No bulk bins? No problem! Buy your own bulk food online!
So you’re getting into the zero waste lifestyle and you’re ready to jump into a package-free grocery shopping trip. The only problem? Your town/city doesn’t have any bulk bins. Way more typical than you think. Luckily, you can buy your own bulk food online!
Is a zero waste online grocery store possible?
Pretty close! And thank goodness, because here are a few things we have to take into account when we talk about zero waste grocery shopping:
- Most people don’t have access to bulk options. I doubt there’s been much research on this, but anecdotally this is pretty obvious. If you don’t live in at least a semi-major city your bulk options are really limited. Most people have just a few stores to choose from, most with little if any bulk bins.
- If they do, most people can’t get everything they want in bulk. Even for people like me – who have a bulk store with three aisles of bulk bins – the choices can be limiting. (Especially when a good chunk of the bulk bins are snacky/unhealthy options.) The reality is that you won’t be able to shop 100% unpackaged without severely limiting what you consume.
- If they can, bulk stores still produce waste behind the scenes. For as many “big” zero wasters that show you a Mason jar of trash that they’ve had for five years, there’s a huge amount of trash behind the scenes. While a few dedicated “zero waste” stores can create almost no trash, most people use bulk stores that still get their items packaged in 10-25 pound plastic bags. Stores do not have any more magical access to cost-effective, totally unpackaged goods than we do.
Worried about the carbon emissions of shipping food? You probably shouldn’t be!
So if you don’t have any bulk options (or, like me, have difficulty finding certain things in low-waste packaging), ordering bulk online is a great option. Further you should not feel bad when you produce trash as long as you’re actively trying to avoid it. There are plenty of easy ways to stay away (kick heavily-processed snack foods, for one thing) but some things will come in packaging.
Anyway, I just made my first foray into buying my own bulk online through Azure Standard to get some soybeans (tofu making ahead!) and I figured I could tell you about the experience.
This post isn’t sponsored but I am an affiliate of Azure Standard. All this means is if you order over $100 worth of products, I will get $25 credited to me. No cost to you, no pressure.
About Azure Standard and buying bulk food online
Azure Standard is an online company that’s like a zero waste online grocery store. They let you order bulk food online and then pick it up nearby on set delivery days.
NB: the company doesn’t ship directly to your door so you need to make sure there’s a drop-off location near you. They’re located mainly on the West Coast, Southeast, and in the Midwest.
Most of their foods are certified organic and everything is minimally processed and they offer most of their dry goods in bulk options ranging from 1 to 25 pounds of product. I bought a 5 pound bag of soybeans which did come in a plastic bag. Still, a large plastic bag can serve any number of purposes before it’s thrown away. The cardboard box it was packaged in was repurposed from another order and even had some information on the front about the initiative, which I really liked.
My box came empty except for the soybeans. I’m not sure if that’s typical or not, but I did leave a small note in the box at checkout that said “Hi! Please no additional packaging inside the box – just the product. Thank you!” It either worked, or they just don’t over package.
Overall, my first Azure Standard experience was a positive one and I definitely see myself investing in some further deliveries from them in the future. I’d definitely recommend giving it a try if they deliver near you!
(NB: I have since re-ordered several times and each time it’s been just the food – mostly in paper bags – no excess packaging! It really is as close to a zero waste online grocery store as you can get!)
Money too tight or don’t live where they deliver? Here are some tips on low-waste grocery shopping without bulk.
Tips for buying your own bulk
The only real negative about shopping in bulk yourself is that it can get expensive pretty quickly. You’re obviously getting good value for money, but I certainly don’t have $200+ to stock my entire pantry at once even if it would save money in the long run.
Here are a few tips and ideas for buying your own bulk:
- Consider your space/consumption abilities before buying. While it’s tempting to stock up on a 25 pound bag of rice and call it a day, think about practicalities. How long would it take you to eat all of it? Do you have a place to store it so it won’t go bad as you go through it? A smaller bag may produce slightly more waste, but the food itself will all get consumed.
- Monitor your pantry and set aside funds for refill time. Let’s say you have a jar full of black beans that’ll last you about a month. A 5 lb bag costs $9.50 – that means you could set aside $3-4/week and have enough to pay for it by the time you run out. You could do the same for a larger bag, just putting aside more each week. (I do this in a special area of my savings account but you could also do it with an envelope system.)
- Find other people to split the cost with. Let’s go back to beans. A 25 lb bag is $38.15. Too expensive for my blood, but if you could split it between five people you’d all save about $2 for a 5 lb portion – even one or two other people would provide a deep discount. If you have a local zero waste community group, it’d be a good place to start asking.
- Take advantage of sales. Azure Standard has frequent sales as well as discounted overstock items and a bargain bin. Be on the lookout for an item you want to go on sale and save some cash.
Buying your own bulk food online is a great way to save yourself money and drastically reduce your waste, particularly if you live somewhere without aisles of bulk bins. Finding ways to reduce the cost can be tricky, but worthwhile in the long run.