A Low Waste Shopper's Guide to Getting Through the Checkout Line Efficiently

Whether you are brand new to bulk shopping, or you're a seasoned pro trying out a new grocery store, low waste grocery shopping can be pretty intimidating! Aside from the uncertainty of whether the clerk will be receptive to your mason jars, there's the possibility that it will take way too long to check out, and a line of impatient shoppers will accumulate behind you. It gets easier the more you do it. But, if you're not interested in enduring a few awkward trips while you settle into your groove, here are some steps you can take to ensure all goes smoothly.

Before Heading to the Grocery Store

If you have a scale at home, write the tare weight on your heavy containers before heading to the grocery store. If you don’t have a scale, you can do this at the grocery store. Different stores may use different units of measure, so if you’re in the U.S., we recommend including the weight in both pounds and ounces. There are several ways you can mark your tare:

Labels -- I use a label-maker and the labels stay on in the dishwasher! I like using labels because these are easy for the cashier to see and read.
Permanent marker -- This works well because it will stay put while you are grocery shopping. If you ever want to remove the tare weight, you can clean permanent marker off of glass with rubbing alcohol.
Chalk pen or pencil -- This is the easiest to clean off, so be careful - it might rub off while you are grocery shopping!
Determine how you will record bulk ID numbers. Here are three methods:
  • Make a grocery list and write the bulk ID numbers next to each item as you fill-up. This will take a bit longer, as you will need to hunt through your list as the cashier is weighing your items, meaning that you will have to pay and/or bag your groceries at the very end - prolonging the checkout process.
  • Take photos of the bulk IDs with your phone. Again, you'll have to hunt through your phone pictures while you're at the checkout line.
  • Bring a chalk pen or pencil and write the bulk ID number directly on the container. This will make for a faster checkout, but be careful - chalk easily rubs off. Lost number = longer checkout.
Gather the goods. Depending on your taring and bulk ID marking method, this might include:
  • Grocery bags
  • Bottle grocery bags (perfect for glass bulk containers)
  • Grocery list and a pen (or record it in your phone - zero waste style)
  • Chalk pen/pencil
  • Permanent marker
  • Glass jars
  • Funnel
  • Produce bags

While in the Store

If you’re using a chalk pen/pencil for the tare weight or bulk ID number, take care to make sure it doesn’t rub off of your jars while handling or in the cart.

If you’re filling up from the salad bar, write “salad bar” on the jar. This way you will avoid a question from the cashier that could distract you from your loading/bagging/paying duties.

While Checking Out

Keep all of the bulk items together. This will help the cashier establish a rhythm when they are weighing bulk items versus scanning bar-codes for non-bulk items. I usually place the bulk items on the conveyor first to give the cashier and the folks behind me in line an idea of what they are getting in to.

Help with bagging. The cashier is putting in a little more effort to weigh your bulk items, so cut them some slack and do the bagging.

Be extra nice. If it’s taking a little longer, throw in a “thank you” to the cashier and a “sorry” to the folks behind you.


Pat yourself on the back. It’s a little more work to shop in bulk, but it’s so worth it! And if you hear any comments like “I’ve never seen someone do this before,” you can pat yourself on the back twice for exposing someone new to low waste grocery shopping!

If you have any low waste shopping tips and tricks, we'd love to hear from you! And don't forget to sign up for our newsletter for updates on new blog posts, low waste swaps, and the shop launch.


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