Bulk Buys: A Quest for a Package Free Pantry

I can’t pinpoint exactly how I came across to zero-waste shopping or this trend of “zero-wasters” but I do remember noticing it popping up everywhere on my social media accounts.  Maybe it was the people I was following or the algorithms lead me to it, but I was intrigued. I have to admit I was drawn in by the aesthetic of the pictures of neat pantries all lined with perfect glass jars filled with dried goods like this one below from Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home.  Maybe because these pantries were the opposite of how my pantry looked, with bags of pasta and rice crammed together on shelves with spilled oats beside crumbled up packages of crackers. Let’s just say, there were no pretty labels on neatly placed mason jars lined up and inviting me to create the perfect meal.

Although this organized life is what I craved or thought I needed in my life, it was really the lack of messy plastic packaging spewing out from the pantry shelves that got me hooked. This is when I started to search for ways to work towards a zero-waste or less-waste kitchen.

What was the secret to this “perfect” pantry? How did these zero-wasters reach this goal?

By buying in bulk!

Now buying in bulk might conger up images of giant bags of beans and flour that could take years or an army of people to get through it all, but buying in bulk from your grocery store or a package free shop now means that you can choose only what you need by eliminating the pre-packaged quantities found for most products these days.

Of course, you can still buy large quantities of non-perishables if you want. This could even reduce the number of trips you need to make to the store. I’d say that another win for buying in bulk.

According to Bulk is Green (BIG), a foundation in the UK these are some of the direct benefits of buying in bulk:

  • Direct benefits include:
    • The reduction of material waste from landfill and incineration
    • Carbon dioxide emissions reduction from less packaging
    • Less food waste as consumers can buy just the amount they want
    • Creates more sustainable consumption behaviour amongst consumers
    • Economic benefits across the supply chain – producer, retailer, customer

These are all great benefits that fell perfectly in line with my pantry goals.

So how do I get started?

Now, I’m nowhere close to the “perfect pantry” stage but that’s no longer really a part of my goal. Although I do feel a bit more organized, I’m really just trying my best to stock my shelves and fridge while creating as little waste as possible by buying less pre-packaged items. Here’s where it begins:

  • First, find containers

I think my first attempts at seeing fewer plastics in my kitchen was by collecting jars. At first, I did go out and buy a nice set of glass jars like the ones you would see in the “perfect” Instagram pantry but now my collection has grown into a mismatch of glass and some plastic jars and containers I’ve cleaned out and saved from pickles, jams, peanut butter, etc. There’s no need to go out and buy these containers, you can start collecting them yourselves or ask friends and family to save some for you instead of placing them in their recycling bin.

My mismatched jar collection
  • Then, locate a store

Now that my container collection was getting out of control it was time to seek out places to fill them up. Luckily for me, a new zero-waste store had opened up in my city and close enough for me to take advantage of it. I could not tell you how excited I was to get started on this goal.

I was intimidated or just wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I shopped at the zero-waste or bulk store. I had bought items in bulk at grocery stores and even Costco but never at a store that was designated as package free or zero-waste. I filled a reusable shopping bag with jars and bottles of all different sizes and set-off to the store.

Walking into the store I was immediately drawn in by the perfectly displayed eco-friendly products and the uniform containers that lined the wooden shelves all seeming to follow the same subdued monochromatic tone. Was this perfect aesthetic I was seeking? Well, it was not like any grocery store I had been in before. You could say it was the opposite of the loud supermarkets filled with brightly hued plastic packaging luring you in and making you believe that you “need” this product in your life and that it’s better than all of the others.

Tipiah Ecotianguis-Zero Waste Store in San Pedro, Mexico

I was definitely lured into the feel of this zero-waste store, probably because of the eco-friendly lifestyle I was already heading towards, but I couldn’t help but notice that this store was not advertising any of its products. There were no 2-1 sales or even images of happy mothers, smiling cows or cartoon characters trying to sell a product. It was just the essentials tucked into simple containers and ready for you to decided if you really need it.

