Everything You Need to Know About Buying in Bulk

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Photo: Flickr/Augapfel

1. Getting started in the bulk aisle

“I can see how [bulk-buying] can be intimidating at first,” Shane Valentine, chef, author and chef instructor for Whole Foods Market, told Earth911. “We don’t normally shop this way. So, when something is not in a package we’re sort of like ‘What? Do I have to weigh it or what do I have to do?'”

Despite the knee-jerk reaction that may lead us away from buying non-packaged items, Valentine and the rest of our experts assure us that bulk-buying really isn’t much different from picking up groceries from the rest of the store. To break it down simply, the bulk-buying process is made up of four steps:

  1. Fill your container with the bulk food of your choice (you may have to complete one more step if you’re bringing your own container, but we’ll get to that later).
  2. Label your purchase with the four-digit PLU code provided by the store.
  3. Bring your bulk purchase to the register to be weighed.
  4. Pay for your purchase and go!

“It’s really not that different from buying produce, and everybody buys produce,” said Clint Landis, a Bulk is Green Council board member and chief marketing officer for Frontier Natural Products Co-op. “It may take a tiny bit more effort, but it can become both fun and well worth the effort.”

2. The container conundrum

While bringing your own containers like glass jars or plastic storage sets helps you reduce waste while buying in bulk, it’s not your only option. Reusable cloth bags, like these from ReuseIt.com, are a simple, easy-to-carry alternative to bulkier picks.

And don’t be afraid to use the storage options your local store provides. Whether it’s a small container or a plastic bag, the choices in your local bulk aisle will be far less waste-intensive than standard food packaging. Both bags and containers can also be reused for multiple shopping trips before you recycle them.

“If you forget your containers at home and you use the ones that the store provides…at the end of the day it’s going be way greener to do that than to buy a package,” Valentine said.

If you decide to bring your own bag or container, stop by the register first to have the container weighed. A store attendant will mark it with its tare weight, so you’ll only be charged for the food you’re buying, not the container. After you get used to the concept of buying in bulk, try to train yourself to leave a few reusable containers in your car or desk for impromptu shopping trips. Much like getting into the habit of using a reusable shopping bag, it may take you a few trips before it becomes second nature. But after you get over that initial hump, coming to the store prepared becomes business as usual, our experts said.

“It will be a little awkward at first, but if you just stick to it, not only will you save a ton of money but it’s also going to be way better for the environment,” Valentine said.

Tip: Rescue containers from your recycling bin for bulk purchases by using our Food Packaging Reuse Safety Guide.


NEXT: Become a bulk-buying pro

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni

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