#ZeroWasteStudent: Food Shopping on a Budget

I started writing this blog post ages ago, and since, my perspective has shifted a bit. I am always encouraging people to go plastic free / zero waste in any way they can. But the #YouthStrike4Climate especially has helped broaden my perspective. Climate change, pollution and plastic waste is the main fault of large corporations. That’s why the strike, and governmental action, is so important. But even though our individual efforts won’t singlehandedly solve the world’s issues, we can at least do our bit – especially when it’s easy to.

When you’re a university student, as I’ve discovered first-hand now, cheap deals become your life. I became aware at the end of first semester that I was being clever with money at the expense of the environment.

I’m sure this is a widespread issue, and perhaps one that many students aren’t conscious of. I hope this blog post sheds some light on the issue of balancing your budget with being environmentally friendly. When it came to student food shops, my first instinct was to head to Aldi. Why wouldn’t it be?! So cheap. Love u, Aldi ❤ My weekly food shop cost £10 or under.

But was it really that great?

Aldi is beautiful when you’re a broke student, but it is bloody impossible to walk out of there without SOMETHING wrapped in plastic – even having gone (mostly) vegetarian at uni. Staples on the shopping list were:

  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocados
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Potatoes

Every. Single. Item. On that list. Comes in plastic film or netting. Sure, Aldi sells a couple of those items loose, But I was being tight about this budget thing, and it works out cheaper to buy plastic multi-packs, over individual items. (What’s with that? Why is it cheaper to get more, in pesky packaging?!)

Over the winter break I mentally calculated how much plastic packaging I was purchasing per week. In a twelve week semester I’d consumed almost 100 plastic-wrapped items. That doesn’t include impulse-bought snacks, or consumption beyond food.

Almost next door to my fave Aldi is Brighton’s plastic-free supermarket, HISBE. I discovered it late into the term, and ventured in once to glance at the prices, but I couldn’t mentally calculate how much groceries there would cost me (it’s a price-by-weight thing). As previously noted, shopping plastic-free is often more expensive which makes zero sense. The main thing putting me off trying it was my dedication to the ~budget~. 

I recognise that I’m quite lucky to be living in Brighton surrounded by many sustainable / ethical independent businesses. Cities like this have a lot more opportunity. However, whilst HISBE is amazing, the experience is very similar your average street food market; just under a roof.

So I made the promise to myself that I would at least try an exclusively-HISBE shop. If it turned out too expensive, I’d make one or two switches, but not convert fully.

So here I am, a student armed with reusable containers, ready to test some groceries. (You think all of us students get wasted and go clubbing? Nah mate, I got better hobbies)


These photos are from my first food shop at HISBE a while back. I used to buy all of these items wrapped in plastic at ALDI. I expected to end up paying much more in an eco-friendly store but I was pleasantly surprised. Most of my fruit & veg worked out much cheaper.

that’s 11.5p per onion, my budget-loving self is LIVING FOR THIS

Since my first shop there, I’ve learned to be clever about calculating how much food I actually need. I only cook for myself, so I really need the biggest produce I can find? Nope. So I go for the smaller-sized produce and it works out much cheaper when paying by weight at a place like HISBE.


Sure, some things are inevitably more expensive. I started by switching to plastic-free for fresh produce only, but I now buy dried goods plastic-free such as pasta and rice. These work out quite a bit more pricey. I pay about £1.50 for a pasta refill when the same amount is 50p in the average supermarket. But whilst I’m paying more for these items, I’m paying less for others – so the costs balanced out.

we stan a cheap groceries haul

There are some items I’ll still head to my beloved Aldi for, like cheese and butter – because the packaging-free prices for these aren’t as student-friendly.

But by making a tiny switch to a different store for more than half of my groceries, I’ve cut down my plastic consumption significantly.

So I did that first shop, pictured, in February. It’s now mid-March and I’ve kept up my plastic-free switches, and barely felt a price difference!

So if you’re a fellow Brighton/Sussex student, as tempting as Aldi can be for everything, do check out the fab sustainable stores we have. And if you’re from another area with less low-waste options, take a look at local markets, or even just compare loose-produce prices across chain supermarkets. Sainsbury’s often has packaging free options!

Whether you switch one item or ten, it’s still a difference.

TL,DR – here’s the easiest way to make an individual impact:

  • buy loose fresh produce (especially if you have access to a street market)
  • be a part or full time vegetarian (cheaper and kinder to the planet)
  • shop for locally sourced produce when you can
  • bring your own bags, containers and jars when shopping

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