Show me the bulk

I’ve never thought about my favorite little grocery store as a bulk paradise, but based on some of the comments I’ve gotten this year,  maybe it is. We don’t have everything, but we have a variety, and that’s most of the battle.

To show you what I have here, I’ve assembled this little photo essay. One thing I’ve learned during the project is that the term “bulk” is open to interpretation. We have a bulk aisle, of course, but I’ve come to see bulk as anything I can get unpackaged, no matter where it’s located in the store.

Fresh fruit and veggies

This is our produce department. We have organic and regular, and this store is amazing about stocking local produce in season. (We have farm stands all over the place here, so in the growing months, I shop primarily from them.) No one bats an eye when I pull out my cloth produce bags, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with tossing unbagged produce in the cart if I happen to run out. (I’m a germaphobe. This is a big step for me.) And at the check stand, our cashiers are cool with opening the bags to see what’s inside and get produce codes. I know not everyone has checkers who will do that, and I always thank mine for being awesome.

Olive bar

And this little beauty is our olive bar. I don’t get stuff here very often, but it comes in handy sometimes. Incidentally, when I’m getting something from here or from the bulk bins, I try to do so without touching the scoop to my jar — just because I’m sure there are people out there who would appreciate that. (Remember: Germaphobe.) I know my jars are clean, but no one else does. I try to be mindful of that.

Bulk aisle part 1

Bulk aisle part 2 (I’m pretty impressed with all the herbs and spices we have)

And here’s our actual bulk aisle! Some of these bins are empty, but not many. The ones I visit the most are for herbs and spices, oatmeal, pasta, dried fruit (apricots, plums, dates), baking items (baking powder, baking soda, salt, flour sometimes, cornstarch, cream of tarter, etc.), rice, and beans. I also get my shampoo, dish soap and castile here. Sometimes I’ll get candy if I’m having a stressful week and am not feeling strong. I like to browse the aisle slowly periodically just to see what’s new, and I’m always finding something I’ve never noticed before.

Meat counter

Here’s our meat counter. If Mr. Plastic is behind it, I cry. But otherwise everyone is really cool about filling my container. P.S. This weekend at the meat counter (Mr. Nice Guy, thank heavens), a man was watching MNG put pork in my container, and he was all, can I ask why you do that? So I told him. About reducing my trash output, bringing my container for meat, and pointed out my bags for produce and jars for bulk, and then I told him how great MNG is about filling filling containers, and MNG was all, eh, it’s nothing, so he’s even nicer than I thought! And then Question Guy was like, thank you, that’s interesting. He may have been sorry he asked at that point. 😉 The end.

Maple syrup and yeast. And supplements or something?

Our maple syrup and yeast is hidden in the natural foods refrigerated section. I don’t have to get either very often, but I appreciate the availability very much when I do!


I get my coffee from a local roaster, but if I had to pick a Plan B, it would be the coffee bins. (Oh crap! I just realized I forgot to take a photo of the organic coffee and tea! Well, it’s like this, only with jars, and it looks a lot like the herbs and spices set up.) Actually, I have used this as Plan B.

The bonus that didn’t work out: I discovered the store had bulk dog food a few weeks ago, but when I went to take a photo, it was gone. I wonder if it’s a supply issue (trucks can’t get through in the snow and ice) or if it’s a demand issue — can’t say I’ve ever noticed anyone with bulk dog food before. Anyway, regardless, I’m slightly more bummed out than I should be, considering I don’t even have a dog. I just like options is all.

So that’s my grocery store. Not perfect — I still haven’t been able to convince the bakery department to put items in my bags, and we don’t have “serve yourself” bins to circumvent the no — but not terrible, either. I’ve mentioned this before, but anyway, once I started working with what was available to me instead of trying to fit my old shopping habits into a new zero waste lifestyle, it’s been a lot easier. Add meal planning to the mix — I still can’t believe that’s working so well — and I feel like I’m really getting somewhere.

P.P.S. Not zero waste, but Sunday we actually had sunshine and a high of 41ºF. I sat out in the sun and felt like I was sweating. It was awesome. Another snowstorm is predicted for Wednesday, but I’m in denial about that.

Next up: Zero waste at the office. It’s not quite as pretty.

11 Responses to Show me the bulk

  1. I agree with the meal plan comment — I feel like some magic has occurred, and it’s working really well this time! I have a grocery with a great bulk section, but no liquids. I’d really like to get bulk cooking oil! And maple syrup! (Although I do get maple syrup in glass, so that’s recyclable.)

    • Yeah, I’ve never seen bulk maple syrup anywhere else. I always feel like I’m getting away with something really awesome whenever I fill my jar.

      We can also get honey (I buy local jars instead, but nice option), but they took away the cooking oils a while ago. I think I could get it at a little German deli, but it’s never open when I go past so I’ve never quite made it in.

  2. I cannot figure out how to lower my dog’s plastic waste. Most pet foods today come in very heavy plastic bags. I found a new food recently that is paper on the outside, but there is a plastic lining on the inside. I’ve thought about going with mostly canned foods. But since she’s a large breed, the cost would be over $300 per month. It may come down to a mix of homemade, canned, and the lowered plastic from the new food bags. I agree that working with what’s available is the only way to try to reduce waste. Otherwise, it gets really frustrating.

    • I’ve seen people make those sacks into reusable shopping bags (I actually bought one at a craft fair a few years ago and that sucker is indestructible) … but I’m not sure that’s really a long-term solution. Maybe if you’re a crafty person anyway.

      I think I’m remembering a feed store in town with bulk dry dog food, but that might just be treats. (Only go in when I have to write a story for a special publication.) If your town has something like that, it may be worth checking into.

      I still haven’t figured out how to get the cats zero waste-d. Maybe I need to check out our feed store a little more carefully for Pearl and Bear. (Bonus points for keeping me out of The Store That Must Not Be Named.)

      • While it isn’t a perfect option, I found that Terra Cycle now has several free programs and actually recycles pet food bags. I’m going to switch both my dog and cat to Wellness foods. My 20 month old puppy now weighs nearly 80 pounds. Eleanor, a Golden Retriever, goes through a lot of food!! I definitely didn’t consider zero waste when choosing the breed. ; )

        The Wellness and Open Farm pet food companies actually team with Terra Cycle, so I can now ship a box full of bags free of charge. You just download the label. Again, not exactly zero waste since it requires shipping, but to me it’s better than sending so many to the landfill. I also like that the companies themselves are involved in trying to reduce the waste from their products. I only wish this were more widely publicized, or even better, that the bags could be collected at pet stores. (Grocery stores collect plastic bags. Office Depot accepts all brands of old binders. Why can’t pet stores collect bags from all brands of food? In fact, I’ll be happy when every business is responsible for the waste from their products!)

  3. You do have some great options at your grocery store! Maybe I need to look wider than at my local health food store. What store is it? A chain maybe hopefully?

    • It is a chain, but a small one — they have one store in Oregon, and the rest are in Washington State and Montana. 🙂

    • It is interesting how it differs from place to place — even store to store! We have another grocery in town and the selection is terribly depressing. The bulk aisle is 25 bins shoved in a corner. I do feel very lucky and I wish I could share my good fortune with everyone! It does help to have options.

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