reduce the amount of fossil fuel you use daily. We all have a fossil fuel footprint, we drive, use electricity, and own lots of things, all of which are created using fossil fuels. Virgin plastic, which is what most plastic things are made of is cheap, durable, and versatile BUT comes from the fossil fuel industry (burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change), and to make matters worse, recycling rates are super low ☹️.
  2. Shopping in bulk and reducing food waste go hand in hand. Bulk shopping allows you to buy only what you need. Have you ever bought an ingredient where the recipe calls for a third of it and you end up having to throw the rest of it out? You'd be shocked how common this is.
  3. Items like spices, seasoning, protein powder and even cleaning ingredients like baking soda are much cheaper at a bulk store.

How to set up your zero waste pantry step-by-step

  1. Clear out your pantry, and remove everything. Look at the expiry dates on spices, seasonings, oils, etc. If it's old, put it in the compost bin. If you have items you know you are not going to use again, get rid of them. If they are unopened and non-perishable donate them or toss them. No point hanging on.
  2. If you are throwing any items out, like spices, wash and keep the jars, they are perfect for shopping in the bulk section.
  3. Give your pantry a good clean using natural cleaning products.
  4. Place all the items you have left back into the pantry.
  5. Shop your home for old jars and containers, some examples include peanut butter jars, jam jars, plastic take-out containers, pickle jars, pasta sauce jars, etc.
  6. Make a list of the most common items you buy and think about which containers you have already that can be used to store them.
  7. Take into account the size of your pantry and how many reusable jars it can actually hold.
  8. Go shopping, jump to the shopping list.
  9. When you get home transfer the goods from bags to jars, this makes it easier to see how much you have left of any given item and air-tight glass jars keep food fresher longer, which saves you money!

Best Zero Waste Containers

Before you head to the local bulk shop you want to make sure you have all the right containers to transport to the shop.


Glass is one option, but it's heavy and there is a risk of breakage during transportation. REUSE what you have if you need new jars, I highly recommend you go with mason jars, 16oz and 32oz are ieal. DO NOT BUY new ones, shop at your local thrift shop or check out Facebook Market place. If you are using glass jars when you shop, use a bag with wine dividers.

Reusable Cloth Produce Bags

These are essential for a zero waste pantry and you will need a few to get you from the store and back. You will also want to have a selection of sizes for the different foods you are buying. Good produce bags are made from cotton (preferably organic cotton), not nylon. The size of the bag will depend on what you are buying but honestly, there are no absolute rules here. Use the bigger bags for things like legumes, rice, pasta, etc., and the smaller bags for spices, nuts, seeds, etc. Do what you feel is more comfortable for YOU!

Don't want to spend money, no problem, you can make your own reusable produce bags!

Corn Maize Bean Green Apple Ripe Apricot in Bag, Peanuts Nuts Peas Buckwheat in Closed Glass Bottle on Kitchen table. Pin

You can also use these to shop at the grocery store for items like leafy greens, fruits, veggies, and even bread. Eco-Friendly pantry storage is essential to your overall success.

The Green Jar shop is an online bulk shop where you can find all these types of essentials! They are 100% package-free and have a mission to eliminate single-use plastics by offering package-free products that are compostable, recyclable, biodegradable, or can be re-purposed in a way that supports a circular economy. Their refillery offers safe, plant-based options for home and care products in bulk form, giving the consumer the freedom to buy just what they need, thereby reducing household waste. Their recycling partnerships have helped to divert hundreds of thousands of hard-to-recycle plastics and textile waste from landfills.

Their 2 Pack Cotton Mesh Produce Bags are reusable & durable, these mesh cotton produce bags are the perfect answer for customers that want to store their fruits and vegetables with efficiency and sustainability. Each set contains 2 bags and is wrapped together with a recyclable and compostable kraft paper sleeve.

For other zero-waste panty, essentials make sure to:

mesh produce bags that can be used in a zero waste pantry.Pin
Image: The Green Jar

Plastic Take Out Containers

WHAT! Yep, you read that right! Keep all of your plastic takeout containers, especially the black ones which are not accepted at most recycling faculties. These pesky plastic containers make the perfect zero waste food storage. They are super light, you can stack them in a bag, wash them and reuse them. This video shows you how easy this is!

