Purchasing food in bulk is an action that can be taken that lies nicely at the intersection of eco-friendly living and trying to do so economically. By "purchasing food in bulk" I DO NOT mean going to Costco and purchasing everything there in "Costco-size" quantities, although this may, indeed, reduce some of the packaging that you bring home with your purchases overall. I am referring to purchasing foods and ingredients from the bulk bins of grocery stores.
Something that I saw on the trailer for The Clean Bin Project was purchasing foods from delis using your own Gladware or Ziplock storage containers. I know that these sorts of containers are made from plastic, but I haven't always been aware of the detrimental effects of using plastic products, so I have many of these containers. I use them when I go to grocery stores and I buy as many of the ingredients for my baking as I can using these containers. I have not run into any problems from the employees at the stores, and in fact, some have told me that they are going to encourage other people to use these types of containers, as this means that customers don't have to use the plastic bags provided by the store. Once I get home, I transfer the ingredients into their respective glass jars that I keep for just that purpose. So far I have started doing this with flour and sugar (I go through massive amounts of each), as well as pasta, coconut, some candies, and any other products I need for the baking that I do. In the future I will start using bulk bins for many more products, because the reduction of packaging and the corresponding reduction of cost makes sense to take advantage of, particularly when it is such an easy change to make.
Some helpful insider tips I have come across when trying to purchase foods that have no packaging are that when it comes to animal products (my partner, Tim, is not a vegetarian, so I still pay attention to the type of meat that he eats and try to find organic and free range meat options for him), the fewer steps there are between the farm producing the meat and the store selling it, the better. In Vancouver, I have found that Commercial Drive is a fabulous source of many things organic, such as chicken (near 1st and Commercial), produce, beef and other meat. There is also a store near Main and 41st Street in Vancouver that sells everything from bulk bins, including organic products. I intend to go there for the first time this weekend and will definitely do a post about it.