How to Shop Zero-Waste: Bulk Shopping

What is bulk shopping?

Buying something in bulk, or shopping bulk is where someone buys a large amount of one thing for a reduced price. Bulk stores tend to be few and far between in the United States, but many chain stores now have bulk sections where you can buy anything from pasta to peanut butter to cereal or olive oil and seasonings. Bulk shopping can be particularly useful for those who try to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, use less plastic or packaging, or life a low or zero waste lifestyle.

Where can I find bulk shopping/stores?

Despite bulk shopping bins being few and far between, it can still be found all across the United States.

Some national or regional grocery chains that have bulk sections:

  • Whole Foods
  • Kroger
  • HEB
  • Winco
  • Sprouts Farmers Market
  • Central Market

Local/general stores

  • Most co-ops have bulk sections (There are co-ops in most states)
  • In.gredients (Austin, TX)
  • Health food stores
  • Some farmers markets
  • Natural food stores

For a complete list click here

How do I prepare for zero-waste/low-waste bulk shopping?

Depending on what you plan on buying you’re going to need either glass jars (leftover jars from pasta sauce, or mason jars) which can be used for anything from grains to candy or nuts, cotton produce bags or mesh produce bags which can be used produce, or plastic or non-plastic organizational containers for larger amounts of items like cereal or rice. To save money, you can also make your own mesh bags with this tutorial.

Local co-ops or health food stores are much more likely to be understanding in letting people use their own containers, but it’s recommended whether it’s a chain or local store to call ahead and ask if it’s ok to bring your own containers because you may need special permission.

What do I do once I’m at the store?

Once you have the containers you plan to use and the store you’re buying from allows you to use said containers, it’s time to go shopping! After all of the preparing for buying bulk dry foods, it’s pretty simple. First, find the bulk bin aisle. After that, fill up the containers with whatever you want, and weigh them, (or weigh the container, then subtract from the amount the weight of the container, if the store allows that). Grab the printed label with the price and weight or write down the price look-up number (PLU) and the weight and price, and you’re good to go!

For produce, take a picture of the PLU number and use produce reusable bags. If possible, to reduce some of your waste, grab produce that doesn’t have sticky labels on it.

Hope this helps anyone trying bulk shopping for the first time! Remember to start small with one or two containers and buy things you’ve tried before, then build up from there!

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2 thoughts on “How to Shop Zero-Waste: Bulk Shopping

  1. I have wondered about zero waste and bulk bins, my town has a Winco but I felt it was just as counter productive as I have to put it into plastic baggies. Ill have to ask if I can bring my own containers.


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