Where To Buy in Bulk With Your Own Containers
Not everyone will get your desire to ditch single-use plastics and packaged products, so not everywhere you go will welcome your reusable container with open arms.
Often, it’s a process of trial and error, with you testing your local shops’ responses as you make your way around your neighbourhood and through the food groups. Exploring your suburb by sticking your nose into every store and asking about any bulk or zero-waste options is the best way to find out where you’ll be doing your plastic- or waste-free shop.
We’ve done some of the research for you lucky Melburnians. The city makes life easy for zero wasters, with it having a lot of good waste-free shopping options. Search our Where to Shop Waste Free in Melbourne Map for your suburb to find your closest stores for plastic- and waste-free shopping.
Shopping small is not only great for boosting local economies and supporting your local community, it is also great for shopping zero waste.
Smaller, family-run stores are more likely to accept your unusual request and they'll will get to know you and your zero-waste shopping lifestyle. It is more likely that the same person will be behind the counter, unlike at big supermarkets, where you'll have to explain yourself over and over again.
In addition, the quality of these boutique stores’ produce and products is normally so much better!
I have found that butchers and bakeries happily accommodate placing meat in your own container and bread in your fabric wrap or sack.
It is not unusual for people to place fruit and veggies bought at markets or small fruit and vegetable stands or stores straight into their own reusable bags so you won’t even be doing anything odd here (for once!).
And, you’ll be amazed at the waste-free friendly options you’ll find at the back of the little traditional ethnic shops down your street – spices, teas, nuts and other snacks, and handmade soaps. You just have to look for them!
Test the waters
Unless a store specifically caters for packaging-free shopping, like bulk food stores, I wouldn’t just pitch up with a bag full of reusable or recycled containers and expect them to fill them all up for you.
Start small! Take one container and politely ask if they don’t mind placing the steak you’re getting for your afternoon barbecue in your container instead of one of their plastic ones.
Once you know that they'll accept your request and that they are able to accommodate it, you can ask for more without worrying and without stressing out the person fulfilling your order.
Or, call up before you go and ask if they’ll accept your reusable container. This way, it won’t be a surprise for them or an inconvenience for you if they say no. You can also just pop in on your way past one day and ask them in person.
Similarly, I wouldn’t arrive at a restaurant expecting a huge takeaway order to be packed in the tower of reusable containers you’ve suddenly walked in with unexpectedly. The more of an inconvenience it is for them, the less likely they are to do it and the less likely they are to want to do it in the future.
Don’t shop at peak hours
Don't make shop owners and tillers’ lives more difficult! If you go during rush hour, they will be stressed and under enough pressure without you asking for special requests.
If you are going to a store that is not dedicated to bulk food shopping or getting takeaway in your own container, try do your waste-free shopping during quieter periods, when they'll have the time to indulge your request to use your own container. You’ll get more happy “sure things!” and less scowls and eye rolls!
No matter where you go for your zero-waste or plastic-free shop, don’t only be mindful of what you’re putting in your trolley, but also be mindful of those around you helping you achieve your goal of getting your groceries without generating any garbage.
Building a waste-free, reusable nation will only work if communities come together to reduce rubbish. Always be polite, cheerfully explain your lifestyle choice and be especially grateful when anyone goes out of their way to do as you ask.
It may only be a small gesture, but it is a gesture none the less and as zero wasters, we should be well aware that every little bit counts!