How To Shop At A Bulk Shop

  • Step 1: Make a shopping list
  • Step 2: Get all your jars, bags, and containers ready
  • Step 3: When you get to the shop, get your containers weighed (this is called the tare)
  • Step 4: Fill the jars.... go nuts!
  • Step 5: When you get home transfer the goods from bags to jars
  • Step 6: Use an erasable marker and write the date of purchase on the jar

What To Shop For At A Bulk Store

Did you know you can even Buy Bulk Organic Food Online? It's a great alternative for people who may not have access to a bulk shop. But if you do, this is typically what a shopping list might look like:

Legumes or beans of all kinds: black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, and peanuts. All of these make for some of the best zero-waste recipes. They are also plant-based, a great option if you are trying to reduce meat consumption. Store in mason jars.

Grains: the sky is the limit for rice, flour, cereal, pasta (all shapes), noodles, and quinoa. These are staples in most homes and the recipes are endless. Store in mason jars.


Nuts: Remember what I said earlier. GO NUTS. Nuts can be used to make everything from homemade granola to salad toppings. Look for walnuts, pecans, cashews, and almonds (both can be used to make your own milk). Seasmane seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, you name it! Store in smaller mason jars.

Spices/dried herbs: Spices are life. They can make the blandest recipe into the most flavourful one! Garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, cumin, turmeric, basil, salt, and pepper just to name a few. Store in salvaged glass spice jars.

Baking: If you love to bake you can find baking soda, flour, cocoa, chocolate chips, sugar, and cornmeal. Store in an airtight jar.

Oils and Vinegar: Cooking essentials like olive oil, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, tamari, and soy sauce. Store in an air-tight bottle or jar.

Tea/Coffee: You can find chai tea, chamomile tea, early grey, and all kinds of coffee beans. Store in an air-tight bottle or jar.

Natural sweeteners: Honey, maple syrup, and dates. Store in an air-tight bottle or jar.

Make sure you download the free checklist, just click the image above.

Tips for bulk shopping at a grocery store

Get to know the bulk section, more and more we are seeing bulk options in bigger grocery chains. Sometimes they are more limited in what they offer. If your bulk section needs work, you might have to shop for those items in another store. Health food stores typically have good options. I know bulk shopping is a privilege and if you don't have access to one, it's okay.

There are other ways to have success. Buy items that come in glass, aluminum, or cardboard. And also think about what you might be able to make yourself, eg: Hummus, guacamole, nut milk, etc. There are a ton of recipes online. If you must buy plastic, look for the number 1 or 2 on the container, these have higher recycling rates.

Another tip, if you buy yogurt, don’t buy 6 single little plastic containers, rather buy a large container that you can divvy up at home. This way you are only thrown out one container, not six.

Sticking to the produce section will also help you reduce the waste you bring into the home. Remember you are working towards simplifying your life, buying less means you save more money and when you apply these tips you tend to eat better as well. And think of this: purchasing oatmeal from the bulk bins saves 5 times the waste of its packaged equivalent

Zero Waste Pantry Storage Tips

As mentioned earlier, it's a good idea to write the purchase date on your reusable containers when you are packing your food away. Most pantry items do well stored in a cool, dark place in air-tight jars and containers. You don't want your rice or cereal to go stale before you use it. The same goes for your spices. A lot of people think they last forever, they don't. Keeping your produce fresh with proper zero waste food storage ensures less food waste and that's what a zero waste kitchen is all about!

And thanks to The Green Jar, you can keep your food fresher longer and will also ensure nothing leaks. If you have a ton of mason jars without tops, we highly recommend these Leak Proof Platinum Silicone Sealing Lid Liners for Mason Jars! Mason jar lids: either leak (like the plastic Ball lids), or they are not food safe (like many decorative lids). These flat, round discs solve both problems! The food only comes in contact with silicone, and they make many lids airtight and watertight.

A glass mason jar with a silicone lid on it. Pin
Image: The Green Jar

Some of the many uses for these silicone sealing lid liners:

  • Replace rusted metal flat lids
  • Make lids airtight
  • Make lids leakproof
  • Make lids food safe
  • Prevent food contact with plastic or tin
  • Line a straw hole lid for transport or storage
  • Line any type of cut-out lid for candles or food

Any odor will disappear after washing them or letting them air out in sunlight

A final word on a zero waste pantry

With anything when it comes to going green it takes time and patience. Rome was not built in a day. When you begin your low waste pantry journey, keep that in mind. And while you are at it, try zero waste cleaning and these cooking tips to help you reduce energy and save some cash!

What does your pantry look like? What's your journey been like? Share in the comments. If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – help me to help others 🙂!


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