Good for the Environment and Your Budget: Buying in Bulk

My mom likes to tell me that my pantry is so full I should stop shopping for the next year and just eat what we have. However, we do rotate through our bulk food, I volunteer with Red Cross Disaster Services so I feel like I should be prepared, and I know that buying in bulk is good for the environment.

Larger packages means less material is used to hold an equivalent amount of food (or underpants or toy cars or – you get the idea).   Picture individual serving packs of cereal versus a large box of cereal and you can quickly see what I mean by less packaging for the same amount of product.   The box for this single serve portion of cereal makes up 30% of the total weight, whereas the bulk version’s packaging is only 17% of the total weight (that’s like saving half the cardboard, not to mention the energy saved in shipping less).  This holds true for a medium box versus a large box as well, but it’s easier to see the difference when you look at single-serving versus a warehouse-store sized box.

If you buy more at one time you don’t have to go to the store as often, saving gas and time!  I understand that many people go to the grocery store every week.   I rarely go more often than every other week.  I typically go to the warehouse store (BJ’s or Costco near us) every 3-4 weeks and I go to the grocery store about every 3-4 weeks as well, usually resulting in a shopping trip every other week.

Buying in bulk usually saves money as well.  Typically, pound for pound or ounce for ounce products bought in bulk are cheaper than when bought in smaller quantities.  It’s easy to see this at the grocery store, most stores in our area list the per pound or per quart price of food as well as the price of the container.  As a general rule, larger quantities are less expensive per serving.

One thing to be careful about is to not buy more than you can use before it goes bad.   If you buy in bulk, but you throw away stuff, then you are wasting and not benefiting from the savings.  We have an Energy Star chest freezer for storing warehouse-store quantities of frozen foods.  We also have a family of 5, so we eat enough food to make this worthwhile.

You can also buy in bulk from, and with their automatic reorder service you don’t forget to buy more, and they give 15% off for having a standing order.   One might argue that shipping the items is not great for the environment, but mail trucks are up and down most streets almost every day so they are spending that carbon anyhow.  Also, they have fully optimized their routes, so they are fairly efficient in their carbon use and you don’t have to use the fuel to go to the store. Amazon and other on-line companies also opens up the door to products you might not be able to get locally.   For example, we get our recycled, Seventh Generation paper towels and toilet paper delivered in bulk from Amazon twice a year.  It’s cheaper when you’re on a subscription service and we weren’t able to get these items in bulk locally.

Check out what warehouse stores are near you and see if they have a free trial pass so you can see if it works for you.  Some stores to check include BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club (or Makro in Europe). Whenever you buy things, keep an eye out for the largest packages to see if they will save you packaging, time and money.

Happy Greening,

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  1. All good tips. We “Costco” it when we can and I also go through PeaPod for groceries (saving money on gas) because with 3 under 3, it is extremely hard to get out!! Following from MBC!

  2. It’s worth mention buying unpackaged items in bulk (by the scoop), like flour/sugar/beans/pasta/spices/etc. there are many vendors on who sell bulk bags and/or you can take your containers in from home, get them weighed prior to filling (tare weight) and then not have to repackage at all.

    Even if you use the store provided plastic or paper bags for the bulk bin foods, you’re saving on packaging, as most foods have a cardboard box around the plastic bag.

    in the stores here in Oregon, the bulk bin foods are usually fresher and cheaper per pound than even the bulk packs at costco.

  3. fully support buying in bulk, BUT doing it at a local food co-op where (a) you can bring your own containers, as Northwest Mom points out, (b) you can find much more locally produced food, cutting way way down on shipping emissions, and (c) you’re much more likely to be buying food that was responsibly grown, processed, shipped, etc.

    Just one tiny example: palm oil. It’s in an unbelievable amount of the everyday food and hygiene products we buy from major companies who want to make food and other items as inexpensive as possible to attract as many consumers as possible. But the rush to create more palm oil for Pringles and Oreos and Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Dove soap and Johnson & Johnson Body Wash has caused the complete destruction of millions of acres of peat forests, which are the world’s major carbon sinks. Fully 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have been linked to the destruction of Indonesia’s peat forests. That’s an incredible amount of environmental damage you’re doing every time you purchase any product made with palm oil. And that’s before you even think about the emissions from shipping all that palm oil from Indonesia to factories in China, the U.S., Europe, etc where the “food” is assembled before shipping out to Costco, BJs, etc. Oh, and don’t forget about the corn starch and corn syrup (high fructose or otherwise) that probably comes from the United States, and the soy-based ingredients that may come from fields in Brazil that were once lush Amazon forests sucking in CO2 and providing habitat for thousands of species of plant and animal life — many of whom are now endangered.

    cheap food sounds good at face value, but it is cheap for a reason. and most of those reasons are really bad for the environment. I would imagine if you could tally them up, they’d be way worse than any environmental benefits of buying in bulk.

    FYI, more on palm oil here: and here:

    Also check this: Eating in America: At What Cost?

  4. Groceries are one of the biggest expenses each month for many families, so here are some simple tips from our readers to help you save money on your groceries.

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