6 Steps to Shopping in Bulk With Your Own Container

There's a certain amount of inertia that comes with the decision to "go zero waste." Many lifestyle changes can be made relatively quickly. I like bringing my own bags to the grocery store. They're more attractive and more durable. I like using a reusable coffee cup. It keeps my drink hot longer than a paper cup. And, in Oklahoma, I usually get a discount for doing both of these things. But, some steps aren't so easy to take.  Shopping in the bulk foods section has been one of those hurdles for me. 

I remember the first time I brought my own containers to the bulk section at Sprouts. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to use them, so I walked around the entire bulk section at least four times while I worked up the nerve to try. (It was allowed, for the record.) The next time I tried bulk shopping (at Whole Foods,) I did my research. I knew they welcomed customers to bring their own containers. I confidently filled my bags with the things I needed, only to realize I didn't know the tare weight of the bags I had brought. The next time, I was prepared. I put labels on my jars. I asked the cashier to weigh them before I filled them. I wrote the tare weights down. I kept track of the PLU codes in my phone. And still, there was confusion at the register about which product was which. You see why this has been such a hurdle for me!

This is one instance in which I completely agree that  the zero waste option is more difficult than the convenient, packaged foods in the next aisle. So, I thought I'd walk you through my bulk shopping process, so you don't have to be like me, stuck strategizing from a distance. 

Keep in mind that different states and stores have different rules about bringing your own container. Be sure you are allowed to bring yours before you fill it! (I live in Oklahoma, and I've been able to use my own wherever I've tried.)

1) Choose your containers at home. Any jar or plastic container with a tight fitting lid will work. Mesh produce bags also work for some larger items like dried fruits. The cashier will subtract the weight of the container (the tare weight) from your total purchase.

2) Ask cashier to weigh your containers and give you the tare weight. (before you fill them!) 

3) Write tare weight on each container. I used sticky notes, because it's what I had on hand, but grease pencils or masking tape also work well.

4) Fill your containers! (One item / code per container.)

5) Keep track of the PLU code that goes with each item / container. Twist ties or stickers are usually provided for this purpose, but I type them in the notes section of my phone, to reduce waste.

6) Check out.  As you give the cashier each item, point out the tare weight and read them the PLU code.  

That's it! I hope this helps you do your own bulk shopping with confidence. Let me know if you have any questions! 

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