But more than anything what I LOVE about buying in bulk is the lack of packaging. Strangely enough, as I've talked to two of the local markets who provide bulk goods, it's rare that people take advantage of this benefit. Rather than bring their own containers, they just use the ultra-thin plastic bags provided at the bulk counter. This shocked me, actually, because many of the things in the bulk bins aren't that much cheaper or are actually more expensive (because they are organic) than the package versions. I suppose people could be buying these bulk items just because they are organic and not available in a package, but truly they are missing out on one of the greatest benefits of buying in bulk.
Now, I know. I know. That means you have to actually remember to bring your containers, right? But it's no more effort than remembering to bring your cloth grocery totes or your wallet. Just leave them out where you'll remember them or when you write the item on your grocery list, pop an appropriate container in your grocery tote so there's no need to remember.
Now stores have different procedures for bringing your own containers. Our local natural food store is pretty small and it's not a big deal for me to bring in tupperware containers and have the clerks measure tare weight when I first come in and then subtract this weight off when I check out. For the larger natural grocery store, however, this is less feasible. So in the larger store, I tend to bring containers (my own Ziplocks or cloth bags) which won't add much to the weight of my bulk item (since I'll be paying for the container weight also).
Even easier (and super frugal), there's no reason to spend a lot of money on reusable bags. Grab some ziplocks that you can rewash time and time again or make your own bags. I made these using an old pillowcase. I just cut it in four pieces, then sewed up the sides with a needle and thread (trust me I have NO sewing skills so this is as basic as you get and WAY easy!). A piece of twine to tie the top and I'm ready for the grocery. Shown here are black beans, raw pecans, dried mango, and dried dates. Snack time has come with no extra plastic packaging required!
Now, maybe I'm the odd ball hippie chick making my own cloth bags, so for those of you who would like to go a little more classy, talk to your local grocery about providing cloth bags and canisters in their bulk section. Not only can the store make extra money off the sale of these items, but the tare weight can be stored at the register and automatically taken off when you use the store's bulk containers. I'm working now with one of our local stores, encouraging them to do this very thing.
So, check out the bulk bins in a grocery or natural food store near you and don't forget to bring your own containers for some bonus green living. It's frugal, it's easy, and Mother Earth will thank you for it!