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Bulk Up! Zero waste shopping 101

Guest blog by Madelyn Schwilke

“Zero waste” grocery shopping is sometimes hard to achieve, and can feel impossible when almost every food product in stores comes in packaging containing plastic. The good news is that “eliminating plastic pollution is a low-hanging fruit Zero Waste action” (Zero Waste WA). This means, there are many easy ways we can contribute to reducing plastic pollution at almost no cost to us. One of the ways we can do this, while also saving money, is to buy food in bulk. For example, you can save around 40% on pasta, 47% on white rice, 45% on pinto beans, and so on. And the savings add up in the long run.

Locally, there are several options for buying in bulk which makes it much easier for you to try out on your next grocery run. In Wenatchee there’s Winco Foods and Wenatchee Natural Foods, with Winco having the largest bulk food section in town. Sage Mountain Natural Foods in Leavenworth has a bulk section, and Bear Foods Natural Market in Chelan does as well. And the best part? Three of these four options allow you to bring your own bags and containers to fill up! Bear Foods Natural Market does not allow you to bring your own, but don’t let that discourage you from checking out what they have to offer. Buying in bulk is always a better option, even if you do have to use a store provided plastic bag.

Now, let’s get into some Bulk Buying 101: First, I highly recommend purchasing lightweight cotton* or mesh bags which can be machine washed. Or, for bonus points, reuse lightweight bags and fabrics you have at home. Bulk food sections primarily sell food by weight. Some stores are not able to subtract the tare weight of your container since the registers are preloaded with the tare weight of their plastic bags. To avoid paying extra, reusable bags are a much better option than bringing a plastic or glass container, as they are very light. If you do want to reuse containers you already have at home, head to Wenatchee Natural Foods, as they are able to subtract your tare weight before you fill your container.

Photos of Wenatchee Natural Foods bulk selection by Jenny Montgomery

Second, organize your pantry before going to the store. I’ve found from my own experience that reusing glass jars from pasta sauce, salad dressing, pickles, etc. works perfectly for smaller items like candy, spices, and more. Since we can no longer recycle glass in Wenatchee, now we can repurpose it! For foods purchased in higher volumes, I recommend getting larger glass and/or ceramic containers. For some cheap options, check out yard sales and thrift stores. You can also check out Ross, or Marshall’s which is where I bought some larger glass containers for around $3 to $4 each. Once you have all your containers ready, it will be easy to come home from the store and pour your food from the bag into the container. Not only is this simple and easy, but it’s also so satisfying!

Zero waste and pretty too!

Finally, don’t forget to bring your own grocery bags to the store! It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and just use a plastic bag at the checkout, but I promise once you switch to reusable you’ll never want to go back! Reusable bags can hold much more, and don’t easily rip like plastic and paper bags do. You can even purchase insulated reusable bags which keep your refrigerated foods cold until you get home (much needed with this crazy summer heat!). One great perk at Winco is that you bag your own groceries, so you don’t even have to worry about asking the cashier to use your bags instead.

So, now that we’ve covered the basics of bulk buying, here’s the impacts this will have on you and your grocery shopping routine: Initially, you will need to spend anywhere from $10 to $50 to get started if you don’t already have the necessary supplies. However, I would challenge you to get creative because you can reuse more things than you might think, and even find second hand containers and bags for a fraction of the normal price. Other than this initial cost, and a bit of time reorganizing your pantry, those are really the only impacts this will have on you. And, with your savings from bulk buying, you will quickly make up any spending you had to do to get started! With all this in mind, what are you waiting for? Save yourself some money, and the planet will be better for it.


* Follow the link to the Etsy shop of a past SW board member, Tasha Kaye, who sews and sells cloth produce and bulk bags locally. Use code MOTHEREARTH for 15% off. Tasha donates 10% of her proceeds to Sustainable Wenatchee!

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