Bulk Up to Save Money, Resources, and the Planet

  • Published on August 13th, 2008

When you think of “buying in bulk,” you may well envision barrels of mustard and mayonnaise, cereal boxes large enough for your family to live in, and tubes of toothpaste too big to pick up with one hand. And, depending on where (and how) you shop, you may not be far off the mark.

However, buying bulk does not necessarily mean putting a strain on your car’s shocks and struts whenever you go on a shopping spree. Nor does it mean listening to your shelves groan under the weight of gargantuan packages of…well, you name it. Nor does it mean endless meals with sides of ketchup in order to beat the dreaded expiration date.

Just about every natural foods store nowadays has a much more manageable option for buying bulk: bulk bins. If you head on over to the Bulk Section, you will find little plastic or glass dispensers of countless foods, herbs and spices, teas, and sometimes even soaps or other household products. So, for example, you can hit the bulk bins and stock up on oatmeal, dried fruits and nuts for trail mix (make it yourself or get some already made in another bulk bin), and maybe pick up some ground ginger and peppermint for tea.

Bulk bins are fantastic ways to be a conscious consumer for a number of reasons.

Bulk items are universally cheaper than products on the shelves. This frugality factor arises primarily from the fact that purchasing in large volumes costs less; this is why Wal-Mart can sell stuff so cheaply, because it buys LOTS AND LOTS of everything. Since the stores purchase voluminous bags of bulk items (25, 50, and even more pounds each), it pays the manufacturer/distributor less and so can “pass the savings on to you!” Ergo, you fork out less money when you dip into a bulk bin.

Another benefit is that you avoid the added, environmentally unfriendly cost of excess packaging–from cardboard (made from trees) to plastic (made from petroleum) and beyond. Instead, you scoop up your product into a (normally) recyclable plastic bag or some other means of storage. Even better, you can also reuse these bags and so cut down on resource consumption even further!

Bulk bins are great, too, because you do not have to buy massive quantities yourself; the store has to bear the burden of bulky amounts, not you. Instead, you can get as much or as little of any product you want…which means not paying for more than you expect to use in the near future, as is the case with most pre-packaged products.

I love bulk bins. I buy just about everything I use from the bulk section. And if fresh produce came in bulk bins, I would surely buy it there, too! The bulk section is always a happening place…for kids especially (not to mention many adults). After all, those countless clear-plastic showcases offer one last “benefit”: lots and lots and lots of FREE SAMPLES!!! Well, not exactly free, of course….

At least you can walk away from the bulk section with a lighter heart knowing you saved some cash and did a good thing for the planet even if your cart is loaded down with stuff…and your belly, too.

Image credit:Infrogmation at Wikimedia Commons.

About the Author

I am an ethical vegan (since 1999), a writer, an educator, an activist, an organizer, and a vegan-of-all-trades. I have a PhD in English but then left academia to work on social change. I focus on veganism, animal rights, local foods, farming practices, environmentalism, and sustainability--starting from the position that humans are just one part of the biosphere, not the center of it.
  • My wife and I have been using the bulk bin for a lot of ingredients and it works marvels on the budget. Instead of buying tons of 1 thing, we just get what we need for whatever recipe needs it, and that’s it. Our weekly food budget, since starting to cook and actually use our cook books, has dropped by more than 50% than before. It really is wonderful, but it takes planning and a keen eye cause some of the bulk bins can be confusing. Great post!

  • Jorge, you and your wife sound like some really keen, informed shoppers–not only for using the bulk bins but also for using them in “strategic” ways! Those two things combined surely will produce good results in terms of savings.

  • I use the bulk bins at Sprouts food market. They have all kinds of nuts, chocolates, and mixes that I find irresistible. 🙂 We try and reuse the bags they give us for these items on other things.

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