Waste Free: Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk can be quite daunting for people. The idea of bringing your own bags or jars, writing down all of the item numbers, and knowing tares of each container. It all adds up to a slightly anxiety provoking mess if not prepared. It can be a tad more challenging than dumping any given product prepped and packaged into the grocery cart. It takes a little more planning but once it becomes a habit, it is quite easy.


When preparing for a grocery run, I make a list of exactly what I need. It cuts down on unnecessary purchases and allows me to grab the right number of jars or bags needed. We have a good collection of mason jars that we use for all things bulk: rice, beans, flours, sugar, salt, granola, chocolate chips, and you name it. We have three standard sizes of jars that we already know the tare of, thanks to weekly use. If there is ever a question on the tare, we simply make a quick run through the cashier line to have it weighed. As we fill the jars, we make a quick note on our phones of the item number to tell the cashier. We typically bring a small steel funnel as well which makes quick work of pesky flours that without which would end up all over ourselves and the floor.


We are lucky enough to live a block away from a Whole Foods which has a great bulk section. I know other local co-ops and markets have bulk options as well. The key is to dabble in various stores to have an idea of what you can buy and where. For instance, we know that at our nearby Whole Foods, we can buy all manner of essentials: sugar, salt, granola, various rices, a large assortment of beans, quinoa, polenta, oats, candy, peanut butter, and coffee. But in order to buy flour in bulk we must go to the next nearest Whole Foods a few miles away. The other store also sells bulk chocolate chips, vanilla, olive oil, and cocoa that we can’t find at our neighborhood stop. To buy loose leaf tea, we go to a local kitchen store around the corner from our apartment that I happened upon while looking for a colander.


Other items get a little bit tricky but with some ingenuity and determination, you can buy nearly everything waste free. For cheese, we are more limited on what is available waste free. We buy various cheeses like havarti by getting it sliced at the deli counter. Before they slip the cheese into a plastic bag, we quickly state that we brought our own canvas bag. Other cheeses like feta and cheddar are available at the salad bar, where they are promptly transferred to our mason jars. Other items like olives and artichokes that are typically packaged in jars or cans, we again use our own mason jars at the olive bar. When I don’t have time to bake my own bread, I buy a freshly baked loaf and have it sliced for my own bread bag.


There are so many options available now for waste free shoppers. There are stores opening up all over the country that are dedicated to a zero waste mantra. Taking a moment to reevaluate what waste you create on a daily basis is a great start. Collect your trash for a week and see what items could be substituted for waste free options. No one is perfect, and a little grace is needed on an endeavor such as this in our plastic laden world. Just one small step towards a more sustainable lifestyle makes a huge difference over time.

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