When you head to the grocery store for snack food or recipe ingredients, do you head first for the isles full of brand name goods? Many of us are accustomed to buying a certain version of each of our groceries; boxed organic pasta, trademarked Oreo cookies, a sealed bag of white rice... But how often do you check for that item in the bulk food section?
While some grocery stores are still limited to packaged goods only, more and more locations now offer bulk food isles. The scoop-and-label shopping system has numerous advantages over buying pre-packaged goods, and nowadays, you can find everything from dehydrated fruits, breakfast cereal, grains, pasta, chocolates, and spices in any specific portion you need.
If this option alone isn't enough to convince you to try shopping in bulk, here are some statistics that could sway you!
FACT: Organic bulk foods on average cost 89% less than their packaged counterparts. Bulk foods also prevent a significant amount of packaging from entering landfills.
FACT: Bulk goods require less overall transportation to deliver to consumers. Bulk foods do not require the packaging components that must be produced and transported prior to being filled. And the transportation of bulk product to retailers is efficient because it can be packed more densely on a truck."
FACT: The manufacture of paper and cardboard pulls trees from our forests, dumps contaminated water into our streams and uses enormous amounts of energy resulting in grotesque levels of CO2 emissions pumped into our atmosphere.
FACT: Food packaging may limit a consumer’s ability to buy in quantities desired which can result in food surplus and ultimately waste.
FACT: Although most natural food companies sell their food products in recyclable packaging, there are still some food companies that use non-recyclable materials. And some consumers choose not to recycle which creates additional burden in our country's landfills.
FACT: Packaging often limits a consumer’s ability to actually see the product they are buying.
FACT: In a grocery store, packaged products require more labor to ensure fresh product. Shelves must constantly be rearranged.
FACT: With bulk, product density at the store level can be significantly higher. So stores can provide a wider variety of foods in the same space.
(List compiled from http://www.bulkisgreen.org )
In addition to reducing waste and offering custom quantities, most bulk food sections now include nutritional information at the front of each bin. By doing this, grocery stores allow you to read up on what exactly you're taking home, while also eliminating disposable nutrition labels on packing that would usually go straight into your trash or recycling.
If you ask me, one of the best things about bulk food sections is that they eliminate waste entirely by allowing you to bring your own container. Most Co-ops and health food stores provide scales and label-makers that weigh your container beforehand and then calculate the amount of food you fill it with. You could easily combine this system with an upcycling project by salvaging sealable containers like mason jars, and using them to store ingredients in a convenient and aesthetically pleasing way.
If you've never explored the bulk food sections in your local grocery stores, take a moment to check them out! By switching a portion of your grocery shopping to bulk foods, you'll certainly save money, lighten your trash load at home, and have an excuse to store your cooking supplies in stylish and sustainable containers. And who knows; you might even find a new snack or ingredient that's not available elsewhere.