Making bulk shopping a priority was one of the changes I was prompted to embrace by reading No Impact Man which I read last year. Before No Impact Man I had bought a few things in bulk, but as I said, it wasn't a high priority, not say as high as buying organic was. I also never brought my own reusable containers with me to the store relying instead on the plastic bags the store provided. Thus, I hadn't ever broken free of the disposable packaging cycle even when I did buy in bulk.
Disposable one time use products now fill me with a sense of sorrow. I can credit No Impact Man with that attitude shift. I can't believe we think it is perfectly acceptable to make everyday items out of petroleum to use once and then bury. It boggles the mind, but I then remind myself that I'd never really thought too much about it until last year and I am a trained environmental philosopher. In school we were more focused on wildlife conservation and water pollution, invasive plants and climate change, etc. "Big things." We didn't really talk about stuff like how much plastic we throw out everyday and how that might be related to all those "big things." I'd figured that I was doing pretty good compared to the cultural standard so I didn't bother myself too much with what would become of the plastic wrapper around my organic, ready-meal. I mean, it was organic at least! But, as I've told Matt comparing yourself to something poor isn't exactly motivating. I mean, of course I am better than terrible, but the question is can I still grow and expand myself beyond even further? Can I do more? Can I be happy with less? But, I digress.
I suppose I thought it would be too hard or too expensive to buy in bulk. That I'd never remember to bring my jars and bottles. That I'd never be able to afford it. That it didn't really matter.
But, that isn't the truth of the matter I've come to learn.
It is shockingly--shockingly-- cheap to fill your own jars. Polenta is nearly twice as much at our local co-op when you purchase it pre-packaged rather than in bulk. Montana-grown, pesticide free oats cost $.99 per pound, cheaper than you'd find Quaker Oats which are neither local nor pesticide free. It cost less than $.50 to fill a standard spice jar with most of the green herbs--oregano, sage, basil, Italian seasoning. That beats even Wal-mart. And these are organic herbs, too! Without any plastic waste! Or any waste at all, really! I am just giddy about this. Wait, wait, wait....you mean its cheaper, better quality, AND better for the planet?! How is that for awesome. Even if you never buy anything else in bulk I seriously, seriously recommend you look into buying herbs in bulk. Spices are a little bit heavier and thus a little more expensive, but it is still a bargain compared to similar quality and quantity of product. And the uber-cheap herbs help balance things out.
It is easy to bring your own containers to the store once you develop the habit to do so (and you will develop the habit if you wish, especially once you've forgotten a few times and have to resort to plastic bags again with frustration and a twinge of guilt). We just round up jars and tins and load them into the re-usable bag before we head out for the store. Or, if we are really on top of things, we place the empty containers directly into the reusable shopping bag to await our next trip to the store without the risk we'll forget them since we NEVER forget re-usable bags any more. Remember, you can train yourself to do anything....even eat broccoli! : )
|If you are of the creative persuasion another perk of bulk shopping is that you can also make neat little labels for your bulk containers, like these I made for some of our spices.|
I think that is amazing. Just amazing. It makes me happy. It makes me feel a little delightfully quaint, too, as the shopping experience seems like a blast from the past compared to self-checkout stations at the chain markets.
Just in case you are truly new to this whole thing here is a basic breakdown of the procedure.
#1 Bring in your clean, empty container.
#2 Take it to the checkout stand and ask the clerk to weigh it for you. They will probably ask if they can write the weight (the tare weight) on the container.
#3 Fill with whatever it is you are buying and label the container according to the store's requests. Our co-op uses the bin numbers of the product while our local health food store uses the price per pound.
#4 Return to the check stand and go through the checkout process like normal. When the clerk is ringing up your bulk items they should subtract the tare weight so that you are not being charged for the weight of the container, only what is inside.
And that is all there is to it. It really is a simple and easy change to make and greatly reduces the amount of trash generated in the kitchen. It might also save you a few bucks and improve the quality of the ingredients you are purchasing. While I know this means of shopping isn't available everywhere I'd urge you to check out what is possible in your area. It is one of those things that makes me shake my head and wonder why I didn't discover this sooner!