We spend our money consciously. Whether we are buying something for the business or for our household, we always try to minimize waste, save money, buy local, and support businesses whose values and practices are sustainable.
Here are some of our best tips to buy in bulk while reducing and eliminating waste!!
1. Join Your Local Food Co-Op
We are lucky in the Rogue Valley to have TWO food co-ops: The Medford Food Co-Op and the Ashland Food Co-Op. They are not part of the same network, so memberships are separate for each Co-Op (they have different benefits as well). These are both wonderful resources for locally grown produce, natural and organic groceries, bulk spices and grains, non-toxic household products, and more! Co-ops are community-oriented businesses that prioritize sustainability. So if you’re not already a member of your local co-op, FIND IT and join!!
2. Invest in Reusable Containers
One of the least sustainable aspects of buying in bulk is that the containers you take the food home in are typically single-use (bags offered by the store for your convenience). You can easily solve this problem by collecting your own containers for each item that you regularly purchase. Just don’t forget to bring them with you! Here’s what we use:
We picked up a few food-grade buckets at the Medford Co-Op (they sell buckets for $1.99) and we picked up a few for free at the Ashland Co-Op.
If your co-op doesn’t have buckets available like ours do, just ask if they have any extra buckets – they probably will be happy to give or sell you some. If you can’t get buckets from the co-op, you can ask local restaurants or stores if they have extra ones. If you strike out trying to score free ones, you can always buy them.
Make sure any plastic you’re using is food grade, find out what was stored in the container previously if you’re reusing containers, and wash your buckets well before using them. These 3-gallon buckets are great for taking home (and storing) produce that may bruise easily such as peaches or peppers.
We also purchased these reusable produce bags from the Ashland Co-Op. Since they are made from recycled plastic bottles, they are already on their second life.
Unlike the single-use plastic produce bags, they have a convenient drawstring to keep your produce contained. They are much larger capacity, holding at least 2-3 times the produce that a single plastic bag could hold.
We use these bags for produce that is more hardy such as beets, apples, onions, carrots etc (we use buckets for produce that might get bruised in a bag). It’s easy to hand wash and reuse them..
For Spices, Sugar & Grains
Mason jars are the best storage containers for almost everything other than produce.
We have assigned mason jars in varying sizes for each type of spice and grain. Each jar is selected to contain the amount of that particular ingredient that we want to keep in the house (for example, we use a LOT of dill, so we buy/store that in a quart sized jar, but we use considerably less cayenne, so we buy/store that in a 1/4 pint sized jar.
Honey, vinegar, maple syrup, or anything else sold in bulk by your local co-op can be stored in a mason jar or reused glass jar.
If you store your spices in a sunlit spot, you may want to consider investing in the amber, purple, or blue mason jars as they will block the light and keep your spices good for longer. If your spices live in a cabinet, or dark place, clear glass jars will be fine.
3. Pre-Label Your Containers
This is our BEST pro tip, and if you follow it, your cashiers will LOVE you!!
Each jar is labelled on the lid with:
The full name of the item
The empty weight of the jar+lid or bucket+lid
The bulk ID number for the item (we have two co-ops, so we have the code for each co-op on the jars)
Not only does this streamline the process and save time, you also eliminate the use of a disposable label or tag for your bulk purchase.
4. Bring a funnel
This tip reduces waste through spillage, and saves you time because you can pour your bulk spices/grains into your jars rather than scooping them one spoonful at a time. You’re also not making a bunch of little spoons dirty that have to be washed (so you’re saving both water and labor by bringing your funnel).
The funnel that comes with any standard canning tool set (pictured here) is perfectly sized to fit in the mouth of mason jars. We store this dedicated funnel in the “shopping bucket.”
5. Use a bucket as your shopping list
We keep an empty “shopping bucket” next to the spices. When we run out of something, we simply take the empty jar and place it in the bucket.
Each empty jar tells us what we need and how much we need to buy, so we don’t need to compile a separate shopping list.
We store empty produce bags in the bucket. We also keep a couple of extra empty jars in case we decide to pick up something we hadn’t planned to buy at the co-op. When it’s time to shop, we can just grab the bucket and go.
We hope this post inspires you to reduce waste, save money, reclaim your time, and enjoy delicious locally sourced bulk food with a clear conscience!