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Buy bulk food to reduce packaging waste

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Buying bulk food is often cheaper than buying small quantities, so the eco-friendly packaging choice may also be the dollar saving choice.

Buying from the bulk isle

Most grocery stores carry a variety of scoop-your-own bulk options, such as coffee, tea, beans, rice, pasta, nuts, flour, sugar, granola, spices, honey, and oil. To make your bulk isle purchase even more eco-friendly, keep these two ideas in mind:

  • Bring your own container: To further pare down your impact, take your own reusable containers or bags; some grocery stores provide scales for weighing containers before filling them. Large yogurt containers, glass pickle jars, and some plastic take-out containers work great for storing food.
  • Avodi the temptation to stickpile!: It's easy to get carried away with the savings from buying in bulk and over-purchase only to have food go stale, which defeats the practice in the first place! Knowing how long foods typically last before spoiling will help you determine how much to get.

Other bulk food options

Buying pre-packaged food in bulk is another option. Many grocery stores carry pre-packaged food in super-sized bags, bottles, cans, and boxes.

But buyer beware: watch out for multiple small items packaged together that masquerade as 'bulk' options (flats of single-serving juice boxes rather than family-sized options or giant boxes of individually-wrapped fruit snacks, for instance). These don't actually reduce the total packaging you're taking home or the cost.

Find it! Reusable food containers for bulk food purchases

Equip yourself with your own reusable containers to use both as you shop the bulk isle and for single servings when you get home.

Buying food in bulk helps you go green because…

  • It reduces the amount of waste created.
  • It prevents resources from being used to create unnecessary packaging.

Packaging of all sorts makes up about one-half of all solid waste in the municipal waste stream. Although at least 28 countries currently have laws designed to encourage reduced packaging, the US is not one of them. Instead, the burden of disposing of packaging waste is left to the consumer. And though access to curbside recycling programs has increased from 30 percent to 50 percent between 1992 and 2006, recycling rates have actually dropped.[1]

Consider, too, that most purchases add additional package-waste by being bagged in plastic as they leave the store. A plastic bag, which takes only one second to manufacture, is used for about 20 minutes on average and then takes 100-400 years to degrade naturally. About 16,000 of these bags are distributed worldwide every second.[2]

But waste from spoiled food is also a problem. In addition to package waste, 6.7 percent of the solid waste stream comes from discarded food from commercial and residential sources.[3] In fact, if just 5 percent of all discarded food had been recovered (for composting, donations, and animal feed) in 1995, $50 million in landfill costs would have been saved.[3]

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