Skip the Plastic in the Bulk Section, Use Jars Instead

jars filled with bulk goods

I have been a bulk section shopper for most of my life. Growing up, my family was devoted to the bulk bins and it was always a great thrill when my mom would let me fill up the bags with rice or granola or grains. As I got older, it felt natural to keep buying oatmeal, dried fruit and beans that way. Of course, the bulk section has its inconveniences too. At Whole Foods, it’s far to easy to rip the plastic bags on the conveyor belt at check-out, leaving a trail of flour, sugar or quinoa all over the check stand. And, being that I’m not the most spatially minded person, I’ve never been good at determining exactly much product is going to fit in the assigned jar at home.

Lately, I’ve been taking clean, empty jars with me to Whole Foods for my bulk section purchases. This solves both issues of ripping bags and overestimating jar volume. It does require a bit more advanced planning than a spur-of-the-moment dash into the grocery store, but saves on plastic and frees me from some of those bulk section frustrations. I just pack up the jars and make a quick stop at customer service so they can weight the jars and make note of their tare prior to being filled, so that I’m not paying for the weight of the jars. Oh, and if I can just add a tip here, I recommend bringing a wide mouth funnel with you to the store. It will make your jar-filling life so much easier.

reusable bulk bags

In addition to my jars, I have a few of these very lightweight, reusable bulk bags that I try to bring with me each time I go to a store with a bulk section. They’re designed to hold bulk section food and be light enough so that they don’t need to have their weight subtracted from that of your food. They’re also washable, so I just toss them in the laundry after each use, to ensure I don’t mix nutritional yeast with my whole wheat pastry flour. These bags allow me to make a few bulk section impulse buys without reaching for a plastic bag, which I like.

I’m certain that there are some of you out there who have been shopping like this for years. However, it’s a very rare day that I see anyone else at my urban Philadelphia Whole Foods store with their own containers. Thing is, I think this is the direction more of us should be headed. It prevents waste by keeping plastic bags out of the system and means that you’re not buying more food that you can use (I confess that there were times in the very distant past when I would just trash the few spoonfuls of grain or fruit that made the storage jar overflow instead of bundling it up and saving it to use up). And it’s just one more chance to show off all those gorgeous jars I know so many of you have!

Let’s hear from you guys. Do you take reusable containers to the grocery store with you?

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88 Responses to Skip the Plastic in the Bulk Section, Use Jars Instead

  1. 51
    H says:

    Awesome! My bulk food purchases must be done over an hour away in the city so pre-planning is a must. I will add this to my list of to dos!

  2. 52
    julia says:

    i do this too! i’ve always re-used plastic bags or used reusable bags for bulk foods, but i have the same problem of always getting more than fits in the jar i have at home! i’ve recently started bringing my own jars to the store. while, as you said, it does require more planning out- it’s so much easier later on.

  3. 53

    I always shop in bulk and bring my own containers!

    When I make my grocery list, I put a simple abbreviation next to the items I need a container for – say I need dried basil, I put a “S” after it to denote “spice” (for those small spice bags). Maybe I’m buying rice, so I’ll put a “C” for “container” or apple’s so I’ll put a “B” for “bag”. At the end of my list I tally all my “B”‘s, “C”‘s and “S”‘s so I know exactly how many to bring in the store with me.

    I don’t typically bring glass due to the weight, but I do bring plastic containers and bags and transfer them later. I’ve also started marking the lids of my plastic containers with chalkboard paint so I can easily write the sku and tare (then hand rinse off anything from inside the lid). I use a chalkboard pen for writing.

  4. 54
    Sara says:

    I have been moving more and more towards buying in the bulk bins. I have a lovely collection of italian canning jars that I use to hold them in. Honestly, I’d never end up taking glass jars to the market much less managing to get them tared. I’d like to say I would, but I know I won’t. BUT: these reusable bulk bags sound perfect as they can “live” in the bottom of my grocery bags that I (usually) take anyway. I am ordering some right now!

  5. 55
    Loree says:

    I decided to use reusable bags in the bulk area when I thought how silly it is to use their plastic ones when I bring reusable grocery bags in. So I started to bring in muslin bags that I made to Whole Foods. I’m the only one I’ve ever seen there using reusable bags in the bulk bin area.

  6. 56

    I love the reusable bags! I recently started taking my jars to the co-op as well. It’s a slight adjustment but worked well and I didn’t have to spend all the time transferring things to jars once I got home. Thanks for posting this!

