Why Shop at Zero Waste Grocery Store or Community Co-op?

Zero Waste Grocery Store: The Community Co-op

We've learned how much packaging and shipping contribute to waste and carbon footprint. The problem is, these are the modern systems that make food and basic needs conveniently available to us. Unless you live on a farm and produce your own milk or farm your own produce, it's just impossible to eliminate packaging and go totally zero-waste. 

zero waste grocery store or community co-op

But so far, we've learned that the zero-waste lifestyle isn't about being perfect. Changing gears here and there can support more sustainable initiatives. 

Enter co-op stores. While cooperatives have long existed across different sectors, grocery co-ops are here to stay. These community cooperative stores are owned by people who shop and work at the store. The key defining feature is that co-ops are owned and controlled collectively. All member customers and workers in a zero-waste grocery co-op will enjoy its revenue as well. 

Community co-ops are now being pegged as a way to reduce packaging and promote a closed-loop economy. Sure, most giant grocery chains (e.g., Whole Foods) have a bulk aisle section. Customers can weigh stuff and buy certain goods using reusable containers. This is a fantastic step towards low-impact shopping. 

But there are far more benefits to supporting a community co-op than lessening packaging waste.

If you’ve been supporting a zero-waste grocery store co-op in your town, pat yourself on the back! Co-ops come in all shapes and sizes, but they typically have three things in common: 

  • Co-ops are democratically managed - co-ops differ from how a business owned by an individual, a family, or a corporation works. Here, it's less about earning profits but more about prioritizing the consumers' needs when suppliers and operations are designed.
  • Co-op profits stay local - this means that co-ops aren't beholden to Wall Street types or corporate shareholders. Instead, the people who shop and work at the store decide what it sells, how the zero waste grocery co-op is run, and where the earnings go. Data suggests that as much as 38% of a zero-waste grocery co-op revenue is spent locally (19% on local wages alone).
  • Co-ops promote a more sustainable supply chain - a co-op grocery focuses on carrying locally farmed produce, local brands, and selling practices that promote waste reduction and less food transport. 


Why Is A Co-op Considered A Zero Waste Grocery Store?  

Zero waste is all about reducing what we consume - and co-op grocery stores are designed for that. First, their supplies are often sold in bulk. This incurs less trash for individual packaging and supports reusing existing containers. Customers can buy most goods by weighing exact amounts and placing them on their personal jars and bags. The practice cultivates buying only what you need. 

And more importantly, community co-ops source food from local farmers whenever possible. Again, local goods reduce food packaging, and also take up less footprint when you factor in shipping and storage. These are all better for the environment, especially on a larger scale.

Some zero waste grocery stores also offer compost bins. Residents have a place to bring their food scraps instead of throwing them out with the regular garbage. Food waste will end up on a farm instead of in a landfill! The closer ties to farming businesses make it possible to keep the food waste and compost accessible for those who benefit from them.


What's the Difference Between a Refillery and A Co-op?

While both types of zero waste grocery stores promote low-impact packaging, the main difference is how a co-op is managed and operated.

A refillery or a bulk bin store is a place designed to let customers fill up their own containers with food and other home items. You can buy food, home supplies, and personal care items sans packaging. There are in-store options, curbside pickup, or zero waste online stores that adopt this set-up.

These practices can also apply to most co-ops. But what separates refilleries from co-ops is the ecosystem. Individuals or corporations may own refillery shops, but co-op stores are set up and managed by local community members. There's a community aspect to all management and activities.

One co-op shopper notes that the inherent values promoted by co-ops, such as independence, solidarity, and concern for community, mirror those that we aspire in a zero-waste lifestyle.

Another difference: co-ops consider what the shoppers want to buy. The people who shop at these stores decide what's sold here. There wouldn't be any need for exotic fruits or sauces if there is no demand. The community can prioritize which supplies are available at their zero-waste grocery store. In effect, it eliminates wasted money accrued through the transport and storage of non-local products. 


Do I Have to Be A Member to Shop at a Co-op?

Anyone can shop at a community co-op - you don't have to be an owner to enjoy bulk food stores that have the best local goods and produce. And yes, it's true that sometimes products are a bit pricier than the cheapest options found in giant supermarket chains. But if your budget allows it, you'll feel better knowing that you're supporting the local farmers and smaller businesses. Even if you don't buy everything from a co-op, any support for bulk and local products is the way to go! 

Of course, there are perks to being a co-op member. In most cases, active members share in the profits and get discounts and refunds on their purchases. Members of these also have a voting capacity and say as to how these waste-free grocery stores operate and spend the profits. 

One zero-waste shop founder mentions that zero-waste grocery stores and bulk food stores have a great future ahead, thanks largely to how consumers enjoy the interaction with the products and the people behind the operations. 

And in a community co-op, there’s a much closer relationship between suppliers and consumers, while at the same time offering plastic-free options.


Choosing Co-op Means Choosing Zero Waste Grocery Store

Exercising our consumer power means supporting structures that make zero waste more accessible. A community co-op is among the available resources that could make zero-waste grocery stores the norm. 

There are wonderful benefits to a co-op bulk food store. Aside from harnessing local solidarity, co-ops can close the loop in production and consumption. In essence, they get to serve the very people who support them - while earning revenue! What better way to promote zero waste products and local economy than to give back and support each other!

Do you have a community co-op or a waste-free grocery store in your area? Tell us about it or check out our Zero Waste Store Finder right here.

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