Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Buying in Bulk - Simple, Green, and Frugal

Often, buying in bulk can be the economical way to go. I've been buying local brown rice out of Houston directly from RiceSelect for less than what I can buy it in the store. And the wheat berries? Well, you can't beat less than $10 for a 50# bag (not open to the public unfortunately, I just happened to get a really awesome deal from a local farm!)

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!

7 comments:

Beany said...

$10 for rice? That is a good deal! Lucky you.

Lisa Sharp said...

Wow I'm jealous! We don't have anywhere to buy in bulk.

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - I wish I got the rice for $10. It's the 50# bag of wheat berries that is $10. The 25# bag of rice was $50. Still a decent price (not to mention it's local), but you can't beat the 50# wheat berries for $10. I think I'll be eating WAY more wheat berries than rice this coming year...

Heather @ SGF said...

Lisa - That stinks :( The wheat berries and rice I order from the farm/company directly but the rest is in our local natural food store and locally-owned small grocery. It's super handy to have them in town, but perhaps you could order other things on-line in bulk...

sunflowerchilde said...

At my co-op, the customer is trusted to weigh and write the tare weight on the container each time they go to the store - just weigh it and label it before you add the product. This is a great system because you can bring in your containers that aren't quite empty for a refill, and not have to pay twice for the same food that is still in the container. Perhaps if you speak to the larger store they will accept such a system? My store also charges you for using the disposable containers, so it reinforces the idea of bringing your own or buying reusable ones.

Kelly said...

Just came across your blog and I'm definitely going to add the link to mine so I can check back in regularly...I love the bulk bins at Whole Foods - it's a great way to try new things without risking anything!

Heather @ SGF said...

sunflowerchilde - That would be an easy fix. The store would just need to put in a scale near the bulk counter. VERY doable. Thanks for the suggestion!

Kelly - Welcome to SGF! You know I never thought of bulk bins that way, but you are absolutely right! You can buy in small quantities to see if you like something before you indulge on a larger scale. Yeah for bulk!