COVID zero waste tactics
Zero waste shopping

10 Zero Waste Tactics for a Global Pandemic (COVID-19)

Let’s face the elephant in the room: zero waste has become significantly harder during the pandemic.

COVID zero waste tactics
No social distancing here by this elephant in the room – must have been taken before the pandemic.
Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash

For starters, all bulk shopping sections I know have been abolished for the time being. That makes buying pantry staples without packaging significantly harder. Coffee shops have stopped accepting customers’ reusable coffee cups.

And because COVID-19 doesn’t look like it’s leaving us any time soon, I’ve put together 10 zero waste tactics that still work during a pandemic.

COVID-19: 10 Zero Waste hacks that still work in a pandemic

1. Continue to use your reusable shopping bag

Initially, all grocery stores banned the use of reusable shopping bags in California. This has luckily been reversed and single-use plastic bags are banned once again; if you forget your reusable bag, you’ll be charged $0.10 for a reusable plastic bag.

As far as I’m aware, only Trader Joe doesn’t allow shoppers to bring their reusable bags into their stores. They have installed a packing station outside for customers to unload their shopping trolleys and baskets into their shops.

Reusable shopping bag for zero waste shopping
This would be my favorite reusable shopping bag!
Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

2. Buy unpackaged fruit & vegetables

Just as pre-COVID, buying unpackaged fruit & vegetables is one of the easiest, healthiest, and cheapest zero waste hacks. It means you can buy as many or as little produce as you need, avoiding food waste.

If you can manage to buy them from your local farmers market – even better: that way you can support local farmers.

Organic veg at Fremont farmers market
Fremont Kaiser Permanente Farmers Market

3. Order from online zero waste shops like Zero (groceries) or (household products)

The online shopping revolution has arrived with eco-conscious consumers. Some pioneering businesses in the Bay Area are trying very hard to marry the convenience of online (grocery) shopping with the clean conscience of a zero waste lifestyle.

Zero will bring you your favorite brands in jars, tiffins, boxes, and any other sustainable packaging that can be returned. They will then clean the reusable packaging to FDA standards. offers a similar system for beauty, personal hygiene, and cleaning products.

4. When buying food in plastic packaging, look for giant packages

This one isn’t ideal, but it follows the logic of the penguin: the bigger the inside, the smaller the outside (did you know that the largest penguins, the Emperor Penguins, live near the South Pole where it’s coldest? That’s because the bigger they are, the less exposure their outside has to the cold… don’t ask me to prove this math to you!)

Emperor penguin small surface area to volume ratio
The Emperor Penguin knows a thing or two about the benefits of large packages.
Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

So, you may want to consider reviving your Costco membership to buy large quantities of non-perishable food to reduce the overall amount of packaging (but look closely – often Costco will have smaller packaged segments within a large package, defeating the objective…).

5. Start a bulk buying club

Related to 4. above – if you’re concerned about food waste, or can’t possibly munch your way through 20 lbs of oats, then consider sharing the load with your community – friends, neighbors, family, etc.

Surprisingly, Amazon offers quite a few pantry staples in large packaging. Or consider getting a large bag of rice from your favorite Asian store. Or a barrel of wine or cask of beer from your winery/brewery of choice. No judgment.

Just google “Wholesale Groceries” to find a suitable wholesaler to order from.

6. Share, swap, and barter with your community

I feel like COVID has brought our community closer together. There were lots of initiatives of neighbors helping neighbors with food shopping or mask making.

And lots of people are using the extra time to clear out their households. Rather than putting the excess stuff in the trash, people have taken it to the local thrift stores (once they re-opened), or put it on local Nextdoor or Facebook market places or buy nothing new groups.

Free boxes for Nextdoor
I put these boxes that came as the packaging with some organic bedding (one of the few things we buy new) on Facebook marketplace for free and they were gone within hours.

Check out those groups for freebies or for sharing your surplus items.

7. Wear a reusable mask

Ok, given you’re reading this blog, I assume you’re already wearing reusable masks. If not, then please put on your single-use mask now, pull it out away from your nose and let it snap right back into your face.

zero waste masks for covid
I made a bunch of reusable masks for family, friends & neighbors

8. Use soap and shampoo bars

Luckily, soap and shampoo bars are items we can still buy without packaging. Use soap bars from everything from washing hands to washing up. There are great shampoo and even conditioner bars out there that can help reduce the plastic waste from our bathrooms.

Jennifer Luis zero waste shampoo bars
The best shampoo bars in the world from Jennifer Luis Haircare
(only available in the UK at this stage, sorry!)

9. Make your own

Use the spare time (if you have any) to start making stuff that you would otherwise buy in plastic packaging.

Food examples include yogurt, bread, or pickling/fermenting. For household products, try making your own vinegar solution and scouring paste.

10. Grow your own

A close cousin to 9. above: if you have even a minimum of space, you can start growing your own green/spring onions or herbs. If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony or garden, have a go at growing fruits and vegetables. A loofah makes a great washing-up sponge!

Loofah sponge makes great zero waste washing up sponge
Loofah or Luffa is a genus of tropical and subtropical vines in the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae), according to Wiki. I’d say it’s a genius when it comes to washing up.
Image by Jan Helebrant from Pixabay

These are 10 zero waste tactics you can still apply during the Pandemic (COVID-19)

I hope this list was helpful, if certainly not exhaustive. Which zero waste tactics have you been able to maintain or take up since lockdown? Let me know in the comments. Cheers, Bettina

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