What It Means To Shop In Bulk

It occurred to me after I shared my post about our before and after pantry back in November, that there is one term commonly used in the world of reducing waste that’s often easily confused with something that holds a relatively different meaning for most people. This would be the word “bulk.” Often its associated with big box wholesale warehouse stores with aisles upon aisles of food packaged in large quantities. I actually thought this same thing when I first stumbled upon the world of zero waste. It’s the only definition of bulk that I had ever really known up to that point. Heck, the term itself means “the mass or magnitude of something large.” But whenever you hear or see this word uttered by someone whose aim is reduce waste, they are often referring to a different style of bulk based on the same general concept.

When I say bulk what I’m referring to is “bulk bins.” The section of many grocery stores with individual bins where you can take as little or as much as you need, hopefully in your own container. 😉 The store selling food this way does purchase the food in bulk volume, so that it may be purchased in select quantities by its patrons. Not only does this eliminate the waste associated with individualized packaging (which is the primary selling point) but it also allows one to take the amount which they will actually be able to consume before potentially going bad. Have a recipe that only needs a Tbsp of an ingredient you hardly ever use? Want to try a certain type of bean or rice without committing to an entire package? Then bulk bins allow you to only get that which is necessary, avoiding the possibility of food waste and unnecessary clutter within your cabinets/pantry.

Some grocery stores are better about offering this style of bulk than others and some really have it right, offering most anything one could need: grains, beans, baking ingredients, snacks, sweets, spices, oils, honeys, teas, coffee, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, & lotions.

So when I refer to shopping in bulk, I’m headed to these sorts of bins where I can take home, without any new packaging at all, the majority of my shopping list.  This is done with my own containers, either reusing old plastic food tubs and transferring once home or the jars that our food will be stored in. (If you live local to RVA, I’m offering free weekly tours to teach folks all the different ways they can reduce waste while shopping!)

Unfortunately not everyone is as lucky to have such great bulk selection at their disposal. In those situations, shopping for the largest size packaging that can be used up before going bad is the best practice (or the smallest if it is not something that is likely to be used quickly). This doesn’t mean though that buying a larger box of individually wrapped granola bars or snacks makes the cut.  Any single serving packaging should be avoided and either swapped out for its full sized counterpart (which can then be portioned out as needed into a reusable snack bag) or the base ingredients bought in bulk sizes to then be made at home from scratch! Grains, legumes, baking stuff, oils, soaps…whatever basics you personally consume on a regular basis should be purchased in larger quantities. Choosing the larger sized packaging reduces the need to replenish with more packaged product as often and when it comes to food ingredients, can then be used to avoid processed, pre-made foods. So while your flour may have to come in a large paper sack, think of all the plastic wrapped foods that can be avoided simply by making them by scratch!

Hope that cleared up any confusion about bulk. Stay tuned as I’ll be sharing my favorite go-to homemade recipes from 2017 within the week! 🙂

xo, Erica

4 Replies to “What It Means To Shop In Bulk”

  1. Your bulk section is AMAZING! Our closest Whole Foods (about an hour away) has the best bulk option in our area but is very limited in terms of spices and teas, and it doesn’t have any soap or lotions in bulk. And what really annoys me is that they have signs everywhere that you can’t bring your own containers for bulk! You have to use their paper bags for beans, nuts, etc. and plastic ones for the spices. It kind of defeats the point, I think! Love the blog, btw 🙂

    1. Our Whole Foods also doesn’t have many spices and def no soaps/lotions. We actually have several bulk options in the area but the one I frequent the most has the widest selection out of all of them. I agree – I hate when you have to use a store’s bags! It occurred to me the other day that when stores do that sort of thing if you’re able to keep the bags intact you could always take them back and reuse them over and over again. How’s that for a loophole? haha 😉 Thank you for stopping by!

  2. Wow! I had no idea Ellwood Thompson offered such a huge variety of bulk items! I definitely need to get in there to check it out! Great post!!!

    1. I know right when I first saw it it was like the skies opened up! lol You should come do my tour!! It’s free and would be a fun chance to hang out. 🙂

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