How to buy food without any packaging by buying bulk

It’s week sixteen of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. We’ve talked about reducing your waste by cutting out specific forms of plastic. This week we’ll cut down more general plastic packaging, and other forms of packaging, by buying pantry items from the bulk aisle using your own container.

I should preface this by defining ‘bulk’: when I say bulk, I’m referring to the pay-by-weight self-serve form of buying dry goods and more. I’m not referring to buying Costco-like large quantities of a single item. While buying a large amount might reduce the amount of overall packaging of buying multiple, there’s the bigger risk of buying more than you need, or even want, resulting in unnecessary food waste.

Not sure where to buy in bulk? Try the Zero Waste Home bulk store locator. Or search “bulk near me”. Not all parts of the world have equal adoption of bulk selling. If there’s nowhere near you within a reasonable distance, tell your local stores this is something you want, citing your reasons to reduce plastic packaging and other unnecessary waste.

Now that you’ve found your store, or multiple, that stock the items you need, it’s time to buy items free of packaging, and plastic bulk bags. Bring some jars (mason jars are great, but you can use what you have, just make sure they’re clean and free of labels (soak labels, scrub off, add drop of oil to remove sticky residue)) or other containers to the store and first have the service desk weigh the empty jar to get the tare.

Tare is the weight of the empty container, write it on the container in permanent marker. Once you’ve filled your container with the bulk goods you’ll need to remember the product number for the cashier. I just write mine in a note on my phone, and recite it to the cashier, but you can use a washable marker, such as a grease pencil to write the number directly on the container.

During checkout, your cashier should weigh the container, removing the tare weight (so you’re only paying for the weight of the goods) and enter the product number for the cost. Once you get the items home you can transfer them to another container for storage (if needed), clean the container, and return it to your grocery tote, so you’re ready for you next trip to buy waste-free groceries.

Food without the packaging will save you time and money, not to mention the reduction of waste. Another benefit of buying in bulk is reduction of food waste, as you choose the exact amount of an item you buy. If a recipe you’re making calls for 100g of an item, you may find in regular packaging the smallest quantity you can buy is actually 500g. If it’s an item you rarely use you might find yourself struggling to use the remaining 80% of the packet while it remains fresh. Buying in bulk you can buy exactly 100g.

You might feel a little anxious about the idea of doing something a little out of the ordinary, especially the first time you’re doing it. But don’t fear, remember you’re doing this for the right reasons; to reduce your consumption of unnecessary plastic and other waste. This is the way shopping SHOULD BE. You’re a part of a bigger movement to reduce waste; confirmed by the opening of zero-waste supermarkets across the world. Do it with confidence and no one will question you. And if they do, know that it’s completely legal to use your own container, provided it’s clean.

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NOTE: This will be the last post written for 52 Weeks for Earth for a while, please follow us on Facebook for the weekly challenges.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the capacity to continue the weekly production of posts. Admittedly, I started this project completely by accident. And while I’ve found it an incredible outlet for my creative and environmental energy, it has been something to occupy myself while I awaited the beginning of my next project. That project is building low impact home for myself inside a van, and this week I finally found a van to make my own. I hope to return to these posts again in the future, but for now, keep updated with 52 Weeks on Facebook, and if you’re interested, my van Instagram is @zerowastevanhome, although I haven’t yet decided whether I really want to do the whole, “#vanlife” thing. Thanks for following along