Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

A couple of months ago I was at an event, and a friend came bounding up to tell me she had someone she wanted me to meet – a lady who’d recently moved from Sydney to Perth who was passionate about plastic-free living. I went over and introduced myself, and told her that if she had questions for plastic-free shopping, I would be happy to help.

She asked me if I had a list of all the places to shop in bulk. Awkward silence. No, I don’t have a list. It’s all in my head!

I realise that storing all this useful information about local zero waste stores in my head is really not the best place for it, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to share it.

I didn’t think this website was the best place, as I talk about other things besides waste and also, my audience is global. It needs to be accessible to people who live locally without boring everyone who isn’t. I’m pretty sure for those of you who don’t live nearby, hearing about where to buy bulk oats or olive oil in Perth on a weekly basis would get very tiresome!

The other issue is that compiling a list like that and keeping it updated is a big job. Perth doesn’t have a huge population (1.3 million) but it does occupy a rather large area – the same size as Greater London. That means that there are actually quite a lot of bulk stores scattered about the place.

Whilst I know about a lot of them, I clearly don’t know them all. A collaborative approach would be much better, allowing people to add the info that they know… but was that getting a little complicated?

In the end, there was a simple solution. Facebook Groups. After all, pretty much everyone uses Facebook, it’s free to set up a group, it’s possible to upload files and create documents, and anyone who’s a member can edit them.

Plus there’s an opportunity to share images, ask questions, post useful links and connect with others. Perfect!

So I’d like to introduce Zero Waste + Plastic free Living, Perth, Western Australia (the Facebook Group):Zero Waste + Plastic Free Living, Perth, Western AustraliaEverything (pretty much) that is stored in my head regarding shopping plastic-free and zero waste in Perth has been added to this page. I’ll also be hanging out there if people have questions or want help. So if you live in Perth, join us!

I’d absolutely love it if you can add your own nuggets of wisdom and pieces of knowledge to make this page really comprehensive and useful to our community : )

Most of this information is about stores that sell in bulk. Just in case you’re not sure how shopping this way actually works, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the “how to” of bulk shopping.

How to Shop at Bulk Stores

  • The first thing to know is that zero waste shopping is about shopping “from bulk” rather than “in bulk”. It’s not about buying 60kg of oats at a time. Zero waste bulk stores are those that sell their products loose, usually in barrels, drums, plastic containers or sacks. With zero waste bulk stores, there may be a minimum weight for purchases, but that is usually so that the products register on the scale.
  • Bulk stores are not packaging free themselves: they buy products in packaging, but in large quantities. Their customers don’t contribute further to packaging waste if they bring their own bags and containers. The amount of packaging required for one bulk sack is far less than if that product was split into several thousand small packages, each with their own label.
  • You are more than welcome (and usually encouraged) to bring your own bags to fill, although often bulk stores will have paper and even plastic bags available. Container are more suitable for some products (think oils, pastes and anything very fine). If you bring your own jars or containers, you should ask someone at the cash register to weigh your container before you fill it. You should also know the volume of your container as some products are sold by volume rather than weight. Measure it out before you get to the store.
  • Don’t mix products in bags, even if they are the same price unless there is a sign that tells you it is okay to do so. Stores need to keep track of what they sell to order more and avoid running out, so putting 3 different products into one bag isn’t helpful!
  • Some stores will ask you to write the products or stock numbers on bags. If you have your own bags, you can write these on your phone or shopping list as you go round to keep track.
  • At the checkout, be as helpful as possible. Tell the shop assistant what is in each bag, especially if they aren’t see-through!
  • When you get home, it can be helpful to pop any grains, pulses and beans (and any flours from these) into the freezer for 24 hours to kill any weevils or eggs that might be in your products. Whether you do this depends on how fresh you think the items are, how quickly you intend to use them up… and how bothered you are by extra protein ; )
  • Whilst bulk stores are set up for people bringing their own containers, many other places are actually open to the idea – they probably haven’t thought of it before. Butchers, fishmongers, cafes and delis are places where you can bring your own containers. You just need to explain clearly what you’re doing (can you put the product directly in my container?) and why (I’m trying to avoid using any plastic or disposable packaging) before you hand over your container. The why is important if you don’t want your glass container popped in a plastic bag or sealing with cling wrap once it’s filled! Tips: If you’re nervous or worried you’ll be rejected, avoid busy periods and if there’s anyone waiting, let them go first. Smile, act like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing and go for it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips to add? Anything I’ve missed off the list? Any facepalm moments you’d like to share about your experiences of trying to buy groceries without packaging? Any lessons learned or benefit of hindsight moments? Please leave me a comment telling me your thoughts below!

