My Zero Waste Guide to Buying Bulk (Baby Got Bulk)

Trying to adopt the zero waste lifestyle (or just reduce your waste) and buy your food in bulk?

I’ve worked at a natural foods store for over 6 years and we have a HUGE bulk section. I have done everything from stocking, cleaning (so much cleaning), to ringing it up. I know all the in’s and out’s of what goes on BTS (cool lingo for behind the scenes). So today I’m here to pass down my zero waste knowledge!

You will learn all about TARE weights, the different types of bluk + how to be prepared!

Let’s get a few things sorted first. There are multiple types of bulk available and this is not the same thing as a Costco type of bulk where buying in large quantities of something like 100 boxes of cheerios.

I’m talking about the bins full of oats, nuts, rice, and seeds. You can buy as little or as much as you like and are typically charged by the pound. Buying your food in bulk is one of the best ways to reduce your waste! You eliminate packaging by just buying the product and putting it in your own container saving you time and money in the long run!

Here is my complete guide on how to do shop buy bulk!

bulk containers in a shopping cart

Be prepared:

Buying bulk is all about being organized and prepared 

Heres what you need:

*If you want to see my go-to zero waste tools, here’s a link to my Amazon page that has all of the items I use to help me reduce my waste!

STOP!

Before you do anything, make sure you pre-weigh your containers!!  Cashiers cannot magically know the weight of the product minus the jar. In order to avoid them pouring out the item into a bag and completely defeat the purpose of buying in bulk weigh all of your containers. Some stores do this differently. Head on over to CS (cool grocery store lingo for Customer Service) and ask them how their day is going. Then ask them where can they get their containers weighed.

Know they type of bulk you are getting:

Lets talk about dry bulk:

For containers you can go with metal, glass, plastic, and cloth bags. Keep in mind for items like sugar and flour you are better off bringing a jar type container to store them in. I got sugar in a cloth bag once and it got wet on the way home and it was a huge mess!

Cloth bags work great for beans, rice, granola, nuts, seeds.

scooping bulk pasta into a cloth bag

Liquid bulk:

For honeys, oils, and vinegars I stick with glass jars or other old jars I cleaned. 

Tip: When reusing old jars Sharpe out the bar code vertically not horizontally. This way you won’t get charged for the same thing by accident. Typically the scale is the same as the scanner so you don’t want the scanner to ring up you empty jar!

pouring olive oil into a glass jar

Cold bulk:

My area doesn’t have a ton of cold bulk options and one of the only options I see is bulk tofu. I’ve also seen fresh made pasta and both of these things would bring a sealed container for transportation to avoid spilling!

The Why?

This sounds like a little bit of work right? Well lets talk about the why behind buying in bulk

Lets talk about TARE

pre-weighing glass container before filling with bulk

What the heck is a TARE weight?

The difference in buying bulk vs packaged is you are charged by the weight of the product instead of individually. So you want to make sure you are not being charged for the container you are using, that would be a lot of additional cost! Grocery stores have a few different ways of handling this but heres how I recommend you go about it. 

  • Have all you jars clean, empty and ready to be weighed.
  • Bring a grease pencil or a Sharpe so you can mark the weight on the jars
  • Sharpe over any old barcodes if you are using a recycled container (super important step so you aren’t charged for the wrong item)
  • Make sure you get the right weight weather it be ounces or pounds, know how its rang up!

Okay so jars are weighed and marked now youre ready to fill them with some bulk!

*Be mindful when filling that things can come out fast! I do a pumping motions for the pull bins to avoid over filling and spilling bulk all over the place!

Each store is different so if you have any questions on how to do this at your particular grocery store, ask someone that works there! They know how it works at there store best!

At Checkout:

filled bulk containers at the register ready for check out

Having all the weights of the containers clearly labeled and the PLU’s of the product ready to go is super important when checking out. Make sure you are paying attention to what you are being charged for as items are ringing up (cashiers can make mistakes).

Be friendly, patient, and helpful to your cashier! Buying bulk in your own container takes more time to ring up than packaged goods with an easy barcode!

New to Zero Waste? Check out these posts to learn more!

*Some links contain affiliate links in which I make a small commission. Currently those commissions will be going to the redesign of this whole site. Thank you so much for you support as a reader and follower of Jess With Less!

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5 Comments

  1. This is such a great, comprehensive article! It’s got me all excited to explore shopping in bulk more often.
    I usually shop bulk for spices, especially if I am trying a new recipe and am unsure if I will like said spice.
    Thanks a ton!

  2. Great post – I am so jealous that your natural food store has such a huge bulk section!!!! None of the stores in the city I will be moving to after graduation have a large enough bulk food section for me to be completely zero waste in my kitchen, which is quite irritating… However, I will reduce my impact as much as possible! Thanks for sharing!
    -Jenna ♥
    Stay in touch? The Chic Cupcake

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