How to Tare Jars for Zero Waste Groceries
Some of my favorite items to bring to grocery shopping are glass jars and containers. At first, I felt really intimidated—I had no clue how to shop with jars and was worried that the clerk would think I was crazy or unsanitary or just flat out reject them. It’s amazing the stories we can weave in our minds.
The first time I brought glass containers grocery shopping was at Whole Foods in Berkeley, CA. I pre-weighed each jar (this is called “taring”) and wrote the weight onto a piece of paper tape stuck on the jar. I went to their customer service desk to make sure I had done it right, which unfortunately I hadn’t. I had written the tare in ounces, whereas grocery stores need the weight in pounds. Fortunately, the WF staff were beyond nice—they re-weighed each of my jars and wrote the correct measurements on my paper tape. They even thanked me for bringing my own containers!
With a surge of confidence, I strode into the bulk section to stock up on my favorite: fresh ground almond butter. It’s made with just one ingredient, roasted almonds, with no added salt, oil or sugar. I have an addiction. Before I was zero waste, I used to go through a whole plastic tub of Whole Foods almond butter a week. One plastic tub a week! I cannot tell you how excited I was to fill up my own Le Parfait jar. I felt très élégant.
My fiancé brought a large glass container to the butcher to avoid the paper and plastic they typically wrap meats in. The butcher weighed the chicken (without the container), then placed the chicken into the container and attached a scannable sticker with the price—no taring necessary. Max was worried the macho butcher would scoff at his hippie container, but was pleasantly surprised to hear his kind words of encouragement.
When we checked out, we got even more kudos from the clerk and people standing in line behind us. We felt pretty awesome.
Now, we use glass containers every time we shop. I love them for nut butters, cheese, olives, maple syrup, honey and bulk soap.
Here are my 5 easy steps for shopping with glass jars and containers:
- Make A List. Every time before you grocery shop, make a list so you know how many containers to take and what types you need. I like to use Le Parfait latch-top jars for nut butter, olives and certain cheeses. I use a glass flask for maple syrup, glass bottles for oils and another bottle for vinegar.
- Tare (rhymes with hair) your jars with a home kitchen scale or at the customer service desk at your grocery store. You can write the weight of the jar on paper tape (compostable) or with a chalk pen directly on the glass (washable). Be sure to write the weight of your jars in pounds. You usually do not need to tare your container for the meat counter—they will use their own scale to weigh the meat before it’s placed in the container and will print the weight and price on a scannable sticker.
- Fill Jars. You got that one covered, go ‘nuts.’
- Note the PLU (price look up) code. You’ll find a unique code on each item in the bulk aisle. Either write the code onto your paper tape or with a chalk marker or you can even note the code on your phone and read them aloud to the clerk as they scan your items.
- Check Out. Read the PLUs to the clerk if you noted them on your phone and bask in the praise you receive from people standing in line. Delight in how pretty your plastic-free cupboards and fridge look.
Thank you very much for the invitation :). Best wishes.
PS: How are you? I am from France :)
Where can I find a store that let’s me fill my own honey jar with raw honey? Thank you.
Thank you for your encouragement and instructions. Any thoughts on how to handle zero waste and coffee/tea creamer? It is one items that I have struggled with trying to find a non-plastic zero waste solution. Sometimes the local grocery store will have half and half in a glass jar that I can purchase (and then return the jar) but I try to steer clear of animal products. So I’m forced to find an alternative like Almond or Soy creamer. Everything comes in plastic or cardboard cartons that cannot be recycled. Is the zero waste option really to stop using cream?
Also, any thoughts on ice cream.? Is it better to buy the carton or a plastic container that can be recycled? Or is making it from scratch the way to go? Thanks!
Jars – The one shown in the blog is a ‘le parfait’. I have these as well and they are great! Long-lasting and dishwasher safe. They are available on Amazon and sold in set. A set of 6 16 ounce ones are ~$45.00. They come in a large number of shapes and sizes. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=le+parfait+glass+jars
Hi! Where do you like to buy your jars?
This is the best bulk shopping tip I’ve ever read:
We just save gluten-free pasta (no GF pasta in bulk so far :( ) and other boxes, and cut out the pre-made labels. We keep a cardboard box in the trunk of the car with empty jars and one that need to be refilled so that we’re always ready for a grocery store trip. If you don’t have any cardboard to separate the jars, such as from an old box of wine (that used to hold bottles, not a Bota Box), putting on rubber band around the widest part of the jar seems to work for keeping them from rattling around while you’re driving.
Thank you so much. Im so in love with this. I have struggled with buying baby spinach. Seems it only comes in plastic. Do you know if I could fill my re-usable veggie bags to purchase spinach at the salad bar at WF? Or do they want you to use their containers? I can never eat the whole plastic tub before it goes south and would like to ditch the plastic at the same time.
Thank you for this article. I recently started doing this at HEB in the Houston area. The first time was effortless. I brought three mason jars and left one empty. The empty one was so that they could calibrate the tare weight on the spot and know I’m not trying to cheat them.
The first time at HEB on 1488 was pretty easy. A manager came over, helped the cashier and we were done in a jiffy. The second time at HEB on Market Street was a pain. No one knew how to subtract tare weight with the system. After trying a few different things, they ended up just subtracting the jar weight manually.
Hope to figure out how the HEB on 1488 did it so effortlessly so that I can share that method with other stores, should any issues come up. In the meantime, I’ll keep using glass mason jars. As an added bonus, keeping my bulk goods out of plastic improves taste and keeps the items fresher.
I always go shopping at the WF on Gilman in Berkeley and I’ve always wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how to do it! This post is so useful!! I’m going to try asap :D
The Whole Foods by us will no longer allow filling of jars at the bulk bins 👎🏼 Luckily our local Co-op does!
Where do you get your glass jars for syrup and oils?
Hi Laura, Such a bummer. I’ve heard that some people will reuse the plastic tubs that Whole Foods provides. Just wash them out after you’re done and bring them to the store with you. Not a perfect solution, but better than nothing.
Thank you for your blog! I have been really excited about bringing my own jars to purchase bulk items, but when I went to my local Whole Foods in northeast Ohio, they told me they can no longer allow customers to bring in their own containers due to sanitary issues. Do you have any suggestions other than finding a different store altogether? Thanks so much!
Hi Breana, Not a silly question! You do not have to weigh your jars each time so long as you have the tare labeled on the jar.
Thank you so much for sharing this process
liquor bottles wholesale
This may be a silly question. But do you have to weigh your glass jars every time you go to the store? Or could you just weigh them only once and always have the tare labeled on the jar for the future?
I just ran across this. I am so excited this article is our here helping people. I have been practicing zero watse for 35 yrs and started in natural foods co-ops, I am happy Whole Foods does this.