Buy from a Food Co-op to reduce packaging waste

Filed in Reduce by on January 4, 2010 13 Comments
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sumaI know this isn’t for everybody – if you live on your own, have limited storage or have to watch the budget carefully, then bulk buying isn’t an option.

However, for those who can, buying in bulk from a co-op is a great way to reduce the amount of packaging you have to dispose of. The irony is, that in the long term, it can save you money because you can buy goods more cheaply.

We buy from Suma food co-op. We get together with a group of friends and each put in an order. Some co-operatives split open the packs and share them, which means you don’t end up with too much of one thing. This is great for staples such as dried fruits, rice, cereals and flour. Buying from Suma saves you 1/3 – 1/4 of most shop prices.

Setting up a food co-op is pretty straight forward if you keep the group small. All you need is a group of reliable friends, someone with a bank account and someone to order and receive the items. Taking in the order can be time consuming and you need to be around for the day when the delivery is due; you also need to be very organised! Once the order is in, you contact everyone on the list and they come to collect their items.

Just be aware that when you make your purchases, you buy one large bag of something, rather than a pack with 6 small bags in. The latter will not help you reduce the amount of packaging you are left with at all!

Here’s an example of how you can save packaging waste by purchasing in bulk: We buy Ecover fabric conditioner. The packaging from 5 litres of fabric softener weighs 145 gms . The packaging from 1 litre of fabric softener weighs 52gms. If we were to buy 5 x 1ltr containers, they would weigh 260gms, which means we are reducing our packaging weight by 115gms.

How about you – are you a member of a food co-op – do you buy many goods in bulk and does this have an impact on the amount of waste you send to landfill or for recycling?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (13)

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  1. Ailbhe says:

    The True Food Co-op buys BioD laundry stuff in huge containers from which we refill our 5l containers periodically. They started off as a group of friends, moved into an anyone-can-join, and are now on the verge of opening a shop!

  2. Mrs Green says:

    @Ailbhe: Hi Ailbhe, It sounds like the True food co-op has really taken off – what an inspirational story!

  3. Hi – Thanks for promoting food co-ops – we are also keen to promote them as a good way to reduce waste. If anyone needs help with setting up a food co-op Sustain can offer lots of free advice and support – for more information see our website or e-mail [email protected] We are also trying to map all the food co-ops and buying groups across the country so if you run a food co-op please add your details via our website. Thanks Maresa

  4. Mrs Green says:

    @Maresa Bossano: Hi Maresa, what a wonderful resource. Thanks so much for the heads up and keep up the great work.

  5. Amy Beeton says:


    Thanks for supporting Suma. It’s a great privilege to be able others reduce their waste and lead more sustainable lifestyles. We’ve developed quite a few of our products recently to improve their ethical credentials, and make them more recyclable.

    Our prepacked foods (nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, rice etc) are soon to be launched in recyclable pet 1 plastic bags, which are made from a high percentage of recycled content. There should be more information on this packaging in Feb/March, closer to the launch date.

    Our museli’s have been redesigned so that both the inner plastic (pet 4) and outer cardboard box (from 80% recycled material) are both recyclable.

    and we’re really proud of our own brand of cleaning products, Ecoleaf, as they are all made in the UK, and all containers are recyclable.

    Thanks again for the post about our coop 🙂

    Amy @ Suma

  6. Mrs Green says:

    @Amy Beeton: Hello Amy, welcome to the site. Great news about your new packaging commitment. I asked, some time ago for a guest post from Suma, but nothing was forthcoming – perhaps you would like to rethink that and put something together for us so you can share exactly what you will be doing in more detail? We’re here to help spread the word and help our readers to reduce waste… Good luck with the packaging changes.

  7. Amy Beeton says:


    I’m sorry about that. We’re really only getting up to date with blogging, social media, and the likes. A little bit slow of the mark, but we’d love to!

    You can contact me direct at [email protected] and we can discuss potential ideas.

    We’d really like to build on our web relationships and grow our affiliates who we can share information with.


  8. Tracey says:

    After being delighted in finding they did do the HUGE (15ltr) tubs of ecover laundry and washing-up liquid and all-purpose cleaner, as well as my usual 5 ltr ecover shower gel, toilet cleaner and hand-soap tubs, I had a nose through the Suma Co-op’s site and found 5 ltr bottles of their own brand of shampoo, including a grapefruit and aloe-vera one. I am very tempted to try that. If it’s mild enough, I might be able to get away without using conditioner. 🙂

    I then found that they’re just “down the road” from me, so will be able to collect too!

    They also have their own Ecoleaf brand of washing up liquid in 20 ltr tubs/drums, which is now making me think along the lines of the if/when I start attempting to make my own bio-diesel… Those kind of tubs look rather perfect for keeping fuel in…

    In eco-bulk heaven at the minute – thank you for introducing me to them! 🙂

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Tracey: How fab that suma is local to you! And what a great idea for reusing the 20it tubs; how do you find the Ecoleaf? Have you tried ones like Ecover; does it compare well?

  10. Tracey says:

    I’ve not tried the Ecoleaf yet – I start my 4-day weeks next week, so Suma will be on my list of places to visit on a Friday (along with the biodiesel place and the WEE recycling centre!) It’s a little further afield than I would like, but the three places make a nice row and if I make the biodiesel place the first stop, then it’s not as bad as if I was just driving there on unleaded petrol or something! 😛

    I need to give them a ring first though as it looks as if you can only buy from them if you’re a company(?)…

    I’m also going to get the ecover for now and ask if they can do me a sample for the ecoleaf and suma shampoo as I’m often allergic to stuff (I’ve had to live off Fairy Non-Bio Liquid from birth until I found ecover in the last few years!) and would like to do a 50ml “test wash” before buying 20 ltrs! 😛

    I love the ecover stuff – I’ve not had a problem with any of their products and I’ve found that, when I use the laundry liquid, every so often, my partner will give me a hug and pull back, look a little (pleasently) suprised and say “you smell nice today” – which doubles the value in my opinion! 😀

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Tracey: Sounds like the perfect plan. You can buy from them as an individual as long as there is not too much ‘competition’ in your area from small shops etc. id love ecoleaf samples too – so let me know if you’re successful.

  12. Tracey says:

    After giving them a ring and getting a login, I’ve asked around and might have a couple of friends interested in joining a co-op! 😀

    The shampoo is available in smaller bottles as well as the big one, so they won’t do a sample of that (I think I might get a pack of the smaller ones and I can give them to the people who are interested in joining in to see if they like it too. I think they said they sometimes have ecoleaf samples at the store at their premises, but I’m still not sure i need to try the ecoleaf, I do like the ecover and know I’m not allergic to it, so if I can get the 15ltr instead of the smaller bottles (even if it is still slightly smaller than ecoleaf’s 20 ltrs), I think I’ll still be happy! 🙂

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Tracey: It would be great to get some friends on board Tracey – then you can spread the cost and share some bulk buys – how exciting! Happy shopping!

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