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Discovering the bulk aisle...

One waste-reduction technique when shopping that is getting a lot of attention lately is buying in bulk. This can include buying products that come in larger containers or use less packaging materials. Wholesale clubs have been selling items this way for years. More and more traditional grocery stores and co-ops, however, are expanding the bulk foods aisle. Types of items available can include:

  • Nuts

  • Oats

  • Beans

  • Coffee

  • Tea

  • Spices

  • Rice

  • Flour

  • Dried fruit

It was not until recently that we started to embrace buying items in bulk that we used to purchase in traditional packaging. In many cases, the prices are cheaper, and an added benefit is buying the exact amount--large or small--needed.

Some stores will allow you to bring your own reusable containers. In these cases, it's helpful to know the tare (rhymes with pear) weight of the container. The weight gets subtracted so the consumer only pays for the product, not the container weight. While this may not be a big difference with a mesh sack, a glass Ball jar can be quite heavy. Labeling the container with the tare weight makes checkout quite a bit easier.

Unfortunately, not all retailers will allow people to bring in their own containers. One of the stores where we shop is like this, and they provide brown paper bags for bulk purchases. We have started to reuse these bags because they are strong enough to stand up to several uses. Once the bags reach the point where they cannot be reused, they can easily be recycled or composted. The store-provided rubber bands can also be reused. The key for us to reusing the paper bags and rubber bands is keeping them with our reusable shopping bags. That way everything we need to complete our shopping experience is in one place.

As more and more items become available in bulk, the greater the opportunities to cut down on single-use packaging and save a little money. I actually now look forward to seeing what is for sale in the bulk aisles and knowing that I am taking home more items without added packaging. Next time you are in your local market, visit the bulk aisle with a fresh set of eyes. You might be surprised at what you see.

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May 14, 2019


In Pittsburgh, I know you can get bulk items at the bigger Giant Eagles, at Whole Foods, and at the East End Food Co-op. I am sure there are others too.


May 06, 2019

Hi Andrew, As usual I am looking for a recommendation for where to shop for the bulk items you note. Could you please tell us? I understand that you are not saying you stand behind the company you are patronizing. Instead, you are noting the company that you are using now. BTW, I am ordering a shampoo bar from Lush which you noted and my son Liam remembered from the Netherlands.

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