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How to Shop From Bulk Bins

Last week, Josh and I finally took the plunge into Zero Waste bulk shopping! Just like your average Americans, we’ve always tended to buy food in excess – often a few times a week simply for the sake of eating just what we want to eat in any given moment.

Josh is craving spaghetti and meatballs? I used to be more likely to go out and grab those particular ingredients, rather than settle for penne. Maybe it’s newlywed syndrome… either way, it’s silly.

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These days we’re doing things differently! Here are the grocery shopping principles we’ve committed to since going zero waste:

  1. Shop package-free, exclusively, by shopping in farmers markets and bulk stores. Don’t bring any more trash into the house.
  2. Meal plan at the beginning of the week so there is no question ‘what’s for dinner.’
  3. Meal prep at the beginning of the week so that proactive preparation wins over last-minute convenience.
  4. Utilize rotating pantry containers to create variety (ex: a single “pasta jar” that one week holds penne and the next holds rotini).
  5. Get creative with leftovers and only compost the bare scraps you just absolutely couldn’t find a use for.

With this in mind, Josh and I took our very first zero waste grocery shopping trip at our new favorite place: The Fort-Collins Food Co-operative! Here’s how our experience went!

Our First Experience Shopping Bulk Bins

As a brand new zero waster with next-to-no zero waste bulk shopping options in Cheyenne, I literally got butterflies when we walked into this store – no joke! 

The place is glorious and it smells like all my favorite ‘crunchy’ places in Seattle, one of my hometowns. Walk into the co-op and you will be instantly greeted with tons of fresh, package-free produce and a bulk room in the back. I knew pretty quickly that we would have no trouble meeting our zero waste needs here.

zero waste grocery shopping bulk

Loaded up with my favorite Weck canning jars for pantry storage we walked away with a couple different types of pasta, green lentils, split peas, granola cereal, flour, corn meal, cranberries, baking soda, roasted nuts, olive oil, and ground coffee for our new French press. And that’s just groceries!

We were also able to find bulk shampoo and conditioner (name brand, smells like fresh oranges), protein powder, and even bar soap that you can cut to size.

bulk bins at bulk co-op

How to Find a Bulk Shop in Your Area

For those of you thinking about trying zero waste at home, I highly recommend Bea Johnson’s “Bulk App,” which you can find here. Just pop in your location and the amenities you need and *boom!* the app will generate a list of bulk shopping locations in your area. It’s like Christmas.

Zero Waste Home Bulk App

Tips for Shopping Bulk

For the most part, shopping out of bulk bins is pretty intuitive – just bring your own jars and grab what you need, in the amount you need!

However, there are still a few things you should know before you go:

1) Bring a variety of jars, bottles and dispensers in all shapes and sizes.

You need a very different container for flour than you do olive oil. We use a 1.5L cylindrical Weck jar for larger volume items (like pastas and grains) and smaller pouring bottles for oils and other liquids. We were also able to find glass, reusable lotion dispensers for our bulk shampoo and conditioner.

2) Keep your jars from clanking around by transporting them in a cloth bag with separate sections. 

A wine tote meant to hold multiple bottles works great for us! We’ve also been known to use the padded cardboard box in which our jars were shipped.

3) Weigh your empty containers either at home or at the register before you fill them. 

The base weight of your jars when empty is called your “tare.” When you purchase your product at the front, the cashier will subtract your tare from the total weight, ensuring you’re only paying for what’s inside, not the jar too! We write the tare of all our containers on the bottom of our jars in permanent marker for easy reading at the register.

Have you shopped bulk before? Do you have any tips for our readers? Share below, in the comments! 


Thursday 13th of June 2019

Hello! Where did you find the "We were also able to find glass, reusable lotion dispensers for our bulk shampoo and conditioner." ??


Wednesday 4th of December 2019

The containers? We purchased ours from our co-op, but just about any glass lotion bottle or soap dispenser from the bathroom aisle will do. Check out thrift stores if you're looking to save, otherwise you can find them just about anywhere.


Monday 8th of January 2018

Have you ever found a checker annoyed by having to weigh your containers? Or not believing your pre-written tare weights?


Tuesday 9th of January 2018

Not so far. Most of the places I shop I familiar with the tare process and don't give me any trouble. I guess I would say, just keep going! Over time I think they will grow to accept it more readily :)

Thursday 27th of October 2016

Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It's the little changes that will make the greatest changes.

Thanks a lot for sharing!

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Thursday 27th of October 2016

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Best of luck for the next!