Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bulk and its Impact on your Waste Line

I had my first exposures to the benefits of buying bulk food whenever I would visit my girlfriend in Ottawa.  As we made our way from the airport we would swing by a Bulk Barn to pick up some groceries.  The sensation of Bulk Barn only recently opened its first store in Edmonton last, and business must be booming since it wasn't long before they opened a second location.  Sadly Bulk Barn has not opened a location in Calgary as of yet, and no visible plans to bring one anytime soon.  Bulk Barn is a store that sells the majority of its products without packaging which range from cooking ingredients, dried fruits, and snacks.  Since the products are have no packaging you can grab the exact amount that you require, not some companies predetermined amount.  This provides more freedom, and allows you to manage your costs , and there is a smaller chance of the food spoiling since you are only buying what you will use.

One of the factors for the cost of your groceries originates from the amount of packaging that is required.  When a product is portioned smaller this produces a higher ratio of surface area to volume this is not only wasteful , but it also raises the cost since companies have to use more packaging materials.  You can notice this for yourself,  Safeway is great for showing the price as ratio of the amount of the product.  The larger portion always has a lower price.  I do not quite understand food producers need to package and repackage food that lines our grocers shelves.  For example when you buy your cereal, most companies will package the cereal in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box.  Why do they use both, why do they not just use the plastic bag as it can produce an airtight seal, thus preserving the integrity of the food?  Most of the no-name or grocery store brands of cereals will offer this option, and guess what it is cheaper!

After enjoying the benefits of having a good bulk selection at the Save-On-Foods in downtown Edmonton,  I was quite disappointed when I moved to Calgary.  Since Safeway is headquartered in Calgary it has taken a dominant position in town, almost all grocers are Safeway.  Safeway has dismal bulk options and coupled with the fact there is not a single Bulk Barn or Save-On-Foods in Calgary and it makes it difficult to reduce my waste when buying groceries. 

Why must there be so much packaging in the first place?  Well part of this reason probably has to do with how quick our lives move these days, consumers want everything to be ready made and out the door.  I would like to see more than the dry grocery products offered in the bulk options.  Why not set up a machine that can dispense milk, shampoo or cleaning products into a patrons own container.  There should be more flexibility where if you want to take the product home in your own container, you can.  As it stands right now you cannot for most products.  This should be extended to take out at restaurants as well, however I must note that there are some restaurants that already allow this such as The Coop on 17th Ave in Calgary.

Whenever I take out my recycling I am reminded by just how much of our waste comes from our groceries.  I feel that grocery stores could also help reduce waste not providing plastic grocery bags for people to take their groceries home in.  Most people will not change if they don't have to, so if you remove the plastic bags out of the equation, people will have no choice but to bring reusable bags.  Many places around the world have already implemented this practice, it just seems to be Canada that is lagging behind.  Grocers could also reduce waste by setting up some sort of electronic receipt system.  Instead of having a receipt printed out every time that you make a purchase, you could have your receipt instead sent to your email.  This would also make it less likely to lose a receipt which come in handy for tax time.

If bulk is not an option for you, here is a list of some alternatives to help cut your waste:
  • Keep several reusable fabric bags in the back or trunk of your car, so that there is no way you can forget it home.  This way you always have one available when you are grocery shopping.  If you do not have any reusable fabric bags they are conveniently available for sale at any grocery store.  However any sort of bag would work such as backpack or duffle bag.
  • If you need to use the plastic bags available in the produce section for your fruits and vegetables, try to save the old bags once you get home.  This way you can reuse them the next time you need fruits or vegetables.  I find it is easier to place these bags inside my fabric bags so that I do not forget them.
  • Demand more bulk!

1 comment:

  1. i think a bulk barn is finally opening up in Calgary at the beginning of march, its in the NE off of 36st and 32 ave NE. It will be a much better alternative to what's available now.