In which I scope out other bulk options and pretty much come up empty-handed

I am a list maker — my brain doesn’t like to focus on details and it’s a coping mechanism — so I’ve found my little plan for this second quarter of the project to be quite motivating, if only so I can cross items off.

On that list: Scope out bulk options at other stores in town.

I was too depressed to take a photo at the other grocery so here's a picture of some homegrown tomatoes instead.

I was too depressed to take a photo at the other grocery so here’s a picture of some homegrown tomatoes instead.

Here’s how I imagined that going: I would waltz in and politely explain that I am looking to reduce my trash if anyone offered to help me. “I’m on a fact-finding mission,” I would say, and then me and my new best friend would traverse the aisles of store (um, these are mostly mom and pop places, that’s why they’d have time to traverse) and I would learn all of the hidden secrets that would blow this zero waste project right out of the water, THAT is how awesome it would end up being.

What actually happened: I wandered around by my lonesome, disappointed by the scarcity of anything I could actually work with.

Ah, well.

First up was the “other” grocery in town. This is the one I broke up with five years ago, for reasons that spanned bad lighting and the fact my shins hit the bottom of the cart all wrong to a terrible selection and cashiers bugging me to go through the self checkout, which, incidentally, no, I will NOT because if I’m in this crappy store, you’re going to have to do something nice for me to make up for the utter despair I’m feeling.

I mean, right?!

Anyway, I found one very, very small bulk section, with half of the bins completely empty and with no labels (so there must not be anything destined for those) and the other half were in a state of complete disarray. Some just had scraps of whatever it was left inside.

Depressing. Except on the bright side, I can continue with my grudge and never go back again. Hooray!

It's stainless. It's steel. It's a huge learning curve.

It’s stainless. It’s steel. It’s a huge learning curve.

Second up was the cute little tea shop near where I sometimes eat lunch. It’s called “The Good Medicine Lounge,” so I thought maybe they’d have some other bulk items besides tea floating around.


What I did find was a filter for loose-leaf tea, stainless steel, the idea being you put it in your cup of hot water and let it steep and then you have your tea. I was like, uh, why can’t I use that for coffee? and the staff was very much into helping me work it through. At one point I had to laugh and say, how ballsy am I coming into a tea shop to talk about coffee? because wow, not their cup of tea (HA HA HA). They warned me that the coffee grind might have to be bigger to make it work, it might turn out too watery, and that it could be an utter disaster. I decided to take the risk. The manger guy was all, well, if that doesn’t work out, we can sell you some great tea! and I was like, sounds good! I can’t see coffee being replaced in my life, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings after he’d been so nice to me. 🙂

I’ve been experimenting with said stainless steel filter, but that is another post for another time. So far it’s not working very well, but I am motivated. And yes, I’m sure there are options out there that work for coffee and would eliminate my need for a paper filter … I just kind of got caught up in the moment and wanted to buy something locally and now am stuck with the repercussions of that choice. This is why I need adult supervision, you guys.

The third shop I visited is a true mom and pop organic grocery. I interviewed the owners for an article one time, and they’re totally committed to the cause. They even have a vegan deli onsite. The space is tiny. I have a feeling it’s more for the tourist crowd making their way down to the river, to fill up the ol’ cooler and all of that, but hey, they’ve been in business for upwards of 20 years, and you can’t make it that far without some local trade, too.

I found the bulk closet (I think it really did used to be a closet) and was disappointed to see about 15 bins, all filled with beans and pasta. Price-wise, my grocery store is comparable. Next came a shelf of bulk items packaged in plastic bags and containers, and then a freezer section with more prepackaged items, like nuts.

They keep it in the refrigerated section. SCORE.

They keep it in the refrigerated section. SCORE.

Then came a small display of bulk herbs and spices, and I was surprised to find activated charcoal — I haven’t seen it at my grocery (although I haven’t looked very hard). They had bulk olive oil hidden beside some laundry detergent, and it was fairly reasonably priced, so that’s one item I could potentially get on a regular basis.

The only other store I’ve been meaning to visit is a German-style deli. It’s been at least a year since I’ve been in. From what I remember, they have deli meats and cheeses, olive oil and hard cider, and they’re super cool with bringing your own containers. This one is a little more out of my way, and convenience is king, etc. So that’s another post, too.

Anyway, what I’ve mostly learned so far is that I’m extremely, stupidly lucky with the bulk aisle at my grocery store. It may not be Market of Choice selection, but wow, we have a lot — on Saturday, I got active dry yeast in my jar for the first time, and then lamented the fact I hadn’t brought an extra jar so I could restock our maple syrup supply.

Extremely, stupidly, insanely lucky.

Next up: I finally make it to Goodwill.

22 Responses to In which I scope out other bulk options and pretty much come up empty-handed

  1. Definitely lucky! We don’t have anything like that in general supermarkets here in the UK. We did have a lovely little eco store at which we could refil washing up liquid, shampoo, conditioner, showergel etc, but they closed down in the recession in 2007. Food wise, forget it, unless you can get a group together to get huge sacks of stuff.

    • I just came back from the UK. I was disappointed not to even be able to get loose veg. However, it was my only disappointment in your lovely country!

      Trisha, you really are insanely lucky in your bulk choices. Maple syrup? I am in awe. (And in southern California, not Oregon/Washington which is much greener, in both senses of the word).