17 Responses to Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

  1. I’ve bought some individual goodies from a market using my own container (a brownie, samosa, and other little treats like that) without any problems. I haven’t put cheesemongers or bakeries to the test yet but now I’m intrigued to see their response!

    Slightly off topic (although this does involve a container!), every coffee stall and cafe I’ve visited for a take-away coffee has been happy to use my own travel mug, some have even commented how cheerful it looks. (It’s deep red in colour!)

    • The treats sound like a good first step Min! I’ve never had a problem with any container at any deli / butcher / bakery. The only place I had a near miss was at an ice cream shop using KeepCups (they are perfectly sized for ice cream!) and my mother-in-law handed a cup over that still had a tiny bit of coffee in it. The lady looked all confused and started spouting off about health and safety and I just railroaded in there and said it was fine, we wouldn’t sue and we go there (to their other branch) all the time! I argued her into submission ; ) Well not quite, but you know what I mean. If you act confident and like it’s the most normal thing in the world, and you do it every day, most shops go with that!

      Yes, travel mugs are great… and also for ice cream or as a container for small snacks (but ideally wash it first)! Yes, they are a great way to start a conversation too… and that is what spreads change.

  2. Thanks for all your information about zero waste living and bulk buying. I have encountered resistance twice recently in my request to cut out plastic. In a local IGA store, I was told that they wouldn’t use my container in case it was contaminated (as if I’d want deli produce in a contaminated container!), and they were concerned about my health by using just waxed paper (but they still acquiessed). Surprisingly, the ham stored in the waxed paper lasted far longer than in plastic! The second objection was a local butcher, who said they couldn’t use paper because health regulations prevented use of something from outside the store (and they only used plastic. I don’t know if there are actually health regulations governing this, but I’m certainly not likely to take a chance on poisoning my family with contaminated packaging! Your idea of facebook groups is a good one. Would love to set up one for Melbourne, but not sure I have time at the moment. Will keep it in mind though.

    • No way, how frustrating! They seem rather overzealous about concerns for your health… I wonder if you bought a 48 pack of coke, a few bags of lollies and some processed frozen dinners if they’d have those same concerns?! Are your containers plastic? If so, maybe glass would help? Glass has the appearance of being cleaner than plastic. Materials make a difference… I found that bakeries weren’t keen on my habit on using old paper bags, but as soon as I switched to cloth bags (made out of an old bed sheet!) they loved it! You could try calling the IGA and talking to the manager – they might be able to come up with a solution. Or you might find that the manager is for it, it was just an over-zealous staff member…? As for the butcher, if it’s a big store with multiple staff members, maybe figure out who is in charge and speak to them? My mother bought some big plastic clip-lid containers that she takes to her local butcher and he loves it! He told her he spends £8000 on packaging a year and wished everyone brought their own containers.

      I know there are plenty of accommodating butchers out there…maybe if yours won’t play the game you need to find one that does! ; )

  3. Hi Lindsay…have you checked out the Bulk app from Zero Waste Home? http://zerowastehome.com/app/…My face palm moment was a few months into my zero waste journey, I decided to weigh my bulk bags (organic cotton muslin with a drawstring) and discovered they each weigh 26 grams. Compared to the few grams that a plastic bag weighs, I realised I was paying more for my bulk goods than I ought to be. Thankfully, the woman who owns my local bulk store is awesome and deducts the weight off each bag. Just wondering what type of fabric other people use for their bulk bags and which is the most lightweight option? Maybe silk would work?

    • I live in Oxford, UK, and the only place we can bulk buy is a local market where SESI Refill has a stall. (Hi Rina!) Lots of organic and/or fairtrade nuts, seeds, rice, beans etc + household detergents.
      As the staff activily encourage us to bring our own containers, before every refill they weigh our box/jar/carton/tin/ so we only pay for the goods. Of course things could be slightly more complicated if it was self service but as all we do is hand over containers and pay, it’s not an issue.

