When most people think about buying in bulk they think bringing their own jars is best. But really, it’s probably not. And it’s costing you a bundle, to boot.
I’ve seen so many people post that they were at the store, with their jar in hand, only to see an employee fill the bin from a bulk bag. They get so upset that there was still packaging involved, but it makes me wonder if they think about how it would get to the store without packaging. It has to come in something, right? I mean, they can’t just send the store rice without it being in something. That would be a huge mess.
Just like everything else, when it comes to staples like flour, rice, beans, etc., the smaller the amount you buy, the more you are going to pay for it. It is a lot less expensive to buy the 10 pound bag of beans rather than the 1 pound bag. Beyond that, the more smaller amounts are purchased, the more packaging is being used and the more demand there is for those long rows of plastic dispensers that you’re buying your “bulk” goods from. What if we could eliminate the needs for those dispensers in the first place? That would be a good thing, right?
Seeing the whole picture
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the entire picture, especially when you’ve worked so hard to get to the point that you’ve reduced your trash to nearly nothing. But that doesn’t mean that your purchases didn’t come in packaging. It just means that you didn’t have to look at it. It’s sort of the out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. And it’s really no one’s fault because we’ve been fed the idea that if you purchase everything in your own containers you’ve done one of the best things in the zero-waste movement. And honestly, that’s a heck of a lot better than not bringing your own containers, so I would never discourage that practice. It’s a great place to start!
However, there are ways to go even farther and further reduce the need for packaging. Let’s look at flour (or any grain), for instance. In order to get flour, the wheat has to be ground. The wheat arrives at the processing plant in bags that can hold up to 4000 pounds of wheat, but guess what…they’re plastic. Once the grinding is done, it’s packaged up into 50 pound paper bags and sent to the stores. The store open up the bag and fills the plastic dispenser, then you come in and fill your container from the dispenser. Wouldn’t it make more sense to eliminate the flour bag all together?
There really isn’t anything we can do about the 4000 pound bag, but we can certainly eliminate the bag that the flour comes in. If you were to go and purchase a 50 pound bag of wheat berries you would eliminate the need for the flour bag and get a much better deal in the long run. Next step: grind the wheat.
You just upped your game
Investing in a grain grinder is probably one of the best zero-waste steps you can take. And not only that, the nutrition value of your food will skyrocket. We love our Country Living Grain Mill, but I will say that is an investment. If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, you might want to get started with something like the Victoria Cast Iron Grain Mill. But, as with everything, you get what you pay for.
So now you’re grinding your own flour! You’re saving money, reducing packaging, increasing your nutrition, and best of all, when you start with the very base ingredient, it usually stores much better than the processed version. Wheat berries will last for decades when stored properly, while flour will eventually attract bugs and go rancid.
Where to put all of it
One of the biggest arguments that I hear about buying in real bulk is that not everyone has a place to store 50 pounds of black beans. There are ways to get around this and still reduce the packaging and get the great deals. Do you have friends that eat black beans too? Why not go in together and buy the 50 pounds and split it? If you order several things at once you can have a “distribution” day and make a party of it too! Now you’re cooking with gas!
Even though we buy our staples in real bulk, we still break it down once we get home. First it goes in the deep freezer for at least 48 hours to make sure to kill any bugs that might have hijacked a ride in the bag. Then we dump the bag into 5 or 7 gallon food grade buckets (you can usually get these really cheap or free from bakeries), add in some oxygen absorbers, dessicant packs, and bay leaves (to further keep the bugs out), and that goes in the pantry. I also fill half-gallon mason jars for easy access and they sit on the shelves in the pantry. It might sound like a lot, but really, when you do it, you realize how simple it is.
Bonuses of bulk
One of the bonuses of buying in larger bulk is that you reduce your need for going to the store. I don’t know about you, but I have a really bad tendency to be an impulse buyer, so the more I stay out of the stores, the better. I always seem to come home with something that I didn’t intend to buy!
Another bonus is that you will tend to eat healthier. Cooking from scratch with whole, real ingredients adds more nutrition and tastes a lot better too. The human body wasn’t designed to cope with food that lacks nutritional value. Real food is real fuel for the body.
Have you ever been snowed in for days on end? If you have the staples at home already because you decided to buy 40 pounds of beans rather than 1 pound, you’ll always have food to eat. Or even something like unemployment can derail even the best of zero-waste plans because you’re having to figure everything out on the fly. If you have plenty of staples at home and don’t need to buy more for several months, then at least you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that you’ll always have food.
Start with one thing
Like anything else, the best place to start is at the beginning, so pick just one thing that you’ll buy in real bulk. I would suggest choosing something that you use a lot of, so that you’ll see the real savings over time. Do you eat a lot of jasmine rice? Buy the biggest bag you can find of it, either locally or online, and make sure you store it properly. We buy popcorn in 50 pound bags because it’s one of our favorite snacks and boy, do we go through it!
Don’t try to do everything all at once either. If you do, you’ll probably drive yourself crazy (I know I nearly did!). Just pick one thing. Start at the beginning. Then when you’ve got that one figured out, move on to the next thing. I guarantee that you’ll not only see the benefits, but you’ll be eliminating waste even farther up the chain, which is always a good thing.
*Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay