Bulk Shopping 101

Did you know that on average a family brings home 1500 short-lived bags per year. You can help to reduce the number your household uses by bringing reusable bags for produce and for shopping. Better yet, find stores that offer bulk shopping for household staples.

I wish for a day where I can walk to my local grocery store to shop an expansive bulk shopping section. Recently I have noticed bulk shopping being added in various Safeway stores which is exciting to see. I live in San Francisco and sadly I typically need to drive 15-30 minutes to get the true bulk shopping experience. To me, that means the store has an expansive dry bulk section, liquid filling options for things like olive oils and vinegar as well as other items like Ghee and Coconut oil. In personal care, I love when there is an option to refill lotion or other personal care bottles. When I get to go to my favorite store, Rainbow Grocery (https://www.rainbow.coop/) in San Francisco, it is an excursion that I just get giddy about! I plan in advance and figure out how to make the most of my jaunt across the city as I only get their once or twice a month. How do I plan you ask?

  1. I look through my pantry and see what things can I buy in bulk
  2. I make a list and build on this list over days.
    1. My list this time around included: Whey Protein, Mixed Nuts, Popcorn Kernels, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Balsamic vinegar, Rice, Avocados, lime and tomatoes
    2. My list also included a few items that are packaged goods including Yogurt, Dijon, and Vanilla Extract. When I shop for packaged items I look for the options in glass jars and ideally with a tin lid. Rainbow Grocery delivers!
  3. I collect various glass jars (some bought + some reused). I find jars easier for many items. My initial set of jars came from Goods Holding Co. and their Starter Kit which comes with 4 jars, a 100% organic carrying bag and a grease pencil for marking your containers. This is my go to carry all bag that I stuff full with bags and containers for my next shopping trip.
  4. I grab some mesh and cloth bags. My favorite cloth and mesh are by Earth Junky reusable produce bags.  For lettuce or loose greens, I find it best to use a fine mesh bag to prevent wilting. For that I use a Purifyou premium mesh produce bags.
  5. I grab my Chico Vita Reusable Bag to carry everything home. This bag holds up to 40 lbs and can be put in your washing machine. Did you know how much bacteria collects in those reused shopping bags over time? It’s pretty gross so having one you can wash is a game changer.

Bulk Shopping Essentials:

The very first time I hit the bulk shopping section, I was intimidated! I literally sat there and took inventory of what everyone was doing. It’s really not so hard so don’t be intimidated. Here is what you do:

  • First step is to weigh your container especially if it is not a mesh or cotton bag. You will want to write the Tare Weight which is the weight of an empty vehicle or container.  Bulk sections will have stickers or paper twist ties to write this on. I use a grease pencil to write on the lids. Mesh and cotton bags will be typically be “tared” at 0.05lb unless the bag includes a tag with the tar weight. Both Earth Junky and Purifyou have a tab with the tare weight but most checkers miss that.
  • Fill the jar or bag with your desired item.
  • Write down the PLU or the Product Look Up number on a sticker, lid or paper twist tie.
  • I have read, some people elect to write the tare weight + PLU on their cell phone and then provide that information at check out.

Some of my favorite containers for Bulk:

  • Goods Holding Co. offers jars that already have the Tare weight printed on the side. I still write the Tare weight on the top of the jar as it is easier for the checker to see at check out.
  • Reused jars that I bought such as my Yogurt jar or an old Balsamic Vinegar Bottle.
  • Cloth and Mesh bags by Earth Junky which already have the tare weight on them. If you have a mesh or cloth bag without the tare weight, the clerk will usually tare weight it at 0.05lbs which is generally close enough.
    • Fine mesh bags I use for things that tend to wilt such at lettuce. I have found that lettuce does not keep as well so I do rinse it when I get home and place it in a crisper (or salad spinner which works nicely) to keep it fresher longer
    • Cotton Mesh bags I use for larger fruits and vegetables or just grab them loose
    • Cotton Cloth bag I will use for things like nuts or rice

Below you can see a few image from recent shopping trips. The large Black container (old Vega jug) I filled with Whey protein for my shakes. From left to right, I have some mixed nuts, sauerkraut, Kimchi and Balsamic vinegar in glass jars. In a cloth bags, I have some long grain rice and almonds. Then I have various produce items and a few select items that are in glass jars.

Give bulk shopping a shot! Every time I come home knowing I avoided countless plastic bags and containers, I feel like it was a successful shopping trip!

Great local shops for bulk shopping:

Rainbow Market located in San Francisco is at the top of my list of a once a month stock up shopping excursion and I literally get giddy when I get to go to Rainbow! They have just about everything you could ask for including refilling of lotion bottles, shampoo! If you are local you, it’s a must visit!

Other Avenues Coop– If you live in San Francisco’s Sunset or Richmond districts this itty bitty store is stocked with tons of bulk options including dry and liquid items. Thanks to Monte for the introduction to this little gem of a store!

Your local Farmer’s Market– I like to hit the one at San Francisco’s Fort Mason on Sunday to stock up for the week.

Good Earth Mill Valley and Fairfax- Dry Bulk options as well as some liquid filling options

Berkeley Bowl- Dry Bulk options as well as some liquid filling options

Andronico’s– Dry Bulk options

Whole Foods – Dry bulk options + now apparently select Safeway stores with dry bulk!

My Plastic TRUTH:

Do I get frustrated when I go shopping? Is it overwhelming? Is there plastic in my refrigerator, kitchen, home? The answer is a resounding YES to all the above! I want to reinforce that it is important to always remember it is progress not perfection. And that everyone is at a different point on their plastic free journey. Be as much of the solution as you can and except that sometimes there are not alternatives that work for you in the moment.

What type of items do I end up buying in plastic?

  • My vitamins but have found several glass jar options which is the next on my list to tackle
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Deli meat and cheese- I try to get to the store to buy it fresh at the deli counter and have them wrap it in paper but sometimes my week is hectic and I don’t have time
  • Chicken, meat and the like since they are typically in a plastic tray and wrapped in plastic
  • Spring mix or arugula salad- Again I try to buy this loose at Rainbow or the Farmers Market but sometimes I don’t make it there and I’m not in the mood to eat romaine or red leaf lettuce.
  • Soft plastics for my sports bars + Gu although I am attempting to make my own bars and bites
  • My skin care regimen. I love my regimen and having tried some natural alternatives in glass containers. But those options just haven’t had the power punch on my wrinkles.


If you enjoyed my blog, please use the link to the right to follow me. You will get an email update each time I post anything new. It’s not that often so don’t worry about being inundated with emails. I  would also love to hear from you! How is your plastic free journey going? I hope to have inspired you!

*disclosure: Some links in this blog are affiliate links, meaning I make a little bit of money but at no additional cost to you. I will earn a commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. This will help me to continue to explore and offer up recommendations to reduce your plastic usage.

4 Comments on “Bulk Shopping 101

  1. Awesome stuff here thank you! I feel awful when I get to the store and forgot my mesh bags, I am better at remembering them! When buying meats I like to go to our meat counter. They wrap it in paper and I can pick my cuts, grass fed, or grain, or free range birds. Thank you for the info!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Aaron! I am glad to hear you are enjoying the blog! I definitely need to hit the meat counter to eliminate even more plastic! The more we do, the more it becomes habit! I remember years ago, I always forgot my reusable shopping bags until it back part of my habit.


  3. This is super impressive! Like you’re a professional writer!

    Sent from my iPhone



  4. Pingback: Year 1 of My Plastic Free Mission | greenswimmergirl

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