Buying from bulk bins reduces waste

Filed in Reduce by on January 12, 2010 14 Comments
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bulk bins help reduce packaging wasteIf you don’t have like minded friends, have limited storage space or can’t reach the minimum order required to set up a food co-op then you can still reduce your packaging by checking out local stores for bulk buy bins. These are literally ‘bins’ filled with goods which you can purchase instead of buying pre packaged goods. Each bin has a scoop in it, and you scoop out exactly the amount you require into your own bags or containers.

Some shops, such as the wonderful Unpackaged,  stock a massive range of goods which you fill your own reusable containers with. In unpackaged you can buy grains, cereals, dried fruit, herbs, toiletries, cleaning products and even oils and vinegars!

If you’re not lucky enough to live near the store, you might find some bulk buy bins in the most unlikely of places. We discovered some quite unexpectedly in a cut price store in the middle of nowhere! The range isn’t huge, but you can buy basic baking ingredients such as flour, cocoa powder, ground almonds and cake mixes.

Buying from bulk bins means you can buy as little as you require, which is a great for those who live alone or who are on a limited budget. It helps to save on food waste and for the things you use a lot of; you can buy as much as you need! The prices are usually way below supermarket prices, which shows you just how much you are paying for branding and packaging.

If scoop-your-own bulk buy bins are not available nearby, then look out for pre packaged goods in super sized packages from your supermarket such as tea bags, coffee drums and tinned tomatoes. Keep food waste in mind though; don’t buy more than you need!

Do you have bulk bins available to you? What sort of goods can you buy?

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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 (14)

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  1. Ailbhe says:

    Rice, porridge, muesli, grains, pulses, nuts, dried fruit (too many types of each to list), other breakfast cereals, laundry detergent, laundry softener, washing up liquid.

  2. In the NW Winco has a huge selection of bulk items. Everything from the pantry basics, nuts, candy, spices, dried fruits, grains, cat/dog food, bird food, beans, etc. We have Whole Foods and New Seasons but they are more expensive. I usually get just my bulk tea and everyday items from there. Only thing is that Winco does not weigh your container so I reuse containers that I purchased from Whole Foods. Whole Foods has plastic ( I know I know) lightweight containers perfect for buying spices and what not. For any bulk large items or produce I have mesh bags of my own. I dont feel too bag about the plastic containers I reuse because I use them all the time and once they get to where I cannot use them, I can recycle them. I can honestly say I have no plastic shopping bags or plastic produce bags in my home.
    Also im pretty lucky because I live within 1 hour of Bobs Red Mill. They have the best selection of amazing products bought in bulk. I just them and im buying local so it helps them too.
    Side note:Winco sells Bobs Red Mill products in their bulk area as well, just not as a much selection.

  3. Janet says:

    Bring back these kind of stores, they were poplar in the 80s but have nearly all die out. But saying that we had 2 on the south east coast of England, One closed in 1999 ( did not want the bother of going metric), and the other one which is a short bus ride away is still going strong. So handy if you just want a small amount, and we are supporting the local man.

  4. LJayne says:

    I’d love to shop this way. There is nothing here for us like that at all – I’m in Berkshire.

  5. Eve says:

    Hi Mrs Green.
    I love your site and I admire what your family are doing, you put me to shame.
    I do try and reuse, recycle and make do and I am very frugal but find it hard with all the packaging food comes with. To be honest it makes me mad.
    I have a question, what do you do for milk as we use a lot and it comes in those big plastic containers which fill up my recycling bin in no time.
    Also I have so many plastic margarine tubs now that I don’ need any more.


  6. Jane says:

    We used to buy some things like this but the shop we used closed and we haven’t found another.

    It is often said that it is better to buy in bulk as it saves packaging but in fact that can cause a lot of food management problems. Buying FROM bulk should not be confused with Buying IN bulk!

    We must look out for another shop like this.

  7. The only problem I’ve had with bulk buying is with things that go stale quickly, like pretzels and crackers. Because the bulk bins aren’t always airtight (often they have a hole at the top for the scoop handle to stick out of), baked products can go bad really quickly. If the store doesn’t allow you to try one cracker to make sure they’re fresh, you can wind up with a whole bag that’s useful only for breadcrumbs or bird feed.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Ailbhe: Wowee – loads of stuff you can get Ailbhe; sounds great.