  • Next, fill containers

How does this all work? Of course, bulk buying is not a new concept in the least. I can remember my parents buying in bulk sections at grocery stores or health food stores when I was a kid. Grocery stores have drastically reduced these sections over the years and have replaced these isles with more pre-packaged convenience. I think, or hope, that the trend will go back to the way it was like many other eco-trends that are just returning to ways of the past.

The bulk section or zero-waste store, as I’ve mentioned, allows you to purchase what you need and this is measured by weight. Most stores will have a scale where you can weigh your empty container. You label the container with this weight then fill it with whatever you need. The containers are then weighed again at checkout with the empty weight accounted for or removed from the total weight and you only pay for the amount of product in the container. Each store may have a different system in place but should follow a similar concept.

Weighing my empty container at a zero-waste store

My empty containers ready to be filled

Buying in bulk seems simple enough but it may not always seem as easy or convenient as popping into a grocery store to grab what you need. You may not always have containers ready to go and could take a bit more planning around shopping trips, but there are other options that may help ease the transition.

Most of these stores have containers to borrow or purchase on site, or you can use mesh or cloth produce bags to pick up items in bulk sections like seeds and nuts or dried fruit. There’s always an option but it will take a change in practice before it becomes a habit.

I am still working on this habit but never disappointed when I return from a zero-waste shopping trip. It feels good knowing that I’ve skipped the packaging and supported a local business. You would be surprised to see all of the products available at these stores. I’ve included a list below of what I’ve been able to find. Also, keep in mind that most of these items are sourced locally or produced with natural ingredients.

My daughter checking out my bulk buys

These are the items I have found in zero-waste stores:

Kitchen:

  • Pantry:
    • Dry Pasta
    • Beans
    • Rice
    • Oats
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Cereals/granola (bars)
    • Cookies
    • Dired fruit
    • Spices
    • Fluors
    • Chocolate for baking
    • Chips and snacks
    • Oils and vinegar
    • Local mustards and salsas
    • Eggs
    • Fruits and veggies
    • Bread
    • Kombucha
  • Cleaning/storage/etc.
    • Dish soap
    • Vinegar
    • Biodegradable scrubbers
    • Silicon storage bags
    • Beeswax wraps
    • Water bottles

Bathroom:

  • Shampoo/conditioner (both solid and liquid form)
  • Soap (bar soap and liquid hand soap)
  • Exfoliants
  • Cloth makeup remover pads
  • Cloth menstrual pads and cups
  • Face and body creams
  • Deodorant
  • Combs/brushes
  • Toothbrushes
  • toothpaste/tablets
  • Cleaners
  • Cloth diapers
  • Wet bags

Laundry:

  • Liquid soap
  • Vinager
  • Baking soda

And much more! Depending on where you are shopping


Next time you plan a trip to the store, consider finding a zero-waste store near you or check out the bulk section of your grocery store, natural/health food stores or bulk food store. Here is a list of stores Earth Mama’s have been to and a few more that we’ve found and thought to include:

Monterrey, Mexico

Canada

Edmonton:

Toronto:

Ottawa:

Halifax:

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Singapore

More info if you’re interested in Zero-Waste stores or buying in bulk:

Bulk Is Green

The Guardian: Bulk buying food: how to get the most for your money

NPR Article: What’s The Scoop On Bulk Foods?

Smithsonian Magazine Article: The Rise of ‘Zero-Waste’ Grocery Stores

Leafd article: How do zero-waste grocery stores really work?

#sustainability #zerowaste #ecofriendly #environmentallyconscious #lesswaste #reduce #reuse #smallchangesmakeabigdifference #earthmamasinternational

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3 thoughts on “Bulk Buys: A Quest for a Package Free Pantry”

  1. Love this blog Lindi! You have inspired me to take on the zero waste challenge and to try passing it on to my kindergarteners too!

  2. Pingback: Navigating the Green Rabbit Hole - Earth Mamas International

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