Going Zero Waste: A Beginner’s Guide for Busy Portland Moms


You’re busy. You’re not sure you have the time, energy, or finances to live zero waste. I get it. But we can all start somewhere. Introducing even small lifestyle changes in the daily whirlwind can feel so good. Not to mention, reducing waste will save you money and contribute to a healthier planet for your little people to enjoy as they grow.

Zero Waste ContainersWhen you take the garbage and recycling out to the curb each week, do you ever get a nagging feeling about how much your family produces in just one week? My husband and I do. So some years back we decided to do our best to do something about it. Now our family of six strives to live more sustainably, and be more conscious of the resources we use. We want to be mindful of the environmental factors associated with the products we buy and the production, processing, and packaging of the food we consume.

One aspect of our lifestyle is working towards producing less garbage, and eventually becoming zero-waste as a family. Maybe you’ve heard of this movement, and perhaps you’re curious if this could be feasible for your family. Or maybe this is the first time this idea has come on your radar?

So, What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste maximizes recycling, minimizes waste, reduces consumption, and ensures that products are made to be reused, repaired, or recycled back into nature or the marketplace. Here are my top five, super easy first steps to help you reduce your family’s waste. If you can do some of these things most of the time, then you truly are making a difference.

1. Swap Plastic Grocery Bags for Cloth

Bring your own reusable shopping bags to every store. By using your own bags you may save 5-10 plastic bags per shop! Take it one step further by using cloth or mesh mini-bags to use instead of the plastic ones provided when buying your fruits and vegetables. 

2. Use Re-Usable Water Bottles & Bring a Thermos for Tea and Coffee

Ah water and coffee, the lifeblood and survival essentials of a busy, exhausted mom. Not only will you reduce the waste caused by plastic water bottles and paper/foam coffee cups, many coffee shops offer a discount if you bring your own container!

3. Use Litterless Lunch Boxes

Not just for the kiddies. Pack yourself a lunch or snack for the day out. It saves you money to eat the healthy snacks you buy in bulk for your children’s lunches, and you create less trash and eat healthier by avoiding something prepackaged.

4. Ditch Paper Towels, Napkins, and Baby Wipes for Cloth

By using cloth napkins and wash cloths to wipe your little people’s sticky fingers and bums, and clean your counter tops, you save money and produce less rubbish for the landfill.

5. Choose Products with Less Packaging

Easy-peasy. Choose products with less/no packaging by buying in bulk using your own, reusable bags.

Feeling inspired to start a journey to producing zero waste? As a vegan, consignment store junkie, it is a joy for me to explore the wealth of amazing local stores in Portland. Here are my top tips about where to shop in our city, and for more, check out The Zero Waste PDX resource map.

Food and Produce

New seasons, Whole foods, and Fred Meyer all have bulk sections and excellent organic options. In my experience, each store’s willingness to allow you to use your own bags/jars can vary. Always good practice to ask first.

Food Cooperatives

Simply take your own cloth bags or mason jars, weigh them prior to filling, and shop away. My faves are: Alberta Cooperative Grocery, Food Front Cooperative Grocery, Peoples Food Co-op, and Know Thy Food. Not only are dry goods available in bulk in these stores, but they have a large selection of liquids, honey, maple syrup, as well as natural household cleaning products. Member receive significant discounts.

Note: During COVID, some places are not allowing bulk refills. Please call ahead to verify.

Farmers Markets

What better way to spend an early weekend morning or late afternoon with a wicker basket flung over your shoulder? Not only is the produce super fresh, you are supporting local farms. And if you take your own bags or basket, it can be a garbage-free haul! Portland Saturday Market is a great place to purchase locally-made, sustainable products and cosmetics.

Pick-Your-Own Farms

Take your own containers and head to your favorite u-pick farm for fresh fruits, berries, and vegetables.
Note: Please read up on COVID safety precautions during u-pick season; many are not allowing you to bring your own container.

Bob’s Red Mill

They have an enormous bulk section, plus all their grains are available in large sacks. If you take your own reusable containers, jars, or plastic storage containers you receive a 40% discount on the product!

Scrap PDX

A family favorite, you’ll find reused materials for every arts and crafts project imaginable.

How do you and your family try to minimize an impact on the environment? Do you have a favorite zero-waste shop?

This post was originally published on August 8, 2017, and has been updated with some COVID information in 2021.


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