5 Steps to Zero Waste Bulk Shopping

Spread the Sustainable Gospel!


How to Zero Waste Bulk Shop | Before I set forth on my journey to zero waste, I never once utilized the bulk sections in grocery stores. I’d grab my cart, walk right by the overflowing bins of unpackaged food, and head straight to the middle aisles. I never once thought about using it or even took the time to look at what was in the bins. I always wonder why. Is it because I’ve let marketing control my shopping habits so much that I instinctively go to the food items that appear in commercials and grocery flyers? Is it because I have false beliefs about the bulk sections like cleanliness and convenience? Whatever the reason, I think it’s time to get the word out on how wonderful these mystery areas of our grocery stores are! These multifarious bulk sections are a HUGE part of my zero waste living and have many benefits other than just being package free. You can sample small amounts of new food without committing to a big bag, millions of pounds of waste are averted from landfills yearly, and sometimes you can spend less on the bulk item versus its packaged twin.
Shopping the bulk bins is incredibly easy and strangely fun. Below, are the steps that I take while stocking up on delicious package free goods.

1. Locate stores that sell bulk, package-free items.

 Yes, I know, some of us are not as lucky as those who have access to stores with bulk sections. That is perfectly OK! This is not only a process for each and every one of us, it’s also a process for our grocers. The more we demand to shop bulk, the more stores will adapt. It’s amazing how much power we have as consumers. I used to work retail for 6 years so trust me, “The customer IS always right!” I saw first hand how our company would change how items were sold just to keep up with the ever-changing shopping culture. If they didn’t change, they would have lost profits. I will address later, other ways to minimize waste when having little to no access to bulk items.
Bea Johnson, of Zero Waste Home, has developed a lovely bulk locator app called ZeroWasteHome Bulk. Not only does it help you locate bulk stores near you, it also allows you to submit new bulk locations when they are discovered. Currently, the app only works correctly on iOS platforms, so I’m really hoping that it will be customized for Android soon!


I am also putting together a list of Bulk locations I find as I explore new locations. You can find that here.

2. Get Your Hands on Some Reusable Containers or Bags

Instead of filling those flimsy plastic sacks with your bulk goodness, bring your own reusable containers/bags. You can get the bags I use HERE!  Don’t feel like you need to start spending a bunch of money on gear in order to attempt a zero waste lifestyle. You probably have plenty of acceptable containers in your house already. Mason jars work perfectly for bulk nut butter and liquids. For the dry stuff, you could make cinch bags out of some scrap fabric you have lying around. You could also make bags from stained or torn clothing, old bed sheets, old curtains, scrap fabric, etc. However, if you prefer to get some already made, there are dozens of stores online that sell them.


3. Get the Tare Weight of Your Containers

To avoid paying for the weight of your bags or containers, you will first need to get the tare weight while they are empty. Once you have that amount, write it down, and have that amount taken off of the total weight once the container is filled. (don’t forget to weigh your containers with the lids on when you get the tare weight). Sometimes you can tare your containers yourself on the scales that are near the bulk sections or you can have customer service do it for you.

Here, I’m taring the weight first. Once I removed my bag, the scale reported the weight as being -0.04. I then filled my bag and placed it back on the scale to get the weight of just the product inside.

4. Scoop!

Scoop away!

5.Transfer Bulk into Jars

Once home, transfer your bulk bounty into jars for storage. Having bulk in jars makes it easy to see what item is getting low and needs to be replenished.



Shopping just the bulk sections instead of traipsing through the store trying to locate items, has cut my shopping time in half. I used to dread going to the grocery store but now I kind of enjoy it. My husband and I even argue who gets to fill the cloth bags with bulk items. It’s funny how grocery shopping has become fun for us now.


16 thoughts on “5 Steps to Zero Waste Bulk Shopping

  1. Don't forget to profile cashiers! Sometimes when I have extra time, I pick out a newbie so I can help her “learn” how to tare. But when I'm in a hurry, I need that girl I use every time so I can get in and out with having to call over the manager!

  2. Great tip! I find myself looking at their employee name badges to see how many years they've worked for said grocery store. It seems like I have way better luck with the more seasoned employees. 😉

  3. Tare is sometime a problem. I remember a olive's shop where I gave my jar to fill it directly with olive. They were not able to tare the balance. They finaly use a plastic container first to fill my jar and waste the used plastic container ! They never see me again …

  4. That happened to me the other day. I've been going to the same deli to get fresh mozzarella for a couple of months now. Normally, they take my jar, tare it empty on their scale, then fill it. This last time I went the employee took my jar but then filled a plastic container, dumped it into my jar after he weighed it, then threw the plastic container into the trash. You win some and you lose some I guess.

  5. Are those ur own jars? Love the antique ones. I have many and use quite a few for bulk foods. Often also for packaged foods that need to be transferred to keep fresh. Looks so clean and def easier to see amount of contents!

  6. If you are handy with a sewing needle, here is what I do. I repurpose old sheer curtains to make my own bags. They have very little weight but are see through, allowing you to see at a glance what items are inside. These can also be made any size, allowing flexibility in what you put into them.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.