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Buy in bulk to reduce packaging waste

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Save money and starve your recycle bin by buying in larger quantities. You may also cut down on the number of trips you have to make to the store.

How to buy in bulk

Buying in bulk, whether it be food, personal care products, or underwear, is often cheaper than items purchased in smaller quantities. So the eco-friendly packaging choice may also be the low-cost choice.

But before going to the store, it can help to ascertain your products needs for the next week or month. This will allow you to determine how much of each item you'll need in the near future so that you can maximize your bulk purchases.

Buying bulk food

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. Check out what's available before you choose pre-packaged options. And to make your bulk isle purchase even more eco-friendly, keep these two ideas in mind:

  • Come prepared with your own containers: 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 as long as you make sure that they're cleaned out well and thoroughly dried to avoid food spoilage.
  • Take only what you need: Buying in bulk allows you to minimize waste by choosing the exact quantity that you want, but since food can spoil, it's important to take the amount you can use before it goes bad. Knowing how long foods typically last before spoiling will help you determine how much to get.

Buying from bulk bins isn't the only way to cut down on packaging waste. 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 single servings are handy, you say? Well, you can make your own individual servings when you get home by portioning that huge container of canned pears into reusable containers. This way you don't have to send your kids to school with an entire jar of pickles.

Other bulk-buying options

Knowing the non-food things you use frequently and in abundance can also save you time, money and resources. Many everyday products come in a super-sized containers—shampoo, cleaning supplies, auto supplies, underwear, giftwrap, and toilet paper are all examples of products that come in bulk.

And remember, some companies allow you to bring clean, used containers in for re-filling, so check out these options the next time you're in your local retailer.

Before you buy

Buyer beware of bulk items in individual sheep's clothing. Watch out for multiple small items packaged together that masquerade as 'bulk' options (three small bottles of shampoo shrink-wrapped together or flats of single-serving juice boxes rather than family-sized options, for instance). These don't actually reduce the total packaging you're taking home.

Buying 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]

In 2006, over 41 million tons of paper products were taken to landfills. In total (before recycling), paper products constituted 34 percent of the total waste stream. That same year, 27.5 million tons of plastic products, 2.6 million tons of aluminum items, and over 10.3 million tons of glass bottles, jars, and other containers were not recycled, ending up in landfills.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[4]

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