    • Hi Kristy, yes I have and I think it’s a great tool. As a global / worldwide tool it is perfect. I wanted to create something more local, more flexible and with more categories and ability to be flexible – and get all the zero waste and plastic free enthusiasts in Perth talking to one another and building a community! ; )

      Lots of people use the Onya bags and I asked the lady at the Onya stall how much they weighed, and she said they wouldn’t register on the scales. Wrong – I weighed them – they weigh 25g each! I also have some made from old bedsheets which weigh 30g and some made from a very fine material – they weigh 10g for the smaller ones and 15g – 20g for the bigger ones.

      The lady at my local store is happy to tare the weight of my bags. I’ve heard of people sewing the weights onto the bags to make this easier. Generally I don’t mind if they don’t tare the weight – I’m happy to pay the few cents extra to avoid plastic – but when I buy expensive stuff I often use glass jars and get them tared at the till. With more expensive things I don’t want to paying for the weight of the bag! Dried chickpeas is fine, dried seaweed is not! If that’s not possible, I choose the smallest, lightest bags for the most expensive things and buy more (not more than I’d use, but more than I’d need from one shop) so the bag weight makes less difference.

      Silk might work – it should do – but it might be expensive. Bags will always weigh something. Even paper bags weigh a few grams.

  4. I think this is an excellent list! The only thing I can add is that bulk food shipping can feel so fun that you may need to restrain yourself from buying too much! I’ve learnt over time to buy smaller amounts of things so I don’t end up with lots of things in my pantry that take months to be eaten. This helps reduce weevil attacks too.

    • Thanks Rachel! That’s true. Or that you feel kinda stingy only buying two spoonfuls of cumin seeds (or whatever) so you buy a couple of cups worth, and then realise it will last you 15 years!

      Just because it’s a bulk store, no need to buy bulk quantities!

  5. How do you deal with zero waste when it comes to medications? Pain meds are usually in plastic, pharmacies dispense in plastic, and contact solution is in plastic. Any helpful hints?

    • Thanks for your comment Daniella! The only medication I buy is ibuprofen. In the UK they come in blister packs in cardboard, and here I’ve found some that come in a plastic bottle (type 2 plastic) that contain 25 x 200mg tablets. In the UK the store-bought packs contain 200mg tablets, but if you ask behind the counter they sell 400mg tablets so rather than taking 2, you just need to take 1, which means less blister packs overall. I buy them very rarely – the ones I have in my cupboard are at least 18 months old. They are for emergencies only!

      If I need a prescription, I just accept it. Since living plastic-free I’ve needed ear drop antibiotics twice for ear infections – and the bottle was glass, actually! The top was not, but better than nothing. I also had to buy a pharmacy tube of cream that was metal with a plastic lid. That’s it. But health is a priority. If I needed more medication I guess I’ve have to accept it, and find the best option.

      My husband wears contact lenses very occasionally. The daily disposables don’t need solution which means no bottles, and probably still generate less waste than 30 day lenses… although it depends if you wear them for 30 days, or if you don’t wear them on weekends etc. My husband has these, but he probably wears them a handful of times a year – usually when he goes in the sea, or swimming. If you were that concerned with the waste, I guess the other options are glasses or laser eye surgery…

      I hope that helps in some way!

  6. Thanks for sharing this fantastic initiative! It helps to think about our daily actions for a sustainable and conscious impact.

  7. I’m noticing butchers and deli counters are saying they aren’t allowed to use my containers. Do butchers at markets allow you to bring your own containers? If so what markets do you go to?

    • I’ve had a few butchers and delis try to tell me they can’t put my meats in my own containers, but I just tell them, politely, that last time I was here or at another coles I ask for this and they agreed. I also add that I’m vegetarian so the meat is only for my puppy so it doesn’t matter if they try to pull the contamination card for me. After I’ve acted like I’ve done it a million times they are fine with it. (I learnt that from Lindley :)) and there is no health law that doesn’t allow you to take your own container in unless it’s a restaurant not licensed for takeaway. :))
      I make it a point though to shop with the stores that embrace what I’m doing. I have a few shops now that greet me by name (I’m sure it’s crazy anti plastic lady when I’m gone though lol) but they all wait for the container and even tell me what they are doing to be more conscious about plastic waste etc.
      I know I’ve awoken a few minds with what I’ve been doing, cos when I see them again they tell me :))
      Creating a world of love, one heart at a time!

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