First, to be clear, when I talk about bulk shopping, I am not talking about buying a package of 144 rolls of toilet paper from Costco. This post is about bulk bin shopping at your local grocery store, which is truly one of the best ways to get started with a zero waste kitchen.
Why bulk bin shopping? It all goes back to zero waste packaging: if you’re not bringing trash into your house, you’re not throwing trash out of your house. But some people skip the bulk bin section at the grocery store because it’s more work than grabbing a bag of flour or oats from the store shelf. That’s why I created this frustration-free guide to bulk bin shopping–I’m going to share some tips to make it easier!
What to Buy in Bulk
Everything! Anything! Some of my favorite foods to buy in bulk are:
- Beans and lentils
- Dried fruit
- Rice and other grains
- Oils and vinegars
Bring Your Containers for Bulk Bin Shopping
If you go to the grocery store and use the plastic baggies from the bulk bin area, you’re still creating waste! Some grocery stores have small paper bags you can use, but you can do better than that: bring your own containers. I like bringing small muslin bags and different size jars. If I need bulk herbs or spices, I bring old spice jars from home.
In order for the cashier to accurately weigh your bulk foods, you’ll need to know how much the containers and bags you’re bringing weigh in the first place. I have an inexpensive food scale at home and I write the weight of each container on a piece of masking tape. When I’m at the store, I write the name of the food on the tape along with the 4-digit bulk code so the cashier doesn’t have to look it up.
Do Bulk Bin Shopping in Bulk
Because bulk bin shopping is a little bit of a pain, I buy my everyday staple foods in large amounts so I don’t have to replenish my supply every time I go shopping. I buy large jars full of rice, beans, lentils, flour, and whole grains that last me for 2-3 months. Don’t buy more than you can use in a few months’ time because you don’t want your food to go bad!
…Or Get Only What You Need
There are other foods that I buy in smaller amounts, usually when I’m making a recipe. For example, I rarely use flax seeds, but when I made a muffin recipe that called for them last week, I measured 1/4 cup from the bulk bin so I had exactly what I needed, with nothing leftover. How do I do this? I bring measuring cups and spoons with me when I’m bulk shopping! Maybe that’s a little weird, but I hate wasting food and I also hate having a few tablespoons of something sitting in the pantry just waiting to be used.
Since you have that handy masking tape label on your bulk shopping container, you’ve already saved yourself a step. In addition to the name of the item in each container, I also like to put the date on the tape so I know when something has been sitting for a while and needs to get used up.
Photo credit: Laura Mitulla