Zero waste grocery shopping is hard to achieve, and can feel impossible when almost every food product in stores comes in packaging containing plastic. The good news is that there are many easy ways we can contribute to reducing plastic at almost no cost to us. One of the ways we can do this, while also saving money, is to buy food in bulk.
Locally, there are several options for buying in bulk to try out on your next grocery run. In Wenatchee there’s Winco Foods and Wenatchee Natural Foods, with Winco having the largest bulk food section in town. Sage Mountain Natural Foods in Leavenworth has a bulk section, and Bear Foods Natural Market in Chelan does as well. And the best part? Three of these four options allow you to bring your own bags and containers to fill up. Bear Foods does not allow you to bring your own, but don’t let that discourage you from checking out what they have to offer. Buying in bulk is almost always a better option, even if you do have to use a store provided plastic bag.
Now, let’s get into some Bulk Buying 101: First, I highly recommend purchasing lightweight cotton or mesh bags which can be machine washed. Or, for bonus points, reuse lightweight bags and fabrics you have at home. Bulk food sections primarily sell food by weight. Some stores are not able to subtract the tare weight of your container since the registers are preloaded with the tare weight of their plastic bags. To avoid paying extra, reusable bags are a much better option than bringing a plastic or glass container. If you do want to reuse containers you already have at home, head to Wenatchee Natural Foods, as they are able to subtract your tare weight before you fill your container.
Second, organize your pantry before going to the store. I’ve found that reusing glass jars from pasta sauce, salad dressing, pickles, etc. works perfectly for smaller items like candy, spices, and more. Since we can no longer recycle glass in Wenatchee, now we can repurpose it! For foods purchased in higher volumes, I recommend getting larger glass or ceramic containers. For some cheap options, check out yard sales and thrift stores. You can also check out Ross, or Marshall’s which is where I bought some larger glass containers for around $3 to $4 each. Once you have all your containers ready, it will be easy to come home from the store and pour your food from the bag into the container. Not only is this simple and easy, but it’s also so satisfying.
Finally, don’t forget to bring your own grocery bags to the store! I promise once you switch to reusable you’ll never want to go back. Reusable bags can hold much more and are stronger. You can even purchase insulated reusable bags which keep your refrigerated foods cold until you get home (much needed with this crazy summer heat!). One perk at Winco is that you bag your own groceries, so you don’t even have to worry about asking the cashier to use your bags instead.
Initially, you may need to spend anywhere from $10 to $50 to get started if you don’t already have the necessary supplies. However, I would challenge you to get creative because you can reuse more things than you might think, and even find second hand containers and bags for a fraction of the price. And, with your savings from bulk buying, you will quickly make up any spending you had to do to get started. With all this in mind, what are you waiting for? Save yourself some money, and the planet will be better for it.
Madelyn Schwilke is a student at the Oregon State University Ecampus, studying Sustainability and Natural Resources, and is a volunteer for Sustainable Wenatchee, a nonprofit that promotes a culture of environmental stewardship and social sustainability in the Wenatchee Valley.