  7. 57
    Al says:

    I called the Whole Foods in Pittsburgh 6 months ago and was told that we are not allowed to do this. I hope that they change their minds but I say people need to call and check with a store before you do it.

  8. 58
    Moriah says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve always felt guilty using the plastic bags, and now I know that there are great alternative. I also like the idea of being able to wash the bags.

  9. 59
    Sara says:

    Our co-op it easy to bring your own containers. I love those reusable bags but mostly I just bring ziplocks–I have tons since we freeze a lot of tomato sauce etc. so they are old but useful for this. Plus they are a quart so its easy to know how much you are getting.

  10. 60

    We bring our re-usable containers for items we buy large quantities of (flour, sugar, etc.) but our co-op has several small sizes of paper bags. We use those for things that would fit in pint size jars so that we have the bags to use for our compost (we don’t have a dedicated “compost pail” inside the house, and just put a bag out, fill it up, and toss the whole thing into the compost bin).

  11. 61

    [...]  ::  Skip the Plastic in the Bulk Section, Use Jars Instead {food in [...]

  12. 62

    [...] my greatest skill is that I can always pick the right container for the stuff I need to contain. Marissa at Food in Jars admits that she’s not, and recommends taking your storage jars to the store. I, on the other [...]

  13. 63
    AngAK says:

    sorry, but I thought you might want to correct a typo–
    “stop at customer service so they can weight the jars”
    weight should be weigh. this is a great hint and I thought you might be using it in a book sometime.

  14. 64

    I just found your blog and am going back and reading it to the start. LOVE it!

    I have a tip for produce bags. I buy a package (they usually come in twos or threes) of drawstring laundry unmentionables bags at the dollar store. They are about the same size as the plastic produce bags and nearly as light so it won’t alter the weight. Plus they breathe and are washable. They work great!

  15. 65

    [...] can even take it one step further as this jar-happy blogger has… carrying her items in jars and reusable bulk bags!  Super [...]

  16. 66
    Stacy says:

    Drat! My local Whole Foods informed me that a recent policy change means it is REQUIRED that you use a new/ clean plastic bag for every item in the bulk aisle… SO FRUSTRATING!!!!

  17. 67
    Roni Coleman says:

    Like Sara I usually bring in my own plastic bags and ziplocks to reuse at my co-op – I have accumulated a ton over the years. I brought my own jars once but had a difficult time with the bins that dump-in from above as opposed to the ones that have a scoop – I made quite a mess! I’ll pick up a wide mouth funnel – great tip.

    BTW – I just stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago and have really enjoyed exploring. I made the millet muffins a few days ago – so yummy!

    • 67.1
      Marisa says:

      So glad you’ve been enjoying the blog! And aren’t the those millet muffins fantastic? I think they’re just about my very favorite morning baked good.

  18. 68

    [...] and helping pour leftover soup into storage jars. I even take it to Whole Foods with me when I use my own container for bulk foods, because it allows me to funnel the food into my jars [...]

  19. 69
    Kristin says:

    I must have missed your post about this – I only learned that Whole Foods allows this about two months ago. Now all my empty containers, regardless of size or weirdness, come to the store with me for refills.

  20. 70

    [...] feeling particularly organized and ambitious, I take my jars with me and refill directly into them (as detailed in this post). I also keep a few of these lightweight kootsacs in my bundle of reusable grocery bags for those [...]

  21. 71
    kelly says:

    I will admit first that I haven’t read all the comments, so this may be addressed already, but…

    …for those who cannot take glass jars, or for those who do not want to carry all those in, why not simply take a measuring cup in? If you know your pint jar holds 2 cups, then put 2 cups into one of the store’s plastic bags? That way you aren’t spending time at customer service or lugging in breakable jars, especially if you need lots. Just make a note at home how much you need of each and only take in a measuring cup. Of course, use their scoop to fill your measuring cup so they don’t think you’re contaminating everything, lol.

  22. 72

    [...] can even take it one step further as this jar-happy blogger has… carrying her items in jars and reusable bulk bags!  Super [...]

  23. 73
    Jessica says:

    My local whole foods doesn’t allow reusable containers in their bulk section. I brought a jar in for peanut butter, took it to customer service to be weighed, and was gently admonished about the dangers of cross-contamination. :( Glad to hear this isn’t a company-wide practice, maybe I can lean on them a little to start allowing reusable containers…

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