Waste not, want not! If you’re looking to do good for the environment, why not patronize a zero-waste restaurant or grocery store? These are establishments that not only recycle and reuse wherever possible, but are also finding ways to totally eliminate trash and cut their carbon footprint. What’s particularly promising is that more and more “earth-aware” eateries and food stores are popping up from coast to coast. To get you started on your eco-eating adventure, here are 12 best zero-waste restaurants, cafes and grocery stores to check out across Canada.
Nada Market (Vancouver, BC)
As a marine biologist, Brianne Miller witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of discarded food packaging and other trash on the marine environment. Inspired, Miller took action and opened Nada Market – Vancouver’s first package-free grocery store. The market sells a range of foodstuff, such as bulk dry goods, artisanal teas, local organic bread and baked goods, seasonal produce and so forth. Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers and reusable bags from home, and for those who are empty-handed, there’s a selection of glass jars, cloth bags and stainless-steel containers for purchase.
Big Wheel Burger (Victoria, BC)
Big Wheel Burger proves that fast food doesn’t have to be junk food. This burger joint diverts at least 90% of their waste, and is considered Canada’s first carbon-neutral fast food restaurant. The owners use compostable packaging and recycle soft plastics, cartons, Styrofoam and other items that are typically tossed in the trash. Any leftover wrappers, plates and food scraps are used for compost in their community garden, and used oil from deep fryers and appliances is converted into bio-diesel. Through composting and recycling programs, Big Wheel Burger avoided 74 tonnes of carbon in their first year of operation.
Épicerie Loco (Montreal, QC)
If you’re seeking something remarkable in Montreal, stop by Épicerie Loco – one of the city’s new zero-waste grocery stores. Customers bring their own bags and containers and shop for a range of organic, eco-friendly and local options. If you’re empty-handed, there’s a selection of jars and bottles available for a deposit as well as some paper bags and egg cartons. It’s also a good place to gab with other green lovers – the owners designed this as a “social grocery” store, installing low shelving that allows shoppers to interact with each other.
Café le 5e (Verdun, QC)
Café le 5e may look ordinary from the outside, but there’s something remarkable happening inside. This quaint café in Verdun produces almost no waste by adopting sustainable practices: eliminating packaging, using reusable cutlery and glasses, and saying no to paper takeaway cups. When the cafe runs out of beans, they send the roaster bags back to the supplier to be refilled. They also donate their compost to a local mushroom farm. Their efforts are working: over two weeks, the café barely fills a small waste basket for trash.
Unboxed Market (Toronto, ON)
If you’re committed to eating local and reducing plastic use, mosey over to Unboxed Market – Toronto’s first waste-free grocery store. This Portuguese shop near Trinity Bellwoods sells fresh produce, bread, meats, dry goods, dairy, eggs and household products – but without any single-use packaging. Customers are encouraged to BYO containers, but you can borrow some with a deposit or buy a reusable bag from the shop. There’s also a butcher, an in-house café and a prepared foods counter offering tempting Portuguese delicacies, as well as milk and olive oil sold on tap.
NU Grocery (Ottawa, ON)
Located in the trendy neighbourhood of Wellington West is NU Grocery – Ottawa’s first zero-waste grocery store. Opened in 2017 by two eco-conscious entrepreneurs, the shop sells dry food, fresh produce and household items without any packaging. The owners carefully select what’s sold in the store, favouring local suppliers and offering all-natural and organic products whenever possible. Bring your own reusable container for shopping or buy one from the shop. There’s also an online store for all your kitchen needs.
The Dandelion Cafe (Calgary, AB)
The Dandelion Café just debuted in Calgary, but it’s already making a positive environmental impact. Aside from the plant-based menu, this “earth-aware” vegan eatery has a strict zero-waste policy – not stocking single-use coffee cups or takeaway containers, “mindful” ingredient sourcing and only purchasing local ingredients that can be provided without unnecessary packaging. For takeaway orders, customers are invited to bring their own travel mug or food containers.
The Hollows and Primal (Saskatoon, SK)
Saskatoon superstar chefs Christie Peters and Kyle Michael have been riding the green wave since opening The Hollows in 2011 and Primal in 2015. They’ve taken zero-waste and sustainability to the next level by foraging for and preserving their own ingredients; practicing full animal butchery (and using every inch of the animal); and giving food waste to local farmers for livestock feed. They even employ two horticulturists to grow fresh veggies in the restaurant’s garden and greens in Primal’s basement.
Terraterre (Edmunston, NB)
Located in the Saint-Jacques area of Edmundston is Terraterre – New Brunswick’s first zero-waste grocery store. The shop sells mostly organic and local products in bulk, and customers bring their own containers. Expect local, organic and fair trade items to be stocked on the shelves, such as coffee, nuts, dried fruits, cereals and teas.
The Tare Shop (Halifax, NS)
The Tare Shop says “no thanks” to waste. This new package-free, bulk-food store and coffee shop in Halifax abides by the BYOC (Bring Your Own Containers) principle. The café has outlawed plastic straws, plastic-wrapped foods and disposable cups. Instead, they feature local baked goods and encourage customers to fill up their travel mugs for coffee on the run. If you don’t have a flask, grab one from their “library” of donated coffee mugs.
Boon Burger Café (locations throughout Canada)
You won’t find any garbage bags or plastics at Boon Burger, with locations spanning from Winnipeg to Hamilton, Ontario. Featured on You Gotta Eat Here, this gourmet vegan burger joint makes sustainability and “food with integrity” their mission. All takeout cups and straws are made from biodegradable cornstarch, and all waste produced is compostable or recyclable. The entire menu is plant-based and prepared in-house.
The Nook Cafe (Hamilton, ON)
Green principles are at the heart of The Nook – Hamilton’s newest café that’s almost 100% waste-free. The space was renovated and furnished with materials that are recycled or eco-friendly (fun fact: the owner used scrap lumber to build the tables). All packaging is 100% recyclable or compostable, and their products are ethically and locally sourced. Even the coffee is from a local roaster, Relay.