Shopping in bulk and without packaging greatly reduces the amount of waste produced by any household. That is a fact. But what do you do when there aren’t many options for buying food from bulk bins into your own containers?
The Zero Waste trend of dry goods sold unpackaged has not really reached Ireland yet. The things I can buy loose or unpackaged in Dublin may be few but I can at least try!
Bread & pastry
This one is probably the easiest. Aside from packaged sliced pan which is not really my type of bread anyway, it’s pretty easy to pick up some lovely bread, baguettes and pastries into your own bag. Just have to remember to bring it with me!
Fruit and veg
The supermarkets are a hit-and-miss here. You can find loose apples, lemons, potatoes and the lot but they vacuum-pack the broccoli and I can never find celery or lettuce without a plastic bag in a supermarket. I compromise on those – lettuce is essential in our house!
I don’t have a good farmers’ market nearby so I have to rely on the supermarkets and my local Fresh – a fruit and veg store where, as I mentioned last week, they package almost everything. They recently changed owner though so I might talk to them to see if they would loosen up a bit and sell the produce as is. The other day I bought some strawberries there (which they pack themselves in the shop), put them in my cotton bag and returned the box for their reuse…sorted.
We do eat meat and when I want some free-range or organic stuff, I’ve found it’s best to go to a good butcher shop. Flemings just around the corner from our house is one of them. One day I went in, armed with my empty glass jar and asked for some chicken. At first, I got the classical confused look but I duly explained why…We ended up chatting about how this not only prevents waste but how the meat keeps better in glass than plastic! Since then, I‘ve barely bought any packaged meat – maybe just a whole chicken or a piece that is too big for my jar. They pack the meat in aluminium trays so at least I can reuse them for roasting and then recycle. I also used some of them for planting seeds – and reuse them each year.
Encouraged with this success, I tried to bring my jar into two other butcher shops and they happily obliged! In one of them I am officially known as the ‘Lady with the Jar’. Happy days.
Nuts & dried fruits
The one type of dry goods that is available in bulk in supermarkets are nuts. Lidl started selling these some time last year. The selection might be limited (roasted almonds, salted cashew and salted pistachios) but hey, it’s something. The only thing that baffles me is that the bulk stuff is more expensive than the packaged stuff. That’s nuts.
Nuts, dried fruits and sweets in bulk are also sold at some markets and country fairs. I just remembered that when my supply of dried apricots finished. I might do some research to see if there any on a weekly basis that I could replenish from regularly…and perhaps pick up some more natural sweets 🙂
When we go to the cinema, we get easily tempted (and seduced) by their pick & mix sweets selection. They have paper bags for it but the last time, I remembered to bring my own little cotton bag and used it – it even brought a smile to the cashier’s face! Refined sugar crush all the way!!
The above selection is not what it could be but, actually, it’s not that bad. It also depends on the type of diet you are on. It’s definitely easier for a vegan but we are not there yet. We cut almost all processed food but do buy the occasional pack of biscuits or crisps. We also eat dairy and despite my efforts, I couldn’t find any milk sold in a glass bottle. Our favourite cheese (Dubliner) is also only sold in plastic bags. I tried to switch to another type of cheddar but it just didn’t work. Compromise it is then!
If packaged stuff is the only option, I always do two things. First – ask if I really need it. Second – if I do, check if there is a recyclable packaging option. There are often feasible alternatives to plastic, be it cardboard, paper, glass or metal. Then buying ‘in bulk’ means to buy the biggest package of the thing there is. I buy the biggest pack of the cheese, a 240-tea bags pack of tea rather than the 40-tea bags one. The idea here is to cut down on the amount of packaging if I can’t avoid it. Other examples from our house are buying the whole leg of ham (free range serrano ham from Spain no less) or toying with the idea of buying a 20kg bag of rice from an Indian shop. It might mean a bit of research before I buy something but once I know, the next time it’s easy!
All that said, it makes me thinking that opening a bulk shop here in Dublin might not be a bad business idea!!! 😉