Why shop the bulk bins?


This past year, I have really doubled down on trying to shop in bulk. Now, when I say bulk in this context I’m talking about the bulk bins at grocery stores where you (ideally) bring your own container, weigh it, and then fill it up with bulk goods (rice, oats, chocolate chips, peanut butter, etc.)! Sometimes “bulk shopping” can mean heading to Costco or Sam’s and buying the largest container possible.  It DOES require added thought/ preparation but in my opinion (and hopefully the Earth’s) it’s worth it!

If you’re not familiar with shopping the bulk bins, here is the general order of operations:

  1. Bring your container to the grocery store (make sure the container is clean and especially DRY before going shopping) 

  2. Have the cashier weigh your containers to obtain the tare (the weight of the container) Some stores have a scale that you could weigh your containers with yourself and write the tare right on the container so you have it forever!

  3. Fill your containers with food items and write down or photograph the PLU code of each item (this is what the cashier uses to pull up the price of the item)

  4. Checkout with your containers and feel good about preventing waste! 

    *Most packaging waste isn’t recyclable and much of it is plastic which we know is piling up by the tons in our oceans, rivers, and of course our landfills. From the EPA: Together, food and packaging/containers account for almost 45% of the materials landfilled in the United States, and some of these discarded materials are food-related packaging and containers.

I think it’s important to note that shopping in bulk isn’t completely “zero waste” because the items have to arrive at the store in some form of packaging, and inevitably there will be some food waste. However, the amount of waste that is saved by shopping in bulk is significant. Multiply that over many individuals and over many months, years, etc. and that is A LOT of waste that didn’t go to landfill. 

  • I keep a running inventory of your pantry items at home so that you can make one larger trip to shop for bulk items and you can easily know what you need to get. I find that this also makes shopping more intentional. We all know how easy it is to just grab things at the grocery store and throw them in your cart… well, this is very different when shopping the bulk bins. 

  • Don’t feel like you need to take the prettiest container to the store. I will take old pasta sauce jars, or old spice jars that we have kept for several years and use them to refill our spices. This is ideal! Low waste doesn’t have to be fancy. Old Tupperware containers are fine too.

  • Sometimes shopping in bulk gets messy. Don’t fret! The store is accustomed to this and most are open to feedback. If there is a way you think they could change things for the customer just let them know! For example, we would have loved if Fresh Thyme had scoops or funnels for the spices as this part does get very messy without tools. 

  • Shopping in bulk can be cost-effective. You are able to control the amount of something that you’re purchasing instead of being forced to buy a specific amount which could be wasted. I.e. buy what you need. 

  • Some stores have a wide variety of products available in bulk! Olive Oil, Honey, Coffee, Oats, Chocolate, Spices, Candy, so many things! 

  • Nut Butters are freshly ground and the oils seem to separate less than their packaged counterparts. 

Do the best you can! We are not striving for perfection here, even making the effort to shop in bulk and reduce packaging is something to celebrate. If you start making a change in your purchasing habits, I bet you will spark someone else in your life to make a change as well.


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