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How To Shop At Bulk Barn Without ANY Waste At All

By Sam Miller

If you’re trying to live your best zero-waste life, then chances are that you’ve walked into a Bulk Barn before. And you’ve probably loved it. 


Note: This article is predominantly geared to our fellow Canadians, eh. For a US equivalent, check out Where To Shop: A State-by-State Guide for the ultimate list of zero-waste bulk stores available in the States. Then you can apply the lessons that your Canadian n-eh-bours are learning here!


Something you may have noticed is that, while there is a refillable jar option, the vast majority of shoppers tend to use those little plastic bags to pack up their nuts and flours. And you may have thought at the time: huh… kinda defeats the purpose, no?


Yes. Yes it does. 


So this article is a guide to shopping at Bulk Barn in the spirit of real bulk shopping which is, at its core, zero waste, zero hassle! 


Start Collecting Jars - Right Now!


Think of all those poor people tossing perfectly good glass jars, never knowing that they’re throwing out their zero-waste best friends!


The best jars for bulk shopping are those with wide enough brims that will allow you to scoop flour and nuts without too much spillage.


Note: For tips on how to properly clean and sanitize your reusable jars, stay tuned for our upcoming blog post! 

 

For Flours & Powders:

 

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-Large pickled foods jars (pickles, bean salad, artichokes, etc)

-Salsa jars 


Note: If you’re not opposed to storing food items in plastic, you could do a lot worse than clean peanut butter containers! They’re light and have a tight seal. 


For Nuts & Candy:

 

Because nuts (etc) are less likely to spill and make a mess while you’re adding them to your reusable containers, you get a little more flexibility with the type of jar you can use.


Medium-sized jars - like Dijon mustard containers - are great for these ingredients, as you won’t overbuy on expensive items, like almonds. 


For Spices:

 

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Keep an eye out for “mini” jars - the kind you find containing crushed garlic or ginger, or pickled capers. If you use small jars for spices, you’re less likely to go overboard on hot ticket items like paprika. Spices ain’t cheap! 


These tiny jars also make storing spices in a drawer or shelf over the oven much simpler. 


For Liquids:

 

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When looking for jars to use to store “wet” foods - like peanut butter, honey, etc - you should consider clean-up once that food is all used up. 


Unlike flour-designated jars, you can’t exactly give the jar a quick rinse in the sink and keep using it. You’ll have to get your hand in there and put some elbow grease into cleaning out the interior. 


With this in mind, keep an eye out for wide-brim jars that would allow you to reach in with a rag for clean-up. 

 

Note: If clean-up isn’t a huge concern (say, if you’re of the “let it soak for days” variety) you might want to consider reusing plastic “squeeze” bottles (well washed, of course). Old barbecue sauce and mustard containers are designed to hold liquids, and the squeezable design makes it easy to dole out certain wet ingredients as needed. 


Ode To Plastic Containers:

 

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It may seem counterintuitive to push the use of plastic containers, but in this circumstance, they often work to your advantage. Plastic is lightweight and easy to lug around with you in a store - much easier than glass. 


If you choose to use plastic containers that would otherwise end up in the recycling bin, you’re actually ahead of the zero-waste game. Two birds, one stone: your shopping trip will be less hassle, and you’re removing yet more plastic from the waste stream. Shop smarter not harder!


Have A Designated Bulk Barn Bag

 

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When you’re getting ready to go shopping, it’s just too easy to leave your reusable bags behind. However, if you have a specific bag for a specific task, you’re more likely to remember to bring it along. 


The ultimate Bulk Barn shopping trip shopping bag is one which can easily handle the weight of multiple glass jars - and their contents. 


Not only should it be made of the sturdiest material known to bags, it should also be comfortable to carry around and able to hold multiple jars without risk of smashing or annoying clinking around. Tall order? Yup. 


Luckily, there’s a way around buying yet another expensive tote. You can make your own [[reusable No-Sew Bulk Barn Tote Bag]] in less than 5 minutes with about 4$ worth of craft material (that you probably already have around the house). 


If you’re not opposed to spending a few bucks, you can also use a beer caddy, a tool caddy, or a craft bag from Michaels. These are sturdy, solid and have compartments for your various reusable jars. Remember that having this at the ready, with the jars already installed will make your zero-waste shopping trip so much easier. 


Arrive Prepared


Bulk Barn asks a lot of its customers. You have to package things yourself and label them as well, all while squinting to read the hundreds of labels of nearly identical-looking products and remembering the items you came to buy in the first place. 


We sympathize. 


“Necessories”


To make things easier for yourself, include the following items in your Bulk Barn shopping kit: 


  • A permanent marker
  • An erasable marker
  • White label stickers 
  • A rag (for any cleanup necessary) 

Keep these items in a separate compartment so that they’re always within reach while shopping. 


Mark It Down


Before you arrive at Bulk Barn, or before you leave your house, plan out exactly what you’re buying and how much (approximately) of each item you’ll need. 


For larger amounts, designate your larger jars, for smaller amounts, your smaller containers. Mark these with a label or just an erasable marker to jog your memory while shopping so that you’re not over or under buying. 


Prepare Your List


We never go anywhere without a list. Literally. Never. 


A shopping list is one of the main methods to avoid overspending and unnecessary buys - and, subsequently, one of the best ways to avoid waste. 


But shopping lists aren’t always convenient to carry around especially when you’re lugging your Bulk Barn shopping kit around as well. 


Keeping Your Shopping List Within Reach 

 

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On the handle of your Bulk Barn shopping bag, you can affix a label (the type you buy for your luggage when travelling) to store your shopping list on the go. 


To make your own travelling shopping list:


  • Remove the insert in your luggage label
  • Use the insert to trace a replica on thick paper or cardstock
  • Write your list on the cardstock (write small if it’s a long list!)
  • Insert the list into the luggage label, making sure it doesn’t bend, rip or fold
  • Attach your luggage label to your shopping bag and get ready for liftoff! 

Get Your Jars Weighed 


This is easily the most awkward part of shopping zero-waste. To be able to use your own jars and containers, the cashier will need to weigh your jars individually and mark them with their weight so that when they’re filled, they’ll know how much to charge you. 


It’s relatively painless - it just takes about 15 seconds per jar to weigh and mark. The downside of this process is really that you’ll need to do this every time you shop at Bulk Barn. They don’t yet have embedded weights on their own glass jars - but here’s hoping!


Shopping Zero Waste


Take. Your. Time. We cannot stress this enough. 


You are not doing anything - ANYTHING - wrong by taking your sweet time. Remember, you’re doing this for very good reasons, so don’t let the hussle and bussle of Bulk Barn’s narrow aisles stress you out. 


Go in with a purpose, and don’t leave until that purpose has been met. 


Follow your list carefully and read the premade labels on the jars to jog your memory about amounts. 


Storing Your Haul 

 

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The beauty of shopping with your own containers: you now have labelled, portioned amounts of baking and other goods. 


Before storing everything away, we recommend writing the date that you purchased these items on the label or in erasable marker. You should also look up “best before” dates for each item and include that in your labelling. This way, you’ll always be ahead of the game!



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