Part Three: Success!

The other day, with a few containers in our bag, we made a trip to the Gardiner Co-op to check out their bulk food section. We wanted  to see how easy it would be to use our own containers. We considered this a scouting trip and only brought a couple of containers.

We found that the Co-op has a small but practical bulk food section, with items such as rice, beans, and lentils, among other things. These are staples in our house, and we eat them, in one form or another, every week.

We needed chickpeas and black beans, and the clerk cheerfully weighed our empty containers before we filled them. We didn’t feel at all odd or as though we were asking him to do something that was an imposition. In fact, he acted as though it were a normal request. So all in all, we felt bringing our own containers was a smashing success, and we will definitely return to the Co-op. Here is what we came home with.

The big container with the black beans once held peanuts. (Yes, we do love peanuts.) As it turns out, this container is the perfect size for getting bulk food out from the bins without spilling anything on the floor. The jar that we used for chickpeas was a little too small, although Clif did avoid any spillage.

Although the peanut container is made of plastic, it is sturdy and fits easily in our cupboards. For now, at least, we will continue to buy peanuts in that packaging as we will be reusing the containers for bulk purchases. When we have enough of those containers, we will have to reassess how we buy peanuts.

A day after we went to the Gardiner Co-op, we went to our local Hannaford grocery store to find out about their bulk food. Their selection is not as practical as the Co-op’s and runs more toward treats—chocolate-covered peanuts, granola, and sesame sticks, to name a few.

However, I am a person who, ahem, loves treats, and let’s just say that of all the food that comes in wasteful, non-recyclable packaging, treats are at the top of the list. So I am totally into bulk treats.

But there was a bit of a snag at Hannaford. When I asked a clerk whether it was all right to bring in our own containers for bulk food, he hesitated before saying, “Yes, but we don’t weigh the packaging.” This means that you have to pay for the cost of the containers when the food is weighed.  H-m-m-m, I’ll have to think more about that one.

Finally, on a different but related subject, here is something that should go into the Green Hall of Fame. After going to the Gardiner Co-op, we met our friends Alice and Joel at a local Mexican Restaurant. They always order enough so that there is food leftover for a meal at home. And here is what they do.

They bring their own containers from home, including the cardboard ones for the condiments. And Alice assured me that she finds plenty of ways to use the little condiment containers.

Do we have awesome friends, or what?

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42 thoughts on “Part Three: Success!”

  1. Yes! I started doing this a couple months ago. I’m trying to keep track of how much plastic packaging it saves from the landfill. We’ve gotten more and more bulk food options popping up around DC

    1. I envy you. Very limited in central Maine, but we are pushing on with our plan to reduce our waste. There is a Whole Foods a little over an hour from where we live, but of course we have to drive to get there. However, it’s also where we pick up our daughter when she comes to visit us. So we might be able to pick supplies then. Anyway, onward, ho!

  2. As a bonus, bulk is generally A LOT cheaper than packaged, esp. in spices. It turns out those cute little glass jars cost a lot of $ to pack and ship, so you pay at the checkout. Additionally, I found bulk spices to be often organic, more flavorful and fresher. They say we should replace spices annually, so buying bulk, even a tablespoon or two at a time, saves $. I wash and reuse small spice jars (and if you know someone with a baby, those baby food jars are great, too.)

      1. We are spoiled with two member-owned co-ops and a Whole Foods, all of which have large bulk depts. Bulk is perfect when there are only two people eating, allowing us to buy smaller batches for fresher taste and less waste.

      2. Oh, I am jealous! It seems like you have the best of both worlds—country living with decent stores nearby.

      3. We still have to drive 1/2 hour to get there, but to live in a quiet rural area is worth it to us. We run all our errands at once to save time and gas. 🙂

      4. We have to drive 1/2 hour to get to the Gardiner Co-op, which is very tiny. Someday, we hope to have an electric car.

  3. Thank you for letting us know about the Co-op. I am glad the clerks were patient and supportive of your using your own container. I am sorry Hannafords does not weigh the packaging beforehand but at least they are willing to let you use it. Perhaps that is a step in the right direction. Keep up the good work and keep us informed!

  4. I always seem to bring home leftovers from restaurants and I really like the idea of taking my own reusable container with me. I HATE those styrofoam clamshell boxes restaurants use!

  5. Wow, Laurie – Thank you so much for this. Some amazing ideas and many I have never thought of. If more and more of us start behaving this way, then we won’t feel so odd. So it really helps to see this. Excellent.

  6. Good for you! I am often appalled by the amount of waste generated by just Judy and I. We should take a leaf from your book. She at least tries to remember to bring her own tote bags to the grocery store.

    1. Thanks, Jason. As the title of one of my posts stated, it’s not easy being green. Unfortunately, it involves extra work to cut back on waste, etc.. Weird, isn’t it? But I understand that as cutting back becomes routine, it gets easier. I’ll keep you posted!

  7. Our local Co-op has a similar system for bulk food items. Yes, they weight the containers before you fill them, then subtract out that weight from the purchase price. They have a grind-your-own peanut butter (and almond butter) mill that you can use in-house. Peanut butter with nothing other than peanuts (my, it looks and tastes different from even the organic or “natural” peanut butter which is covered with a quarter inch of oil). Brining-your-own-containers just takes a little more thought, like brining one’s own canvas groceries bags. But, what will all of our disposable convience get us? The Plastiocene layer in the Earth’s strata, which geologist will reaserch for fossilized Andy Worhal style Campbel’s Soup cans, some million years in the future (assuming that our concept of intelligent life has not gone extinct before then). -Oscar

    1. For us, it is a different way of doing things. It will take some time to get used to it. I am eager to try the peanut butter.

  8. Thought provoking. We are “greenish”, I reckon. Minimal use of plastic, recycle waste/clothes, and all the things it’s easy to do.
    We both drive MiniCoopers (they do give great mileage to the gallon) and have a few more trips/flights abroad planned before we are too old to get holiday insurance. So we’re very much at the low-hanging fruit level…..maybe even at windfall Apple level.

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