          • Yep, loose veg is usually available in most supermarkets (in amongst the wrapped stuff) I have net bags I use to keep stuff together … although I have been known to forget them and send 6 apples down to the checkout girl to juggle lol!

      • I know! Maple syrup! I found it about a year ago, tucked away in the refrigerated section of the grocery, and haven’t looked back since. We don’t have everything — no cocoa powder, for instance, or brown sugar — but what we DO have is amazing. I’m beginning to really appreciate all my options.

        And yes, that’s one thing about the Pac NW, it’s a green kind of culture, which probably also helps. 🙂 We just ran an article about the city maybe adding composting to our refuse options — I am totally jacked!

    • That would be extremely difficult — and kind of disheartening. I honestly thought my little town would be a detriment to the project, but I’m learning that we lucked out with our supermarket!

  2. I finally found somewhere locally with bulk bins. Too bad all they had were candy, nuts and trail mix type mixes-not things I usually buy in the first place! And it was quite pricey. :/ Instead I got a sustainablely sourced organic chocolate bar which was not package free but was really yummy.

    • I think you made the right choice! 🙂 It doesn’t help if your bulk selection doesn’t contain what you’d actually purchase.

      P.S. Hey, minimalism blog! Right up my alley!

  3. “my shins hit the bottom of the cart all wrong”… Is there a way for your shins to hit the bottom of the cart all right? I know, I know, sorry, I just had to say it. 🙂

    I’m really fortunate to have several stores with a good bulk selection available here in Austin, TX. Otherwise, I’d be struggling to figure out how to get a group together like EJT mentioned to purchase the big bags.

    • LOL. You have a point!

      Having access to bulk and unpackaged items is really the crux of the whole thing — if I had to rely solely on any of the other places above, my journey would be completely different (and way harder).

      P.S. Your blog looks fun!

  4. I’m making a Market of Choice run on Saturday and then may be in your neck of the woods for pizza and beer at Double Mountain. I can bring you bulk in jars (we can trade!). Send me a list!

    • You’re so nice — I would LOVE that, but we’re going to be gone! Maybe next time. P.S. Be prepared to wait at DM, they fill up FAST. P.P.S. Download a Fruit Loop map, we’ve got all kinds of fruit coming on now — peaches, cherries, pears, early apples, blueberries … it’s crazy good times.

      • I’m sorry I’ll miss you this time around! I’ll pack a Scooby snack to keep me from becoming completely homicidal during the DM wait…I hadn’t thought about the fruit loop, but that’s some good advice. Have a great weekend and I’ll be thinking of you in the MoC bulk department!

        • If the wait is too long at DM, check out Art on Oak — they’ve got a bunch of artists in one co-op and lots of variety — even some reusable and recycled items. (Or they did the last time I was in.) It’s just fun to see what’s going on in there. And the girls would recommend Waucoma Bookstore because books! But the farm stands are really the best of it — we’re stupidly spoiled.

  5. Speaking of coffee filters, have you ever thought about making one out of cotton muslin type fabric? It doesn’t last forever, but longer than paper and it could be composted at the end. I’ve seen these on etsy, and some even come with a pour over stand, but I don’t see why you couldn’t just sew a filter.

    • That was actually my original thought — sew a filter from muslin (or two) so I could keep my pour over cone, which I love and adore. This tea filter isn’t working for coffee at all and the resulting cups are fairly terrible. The only problem with sewing one is that it would be easier to buy a set off of etsy. 😉 I was also thinking that there has to be some sort of metal or mesh filter specifically made for this kind of thing … but haven’t started researching yet.

      • If you bought one off Etsy, could you talk to the seller and explain that you only want it packaged in paper, no plastic? Then you could have coffee and not violate the project.

        I bought fish at the fish counter of my grocery yesterday for the first time. I asked for no plastic, but after the guy had already picked it up in a plastic bag. He was very ready to throw away the plastic for me, but I declined. I just explained that I’ll ask sooner next time because I’m trying to reduce trash. He was very encouraging and said every bit counts. I thought of you!

        • That’s a good idea — I’m sure that would work! I still haven’t ruled out making them … I just know myself. 😉

          And what a great story! It’s awesome that he was willing and that you spoke up, even if you ended up with plastic this time anyway. Next time will be easier!

      • They do make “gold” filters which you can either use for pourover or in a drip machine, depending on the type. All the ones I’ve ever seen have quite a bit of plastic in them, though. I’ve also used the muslin cone filters and they work OK, but are slightly more work to rinse out. I personally think your best bet if you’re going to buy something new is a french press – they still have some plastic, but you can get ones that are mostly glass and metal so those bits are eventually recyclable to some extent.

        All of the above options have a much finer mesh than the tea filter you purchased, which is likely your problem. You might want to just try laying a piece of muslin in the tea filter and then put the coffee on that and pour through. If it works, a flat piece of muslin will be easier to rinse out than a bag.

        Really enjoying your blog!

        • I’m really torn on the coffee front. On one hand, I would like to be zero waste — totally zero. On the other, as my husband pointed out, we’re talking paper filters in a coffee cone I already own, which he seems to think is okay since we can compost them at home. I am going to Goodwill today, so I will check out the french presses and see what my options are there …

          And that explains why this tea filter didn’t work very well! Thank you!

Tell me, tell me...