Buying in bulk is a smart shopping strategy for anyone looking to save money and cut back on trash. To raise awareness about the benefits of bulk buying, the Bulk is Green Council (BIG) is sponsoring National Bulk Foods Week this week.
For starters, buying in bulk is one of the best ways to save money on groceries. Why? Larger sizes deliver the same amount of product using less energy and materials than the equivalent number of smaller packages.
The next time you go shopping, browse the snack aisle and compare the difference for yourself. When you buy one large box of cookies, all you pay for are the cookies and the one box. But if you buy a "snack pack" of ten or twelve small bags, you end up with all those individual bags, plus the display box they came in and the cellophane wrapped around them. That's a lot of excess packaging – and all that extra wrapping costs you more money.
At my local grocery store, one 15 oz. box of cookies runs around $3.99 or $.27/ounce. The package of 12 snack bags costs $5.79, or $.34 ounce. By some estimates, a family of four can save as much as $2,000 per year just buying in bulk. If you need snack packs for yourself or your kids, it's much cheaper and more eco to buy reusable containers you can easily refill from the larger bag. Bonus: The snack containers will do a better job of protecting the snacks from getting crushed in a lunch bag or backpack.
Still not convinced? Take a look at these stats from a cool infographic BIG has on their website:
* If Americans purchased all of their coffee from the bulk bins for 1 month, we'd save 20 MILLION pounds of foil packaging, the equivalent of almost 8,000 compact cars
* If we purchased oatmeal from the bulk bins, we'd save 5 times the waste of its packaged equivalent
* If we purchased all of the almonds we buy in bulk just for one month, 6 MILLION pounds of waste would be saved from landfills, the equivalent of 522.5 elephants!
You'll find the larger sizes of bulk food in the same section as the smaller containers. If you're packaging up bulk food yourself, the bulk food section will probably be in a specific section of the grocery store. Put food in bags or other containers, weigh it on the spot, write down the weight and perhaps the product code on a tag or tape, affix the price to the container, and take it to the check out. Don't be put off if this sounds like it takes too much time. It won't add more than a few minutes to your shopping schedule.
You'll probably find plastic bags to use for your loose bulk purchases. But why not bring your own bags and jars? I use mesh bags like these that I can fill up and then put right in my refrigerator or pantry when I get home. If they get dirty, I just toss them in the washing machine with my towels.
I also use glass or BPA-free plastic containers with tight fitting lids. You will want to weigh the containers before you fill them with food so you don't pay for the extra weight.
NOTE: You don't need to buy tons of something to take advantage of what bulk buying has to offer. Whether you buy a lot or a little from the bulk bins, you'll be saving money because you'll be paying for less packaging and more actual food.
This week when I go shopping, here's what I'll be buying from the bulk bins:
* Loose leaf tea
* Brown sugar
* Rolled oats
* Sesame sticks
What about you?
Before you buy anything new, check your cupboards for containers you already have that will make bulk shopping easy and trash-free. But if you need anything else, we've combed through the offerings on Amazon to find mesh produce bags and glass and BPA-free plastic containers that can help. A one-time investment in some reusable containers now will end up saving you hundreds of dollars over the long term. (Remember that we earn a tiny commission on any purchases on our Amazon store, which helps us continue to bring you expert advice for free. Thanks!)