    @surviving and thriving on pennies: You have some great resources over there. We too reuse plastic containers; I don’t feel bad about it. But I would love to swap to stainless steel at some point 🙂

    @Janet: Good that you have at least a small selection to choose from. I remember these stores being very popular a while back too. Perhaps they will come back in fashion; you never know 😉

    @LJayne: 🙁 maybe a little business for you once the children have grown up 😀

    @Eve: Hi Eve, welcome to the site! To answer your question we use plastic milk bottles at the moment, but we’re going to try and get hold of a local milkman as I would like to switch to glass. You can try the site to see if you have a local milkman. We don’t use much milk though; I use soya milk which is in tetra paks and Mr G only has milk in one cup of coffee a day. LMG drinks about 1/2 pint a week of milk; we’re not great milk drinkers….
    Plastic margarine tubs can be donated to playgroups, perhaps scrapstores or sent to GHS for recycling:

    @Jane: Yes I agree, you have to manage the amount you buy otherwise you end up with food waste. It’s hard for us to resist a bargain so the temptation is to buy too much.

    @Moral Economy Project: Hi 🙂 Welcome to the site. You make a good point. If the bins were more popular I guess the turn around would be quicker which would mean less waste. I’ve never experienced this problem myself but as I said we don’t have much available in this area.

  9. Ben says:

    These look really useful, but I’ve never actually seen any stores with bulk buy bins. I live in a fairly large city, I should look around some more to see what types of shops we have.

    I’ve been buying bigger packets of things like rice, pasta, washing powder, coffee, and trying to find ones that can be recycled.

    I do get egg boxes refilled with eggs from a local farm, and buy jam from someone who refills old jars. I’ve just discovered that the lady who makes jam will accept just about any used jar. The ones with tomato stains in the lid get used to make pickle and stuff. As we end up with quite a pile of jars each week, I’m pleased that some of them are reused, and that all of them should be able to be refilled instead of melted down at great energy expense.

    @Eve: You could ask your friends about margarine tubs, or if you have a big pile freecycle? For some reason I never buy margarine, but a friend from work used to save his tubs for me as I use them in the fridge/freezer to store food. Someone else was collecting them to use as plant pots in his greenhouse.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @Ben: What a shame, Ben. We only have one store now that sells from these and the range is tiny. The next best thing, as you say, is to buy in bulk in recyclable packaging where possible. Great news on the jars reuse.

  11. Sarah says:

    @LJayne – not sure where you live in Berkshire, but we shop at an organic food co-op that has a different location each evening around Reading called True Food Co-op. As well as tinned food, some fruit & veg etc they also have bins for pulses, dried fruit, cereals etc. It is a great way to shop – you track what you buy as you wander around, tot it all up on a calculator while you sit and have a cup of tea and just hand over the money.

    They have a website which shows locations of the various markets.

  12. Becky says:

    You do still have to be careful when it comes to buying in bulk though. I’ve got a membership with our loca lcash and carry for business but I often do a bit of personal shopping there too. And the first time I went there, I ended up buying a load of sweets and half of them went in the bin because they went off before I could eat them.

    In general, a lot of the rules that apply to ordinary shopping apply to bulk buying too, such as:

    Don’t shop on an empty stomach
    Only buy something you know you’re going to use, not just because it’s there
    Only buy as much as you can use in a set period of time
    Only buy as much as you have room for

    And crucially, a buy one get one free is only a bargain if you’d have bought it anyway, otherwise it’s money you wouldn’t have spent. The same goes for bulk buying. Myself, I buy pet food in bulk thanks to two cats and one dog that eat me out of house and home. Some say you should buy shampoo and soap and the like in bulk too and I do see the logic there but it doesn’t work for me, as I like to switch brands every now and then. As long as you’re strict with yourself, bulk buying is definitely a good thing.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Becky: Hello Becky, thanks for the heads up on use by dates – although I can’t understand why sweets, of all things, would go off. I thought they were packed full of sugar and chemicals to keep them going for ever! I agree with your tips, however; some great common sense stuff there – thanks for sharing 🙂

  14. Xandertron says:

    Hi all.

    Does anyone know of any shops in merseyside which sell from bulk bins? They’re super rare.

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