How to buy food without packaging

The what, how and where of shopping ‘package free’ in Bendigo

How do you shop package free in Bendigo when; Woolworths and Coles won’t accept reusable containers at their delis (despite previously doing so), there’s only one shop selling dry goods without packaging and it’s organic so is not affordable for many people, and online shopping often means extra packaging? The reality is that in Bendigo we can’t get everything we need or want package free, but there’s a lot we can.

What we buy without packaging

We buy meat, poultry, fish, fruit, vegetables, bread, nuts, dried fruit, seeds and lollies all without packaging in Bendigo. You can also purchase honey, olive oil, peanut butter and Kombucha package free. You can also get some takeaway foods package free. Here is a photo of a grocery shop from late 2017 that was almost package free – I couldn’t resist the 89 cent punnets of strawberries, we had run out of spices and we needed Ibuprofen (these days I buy Herron Ibuprofen tabsules in a bottle from Chemist Warehouse – cheaper than Herron from the supermarket and the bottle is fully recyclable).


How we buy food without packaging

We usually only shop once a week. We always carry our reusable produce bags and some plastic or glass containers in our reusable grocery bags.

If using a bag, you can usually just put the product (fruit, veg, nuts) in the bag yourself. At the bakery however, you’ll need to let the sales assistant know you want your bread in the bag/container before they slice it.

If using a container, we try to remember to explain to the sales assistant that we are avoiding plastic bags and we’d like to use our own container. The assistant should place the container on the scales, tare the weight of the container and then add the product so that you do not pay for your container weight.

Is this even legal?

The short answer is yes, a business can allow you to use your own container if they think it is reasonably clean. Businesses can refuse a customer’s container if they do not think it is clean enough for food to be placed in, or merely as a business decision. The businesses listed below all accept clean reusable bags and containers. If an employee at one of these, or another business, questions whether it is legal or tells you it is not, then you can let them know that the Victorian Food Act 1984 and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code do not prevent this practice.

For more information on this topic, check out Gippsland Unwrapped‘s detailed blog post to find out What The Law Says About Using Your Reusable Containers or peruse the Act and Code yourself (we have!).

Further to this, the City of Greater Bendigo have confirmed for me via email that there is no local law which prevents a customer’s use of their own container.

Where we buy food without packaging

Lots of places! I’ve started a Google map to show you some of the places that we know will accept your reusable containers and bags. This map also indicates some businesses that sell Zero Waste products in Bendigo and the Redcycle bin locations.

Instructions for the map
1. Click the button that looks like this  google map
2. To view a layer, click the box that looks like thistick box
3. Click on the business name on the left hand side to view the description where I’ve written brief descriptions of how to use your containers and bags at the store, what they sell or where the Redcycle bin is located in the supermarket.

I’ve embedded the map here but you might like to Bookmark the Where to shop in Bendigo page so that it’s easily accessible.

Some more detail about shopping package free in Bendigo

IMG_20171107_181616Meat, poultry and fish

We take our containers to the butcher, poultry store and fish shop. Most of these places are happy to put the product in your container using clean hands or they might have tongs. If you don’t want them to use a plastic bag to pick up the product, then it’s important that you state this to them. Staff are often in auto pilot when serving customers so don’t be surprised if they reach for the bag anyway, just try to be polite in saying you’d prefer they didn’t use the bag. If they’ve already picked up the product with the bag then you’re better off taking it, because you can thoroughly wash it, dry it and Redcycle it, whereas the store will just throw it in the bin.

Fruit and vegetablesIMG_20180108_201951

We use our reusable produce bags that I wrote about in this blog post. If we can’t get produce without packaging, we usually don’t buy it (there are some exceptions). We prefer to shop at small fruit & veg shops because we find there is less packaging than at the supermarkets. The cashier (or you, if it’s self serve) just weighs the produce in the bag – you might pay a few cents extra for your bag weight but it’s not enough for us to worry about. 


We take our bread box or Onya bread bag to the bakery and they slice the bread fresh and put it right in our container or bag. We also have a small cotton bag that we sometimes get bread rolls in and the Onya bread bag is great for all sorts of bakery items.

Nuts, dried fruits and seedsIMG_20180108_202348IMG_20171030_183355

We use our cotton reusable produce bags instead of the plastic zip lock bags at the loose ‘Scoop & Weigh’ section at Coles or Woolworths. We weigh the product the same way you would with the plastic zip lock bags and then we stick the label on our bags. Mesh bags don’t work well for most of these items because sugar, salt and others ‘bits’ fall off them and out the bag so we recommend a cotton bag instead. As you can see, apricots are an exception.


We take our cotton reusable produce bags to IGA in Eaglehawk and get lollies from their ‘bulk bins’. It is expensive, but I’ve found that’s good because it means I buy and eat less confectionery! We’ve also taken our own container to get chocolate truffles at Lollies2Go and they’ve said they can do package free lollies on request instead of bagging them in the plastic bags they normally do.


We’ve used our containers to get takeaway from Yutaka Sawa, Jin Yang, Toi Shan and All Start Noodles (it seems we like Asian cuisine!). We have also used them at Cafe Istanbul, some bakeries for slices, cakes and pastries and a few other places. These are just some of the places we have tried so far, you can ask anywhere though. The trick is to take your containers in store with you when you order and leave them there so the food can be put straight into them. If you have somewhere you’d love to try, but aren’t sure about doing it yourself, let us know, we’ll probably happily test run it for you!

Oil, peanut butter, honey, Kombucha and other wonderful things

Between Bendigo Wholefoods and The Old Church Community Pantry you can get these items. Contact them both via facebook for more information.

Organic nuts, seeds, grains, flours etc

Organics Bendigo sell a large range of the above at their store as of last year. All of these are organic so they are priced accordingly. If you do not already buy organic food, this may not be an expense you can justify but it’s worth checking out as even some of their organic lines are similarly priced to non-organic options in the supermarket.

What we still buy in packaging

We still purchase several items in packaging including milk, cheese, dry goods including sugar, flour, pasta and rice, spices, spreads and sauces. We purchase these items in larger volumes to decrease the amount of packaging (e.g. largest block of cheese and biggest paper bag of flour). We also opt for paper, glass and foil packaging over plastic, however some items are not available without plastic. For those items, we ensure we recycle the soft plastic through Redcycle or our kerbside recycling bin if it’s hard plastic. If you know where in Bendigo we can get some of these products package, or at least plastic, free then we’d love to hear about it!

Where to start

Our advice is to choose one food product to purchase without packaging and go from there. We think fresh produce and bread are the easiest to start with and you can use our Shop ZW in Bendigo map to find businesses near you that will accept your reusable bags and containers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s