Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Step Fifteen: Build a Bulk Buy Kit

Most bulk food grocers have little plastic cups, thin bags, and styrofoam containers to take your bulk food goodies home in, but that's not how we do things in zero-waste land. Eliminating garbage from your life means a little preparation before you head out to buy food, but remembering your bags and containers will soon become second nature, like remembering your keys when you leave the house or your briefcase when you head to work.

Building a bulk buy kit can seem a little daunting, but a few clicks on Amazon, Etsy, or Reuseit, and you'll be ready to buy your food, waste and problem free. Many health food stores will sell bulk bags, and Ikea is a great resource for all sorts of reusable glass and plastic containers, but after years of experimenting, this is what my bulk buying kit looks like:

[Camera not working (i.e. I'm a lazy camera operator); picture to come]

  1. Foldable bags: These are my favorite reusable bags to carry, as they fit in my purse with no problem, meaning I always have a zero waste way to carry the extra bits and bobs I acquire throughout the day.  I also always take these along while I'm grocery shopping, as I usually need more bags than I think I do, and these come in handy. It's also nice to be able to buy all my produce, let it roll down the check-out counter (no worrying about the cashier not being able to see the produce numbers through solid cloth), then scoop it all into one easily-reached bag. Chicobag and  Baggu both make great compact bags.
  2. Canvas bags: When I know I'm going shopping, I grab a handful of Trader Joe's canvas bags. I've bought a lot of cloth bags at a lot of places, but Trader Joe's bags have the best construction, are easily obtained, and hold up the best to regular use. There are a lot of great options out there though, so get what tickles your fancy, though this kind and this kind are great places to start.
  3. Cloth bulk bags: Eating zero waste means eating a lot from the bulk bins, which means needing something to use instead of those flimsy plastic bags the grocery stores provide, so I have a large collection of small bags to buy bulk goods with. I used to use a watercolor pencil to write the bin number on them, but now I just make a note in my phone and read it off to the cashier when checking out. I find the planet bag produce sacks to be the most versatile, but the bulk bags wonder thunder makes are an awful lot of fun, and these ones are great for carrying produce in when you don't want to make the cashier have to open the bags to figure out the numbers on the fruit stickers.
  4. Plastic food containers: Most of the cashiers at the stores I go to don't know how to enter in the tare, and I get embarrassed having to insist they figure it out, so I like to carry practically weightless containers to buy my wet goods with. I put the meat, cheese, and peanut-butter into glass jars when I get home, then wash and re-use the plastic containers when I next go to the store. I bought mine before my switch to zero waste, but any relatively lightweight container  will do. If I didn't suffer from social anxiety, I would carry Droppar jars or these lidded Pyrex dishes, and then either have the tare engraved on the side professionally at a trophy shop, or do it myself with etching paste.
  5. Bottle bag: This comes in handy for carrying glass bottles home from the store and to the recycling center. Ideally, I would buy my vinegar, olive oil, soy sauce, and milk from a supplier that  lets me bring in my own bottles, but working within limitations I believe glass bottling is the next best option. I found mine at Trader Joe's, but there are other options here, here, and here.
  6. Refillable bottles: There are a few liquids I've found I can buy in my own containers, like honey and soda, so I keep a few of these around. I found mine at Ikea, but Specialty Bottle has a ton of great options.
  7. Furoshiki Wraps: I love the knot wraps Lush offers, and there's a great line of reusable gift wrap here, and Furochic not only makes great furoshikis, but also has a wonderful guidebook for creative wrapping. This site has a huge selection of furoshikis, as well as a wealth of information about them. This isn't the best solution for flour or coffee grounds, but when carrying apples, wine bottles, books, or bath bombs, furoshiki can't be beat when it comes to simplicity and versatility. Plus they make cute scarves.
There are as many different bulk buy kits as there are bulk buyers; this is just what I use to buy my food and goods package free. Let us know in the comments what you re-use time after time to keep your home waste free.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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