How-To: Zero Waste Bulk Shopping

There are lots of benefits of shopping in the bulk bins at your local grocery store or co-op, like lower prices than packaged goods or being able to buy exactly the right amount for a recipe. The bulk bins are a great place to find low-priced, minimally processed, nutritious foods without excessive packaging. You can also bring your own reusable containers to the store, eliminating the need for any disposable packaging at all! I like to use glass jars because they’re plastic-free, the lids are interchangeable, and it’s easy to see what’s inside. And I think they’re pretty!

Shopping in the bulk bins with your own containers can feel daunting at first, but it’s really a simple process. Here are my steps for an easy bulk bin shopping experience:

Plan

When I make my grocery list, I list bulk items such as nuts, grains, pasta, beans, or dried fruits together. I also note the quantity I want so I know which size containers and how many of each to bring. A grocery list app is a great tool for bulk shopping, since you can assign each item its code (more on that below!) and specify the quantity needed. For simplicity’s sake, I like to bring only two or three container sizes to the store. I’ve found it helps the checking out process go much more quickly!

Prepare

Gather your needed containers and note the weight(s). I like to bring my empty containers to the store and weigh them at the deli counter to get the exact weight the first time I use them. After that, you can simply label the containers with their weights, or keep a list in your phone.

Shop

I use a reusable wine bottle carrier to tote my jars without having them clank against each other, but any bag will do. At the store, fill your empty containers with the items on your list. Make sure you get the code for each bin, since they’ll be needed at checkout. You can write them on your grocery list or save them in your grocery app so you can read them to the cashier, but you could also mark them on your containers. At checkout, the cashier will ask you how much your containers weigh and subtract that weight from the total. They’ll enter the bulk bin code for each item and voila! You’ve successfully had a waste-free grocery trip!