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 Amazon.com, 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.