Next time you’re putting your groceries away, pay attention to how many items have a plastic component to the packaging. On a recent trip to the grocery store I bought about 35 items and only a handful were completely plastic-free. My cereal was double-packaged in a plastic bag resting inside a cardboard box. My rice, nuts and hummus were all packaged in plastic too.
I never thought this was a big problem until I stumbled across an article that changed the way I think about plastic recycling. It said that recycling plastic is better than throwing it away but only “barely.” That’s because plastic can only be reused a finite number of times and the process of recycling it is relatively inefficient.
So I started thinking about ways to consume less plastic and packaging at the grocery store. First, I went for the low hanging fruit like buying orange juice in a cardboard container and choosing glass jars when the cost difference is reasonable.
I also decided to do more of my shopping in the bulk bin section. If I brought my own bags, this shopping would be zero waste. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’ve long been reading about the advantages of bulk shopping, I wondered if the claims were all they were cracked up to be. Through the last month, I’ve been putting some of the myths to the test.
This is the big one. Who doesn’t want to save money? But if bulk bins are so much cheaper why do so few people shop them? I did some bulk bin comparison shopping and here are my field notes from my local stores:
This myth is PLAUSIBLE but you need to know what you’re buying.
TIP: Compare one or two new items each week so you can become familiar with the price differences.
While I don’t know how long the food sits in the bulk bin, it seems likely that the bulk food would be fresher than the stuff on the shelf. More importantly, you can buy just what you need which means that you won’t be adding peanuts you bought in 2013 to a dish in 2015 (true story). With spices, teas and coffee where freshness has a tremendous impact on taste, shopping in bulk can be a big win.
This myth is CONFIRMED.
There’s little difference between filling a plastic bag with rice from the bulk bin or buying rice prepackaged in a plastic bag off the shelf. If you’re going to shop bulk, you can have the biggest impact by bringing your own reusable bags for dry goods. We like Flip & Tumble’s bags for bigger items and Simple Ecology’s bags for fine items, like flour.
If you’re buying liquids, look for stores where you can use your own glass jars or buy them from the store with a small deposit.
This myth is PLAUSIBLE … it’s really up to you! Most shoppers I see in the bulk bin section are using plastic bags. If you’re reading this blog, set a good example for the other shoppers and bring your own bags!
At most grocery stores, you’ll find:
At specialty shops or eco stores:
I’ve only been bulk shopping for about a month, but it’s already changing how I eat and cook because I’m having to substitute what I would normally buy for what’s available in bulk. That’ll likely be a topic for a future post!