Zero Waste Etiquette


There are a few unwritten etiquette rules that I feel *should* be written down- In the hopes that it would make this lifestyle a bit easier to navigate.

  1. Be respectful of bulk bins

Every time I found a new bulk place I danced with joy- spying a couple of open sacks of grain or a couple of big tubs at the back of a random store really made my day. What doesn’t make my day is seeing the way some people behave around bulk bins. I’ve seen bin lids left open/ left off and scoops not replaced properly or wiped as per the store’s policy. My pet peeve- watching people use the bulk bins as their free-for-all snack trough. I’m sure you’ve seen this- Adults reaching in to bulk bins to pull out handfuls of lollies and nuts without even using the provided scoops. Adults encouraging their young children to reach in and grope around the mixed lolly bulk bin with their hands and put them directly into their mouths. One woman putting her handbag on an open sack of mung beans so she could tie her shoelaces- really?! The main gripe that non-zero waste people have with bulk bins are that they are dirty- and I totally understand. After seeing this behaviour in action myself I do sometimes get squeamish with bulk bins- thank goodness I have an iron stomach and have no dietary intolerances. I’m the one you see wandering around Goodies and Grains tut-tutting and closing all the bulk bins that have been left open.

I am however rather non-confrontational in public spaces, so as yet have not worked up the courage to call someone out  on their bad behaviour around my beloved bulk bins. I get upset because this is where my food comes from- it’s not a store prop or novelty for me. Bulk places are scarce enough, to have people dirty your restricted food sources does hurt my feelings. It’s like as if I wandered into someone’s bomb shelter, opened their cans of baked beans and stuck my hands inside all the cans and swirled them around. And tasted some. Ok, not as dramatic, but similar nonetheless.

The other reason to be respectful and tidy is that it means you respect the businesses that support bulk bins- It is extra work for them, and they have to do more cleaning to ensure they maintain hygiene standards. If people are sloppy, make messes, contaminate entire bins, they may be less inclined to maintain their bulk shopping system. And it doesn’t just affect zero-wasters, it affects everyone as whole. We want to be creating more and more opportunities for bulk shopping for “newbies”, not make it less accessible/ off-putting due to contamination concerns

2. Keep your containers clean

A local business once told me that the reason they stopped accepting people’s own containers were because people were handing over *dirty* containers- think containers with no lids for wet goods, unclean containers with all manner of stuff stuck on them. Due to health and safety concerns (risk of contamination of their food prep sites) they were forced to implement a rule that they could not accept containers anymore, which is really disappointing. Again- bringing clean containers to a business is a mark of respect for them. I make sure my containers are clean with secure lids, and I carry my KeepCup in a home made bento bag to keep dust and fluff out of it. It’s about supporting the businesses who support us 🙂

3. Wear lipstick

You can take this one with a grain of salt. If I know that I’m going to approach a cheese or deli counter, or a new butcher/ fishmonger peddling my containers, I do make sure that I look a bit put together- I leave my glasses off, I leave the RBF (Resting Bitch Face) at home, and I put some lippy on and smile- I’ve realised that the times when I showed up sweaty with messy hair and smelling like Hulk Hogan’s gym sock- 9 times out of 10 I was knocked back. Is it sexist? Maybe- not to me. It’s like turning up to an important job interview- you wouldn’t turn up looking unkempt and scattered, would you? Exude success! It’s like how Bea Johnson would have her way of acting super casual at cheese counters, waving at items, like she’s done this forever and it’s the norm- it does work! Once you start mumbling and fumbling it’s pretty much game over. If you say loud and clear: “Can you put this container on the scale and either tare or zero it, and weigh me out 500g of mince with no plastic bag please”, you’ll have more success I’ve found. But it does take practice.

4. Accept gracious defeat

Sometimes, despite your best winning smile and interpretative “how to zero containers” dance, they will say no. Be polite and thank them for their trouble. If it’s too late and they’ve already gotten confused and put my items in a plastic bag I’ll take it rather than risk it being thrown out (and wash and recycle the plastic bag at home). Your options are to slink home and never ever try again, or work up the courage to sidle in again on a different day (I’m looking at you, Frewville Foodland!

5. Praise, support, promote

I feel strongly about this. When I shop at businesses that support and share my values, I make it known to them. I always thank them for letting me use my containers, because I know it is more effort for them to tare and subtract weights. I support them by holding out or going without an item until I can get back in to shop with them, rather than go 5 minutes down the road to pick something up at the supermarket. I tell anyone who will listen about them, I blog and Instagram about them.

Now get out there and zero-waste like the gracious Southern Belle you are 😉

Lisa xx

3 thoughts on “Zero Waste Etiquette

  1. Love your list! I’m not sure about the lipstick (!), but I do think that smiling, being friendly and not asking when you have three people queuing behind you (let them go first!), and having total confidence that this is completely acceptable behaviour. I can honestly say I’ve never been refused in 3.5 years (although there was one incident where a fishmonger could not grasp what I wanted, and put the fish in a plastic bag before putting in my container – I demanded it back and left the store cross and empty-handed!) That said, if someone did say no I wouldn’t stand there and argue. I’ve had a couple of people be hesitant before, and I explained that I do it all the time, and they graciously helped me.

    Regarding clean containers, it definitely helps if you have glass and not plastic ,as glass just looks cleaner. You know when you see other people’s tupperware, it always looks kinda grimy? Sticking with glass is a safer bet : )


    1. Haha thank you! Yes, having lippy on isn’t for everyone 😉 I definitely try to approach places at times when I know it will be quiet- if I’m feeling rushed or guilty I know I’ll just end up mumbling ! I haven’t had the courage to refuse produce that has already been wrapped for me. We have a fishmonger who will use a plastic bag to weigh our produce and reuse it for someone else.

      I have found that if I explain it to a new clerk that “I do it here all the time”, or “I go to this other supermarket as well and they always do this for me” it seems to go well. Bonus is that they get to know you- even if it *is* as the crazy chick with all her containers- and start getting the routine down pat.

      I also sometimes send my partner to do the shopping separately- so that maybe people will think there is more than one person doing it and that it’s catching on 😉

      I definitely bring glass for deli counter stuff like cheese/ olives etc. I still have Tupperware that usually gets reserved for “dirtier” things like meat and fish- I find that most butchers aren’t delicate flowers about things like pretty containers 🙂 I’m still attached to my plastic Tupperware though (despite a good Pyrex collection), and plan to use it until it breaks, mainly because I know it’s unlikely to be bought by anyone in thrift stores, and don’t have the heart to throw it out just yet


  2. Hi Lisa!
    I’m an American uni student studying abroad here in Australia, learning about all sorts of sustainability and environmental issues. I’m looking to do a research project on zero waste in Adelaide during the month of April, and was wondering if you wanted to connect if the project goes through! I would love to get some insights on your progress 🙂


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