Sunday, 16 April 2017

Sustainable shopping - buying in bulk

Grocery shopping - like it or not, it's something most of us have to do.  But rather than thinking of it as being a bit of a drag, there is a positive way to look at it. Grocery shopping is one way that we as customers (we hate the word consumer) can use our purchasing power to help bring about changes that we want to see in the world.  We can exert our influence by shopping mindfully. No company or store is going to stock products that don't sell.  By buying a particular product we are sending a message to the manufacturer to produce more of it. The rise and rise of cage-free eggs in Australian supermarkets is one such example. That means what we spend our money on counts!   Over-packaged products full of hard to decipher ingredients and way too much fat or sugar - is that really what we want to see more of?, I don't think so.   Organic, environmentally friendly goods that support our health and that of local businesses - well, yeah.  So let's get voting with our dollars 😊

There are lots of ways we can use our purchasing power for the good of our health and the environment and buying in bulk is one of them.

Buying in bulk can take different forms. One way is for a group of people to put money in to purchase a large quantity of an item and then portion it out amongst the group. Many people will have heard of Community Supported Agriculture schemes that supply boxes of fruit and veggies straight from the farmer to customers. Our permaculture group has done this with biodynamic spelt, as well as other things. This can be a great way to access quality products direct from producers who don't deal in small quantities. And the producer doesn't have to pay a cut to any middleman. Win win.

Another way is to shop at a bulk store. Bulk food stores, relatively common overseas are now catching on in Australia. These stores stock food in large unpackaged quantities, allowing customers to purchase as little or as much as they like of any item.  

One such store opened up a few years ago not far from where we live. It's called The Source Bulk Foods and it's where we buy our dry goods such as grains, beans, lentils, pasta, spices, seeds etc. 

Our local bulk foods store

Bulk food stores can benefit the environment in multiple ways.

Firstly the food and other goods are completely unpackaged - this is waste free grocery shopping.  The Source encourages zero waste shopping and I bring my own recycled glass jars, mesh bags and homemade cotton bags when I shop. Zero waste living, a concept popularised by Bea Johnson in her terrific book  Zero Waste Home, aims to eliminate trash from all aspects of life by following a simple guideline she calls the 5Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot (and only in that order). Any steps we can take toward zero waste living is a way of helping us to live more sustainably.

The second benefit of shopping at a bulk store is that you have access to a carefully considered range of products. Previously we had sourced organic products from a variety of places, making shopping more time consuming. Now I can find local/organic/biodynamic options all in the one store, which also focuses on supporting Australian producers and growers.

Then there's the range of options available. The list at The Source is extensive, carrying many hard to find items. 

Finally, while you are buying quality products, because they are free from packaging, the price you pay can work out cheaper than what you'd be paying for a similar item in the supermarket. I have certainly found this to be the case with some of the things I buy. We make our own muesli from a combination of rolled oats, quinoa flakes, sunflower seeds, linseeds, sesame seeds and cinnamon. I buy all of these organic items at the bulk store and save money. 

Below are a few more photos taken at my local store. As you can see, the store is well laid out, with all items clearly labelled and easily accessible.

Rice, beans, spelt and other goodies in barrels

seeds and spices along the top shelves

the brown rice I purchased

freshly ground coffee bean (left) and fresh nut butter (right)

Top row: black tahini, hulled tahini, unhulled tahini, tamari. Middle row: 2 kinds of extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil

Top row: blackstrap molasses, coconut syrup, maple syrup, rice malt syrup, dark agave syrup. Middle row: 2 types of honey, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar

So how does bulk store shopping work? It's pretty easy really. I take my empty jars to the counter to be weighed and the sales staff mark the weight on the jar. Then it's off to fill the jars with whatever I need. Back at the counter the jars are re-weighed and the weight of the jar is deducted from the total - so I'm only paying for the contents. Same deal with my homemade cotton bags - I write the weight of each bag in pen on the bag and this weight is deducted at the checkout.

Some of my purchases at the counter

Customers using the paper bags supplied by the store use a pen to write the item number on the bag before filling it, for easy identification at the checkout. There are scales available to check your quantities.

the friendly staff

This seems like such a sensible way to shop - it would be great to see bulk stores become as common as supermarkets.  

Have you ever shopped at a bulk store?