Minimize the Need to Re-use or Recycle (and Save Money Too!)

You are looking at a part of my stash of crafting supplies I have been carefully saving during the past 12 months - boxes, tin cans, glass jars, canisters, egg cartons. Part of the reason was of course was to build up a crafty stash but another reason was to get a good visual picture of just how much stuff we buy and then throw away.

I am devoting the month of March - and maybe part of April because I have an Easter project or two to share - to the subject of crafting with what is normally considered trash.

However, today I want to start the ball rolling by touching on an aspect of this whole recycling, repurposing, reusing issue that I feel is very, very important, and that has been on my mind a long time - purchasing unnecessary packaging. In other words, avoid buying tea bags in a box when there are alternatives available to purchase those tea bags without a box.

We are all becoming better consumers by making or buying reusable shopping bags.  But how often are we stuffing them with items that, once purchased, are just a few days away from the recycle bin or the dump?

And think about it - just how many oatmeal boxes, glass jars, tin cans, or plastic bottles can we realistically repurpose?

The answer seems to me to be - not very many and certainly not as many as pass through our hands in a years time.  Don't misunderstand - I am all for repurposing!  But there is a limit to how many items even the most energetic among us can repurpose.

One solution to this problem is to bring home less "trash" in the first place by purchasing as many products as possible without packaging.  Food items especially produce a huge proportion of the cartons, boxes and bottles that wind up in landfills.  But there are many, many food items that can be purchased without packaging.

Here are a couple sobering things to think about:

            1)  The very next time you visit the grocery store, or a drug store for that matter, take a good look around.  Almost every single thing you see, once the contents have been consumed or used, is destined for the land fill.  And you are standing in only one store, in one city, in one state. Blows you mind doesn't it?

            2)  On occasion I help some very good friends with their business of running estate sales. Relatives have taken what they want to keep and the rest is left for the seller to either dispose of or sell. Stack after stack of items saved with good intentions over many years, everything from styrofoam meat trays to paper bags to cottage cheese cartons, almost always wind up going straight to the land fill.

So, if there are alternatives to purchasing food items with less or no packaging at all, it seems  as if it is worth seeking them out. And many, many super markets these days do offer one very good alternative - bulk food bins.

Even for busy working mothers, purchasing pasta from the bulk food bins takes very little more time and effort than buying a box of pasta.

And an added bonus - most purchases in this department actually reduce the total grocery bill not only because the food items are usually less expensive but also because you can purchase only what you need.  I really like that part especially when I am needing to purchase items I rarely use.

Save those spice jars you have already purchased, clean them and refill with spice purchased fron the bulk bins.  How often do you need cloves?  If you purchase your cloves from the bulk bins, you can buy a tablespoon of cloves if you want! And it will cost you just a few pennies!

In addition to lessening your contribution to the land fills, another upside of purchasing from the bulk food bins is that many of the food containers that you must purchase can be repurposed into storage containers for your bulk food bin purchases - my favorite re-use project because it falls under the category of "sustained reuse"  as opposed to "temporary reuse".

So to encourage you to start thinking about all the items you can purchase from the bulk food bins, here is a list of some of the bulk items available in supermarkets near my home. (Some of the items listed are typically only available in plastic bags, but I have included them anyway in order to demonstrate the variety of foods available in the bulk food center.)

Spices and dried herbs
Cake flour (and of course all purpose, bread, whole wheat flours)
Brown sugar
Granulated and powdered sugars
Pancake Mix ( and other quick bread mixes like muffins)
Corn Meal and Polenta
Biscuit and corn bread mixes
Dried soup mixes
Powdered Milk
Bread crumbs
Bread for stuffing
Chocolate - in bulk - semisweet for baking
Cocoa powder - dutch and natural
Breakfast Cereals (like Cherrios, Fruit Loops, Corn Flakes...)
Oatmeal (instant to steel cut)
Grains (barley, flax, tabouleh, rice)
Pasta of every kind
Tea bags
Chocolate chips
Dried fruits(raisins to pineapple)

Dried beans, lentils, peas

Generally speaking, your purchases must be placed in plastic bags and these are usually provided in several sizes near the food bins.  The bags can be recycled or, as many very creative crafters are now doing, they can be made into very useful household items - even spun into yarn! Re-visit Matt Embrey's post on Craft Stylish - lots of interesting ideas here including a link to this post for making "plarn"(yarn made from plastic bags).

Another alternative is to either save and reuse the bags for future purchases or take a supply of sturdy zip lock bags with you - they will stand up to being reused many times much better than the thin ones the market provides.

I would love it if some of you would consider jumping up on this little soap box with me and offer tips for reducing the amount of unnecessary packaging we buy.  I am hoping by the end of the month to have lots of new ideas to share in a post.  Each reader who shares an idea I use in the post will of course receive credit and a link to their own blog.

I really, really want your input, so please join in and leave me some ideas in comments.

Love this post! This is a

Love this post! This is a topic near and dear to my heart!

Oh and I forgot to add, our

Oh and I forgot to add, our co-op will let you reuse glass and plastic containers for bulk purchases as long as you get them weighed beforehand. We take them to the customer service desk, they weigh and mark it on the bottom so the cashier knows how much to subtract from the overall weight. We use them for agave and maple syrup, olive oil, peanut butter etc. They're also good for small things that fall through the reusable mesh bags like nutritional yeast. It really helps if you can find a member-owned co-op in your area. I think they really go above and beyond! We buy everything there.

Wow!  Rachel!  Now I am

Wow!  Rachel!  Now I am beginning to think I am the LAST person on earth to use this resource!  Reusable bag tutorials?  Awesome.  I need to find some of them.  And great info about using glass and plastic for "liquid" purchases.  I am going to have to look into this co-op thing.  For one thing, with the economy as it is, the co-ops probably really need our support more than ever.

Thank you so much for taking time to participate with your thoughts and suggestions!  Great input.


I love this post! We buy

I love this post! We buy almost all of our food in bulk and I can't image any other way. I love all the reusable mesh and bulk food bag projects out there. They're fun to make and a great conversation piece when you're in line at the co-op.

Forgot to say that even food

Forgot to say that even food purchases should be thought about. Our recent snow storm that left us stranded for a week gave us the chance to use up what we had on hand. It made cooking more creative too. Here in the UK there are staggering statistics about food waste, and food here is not inexpensive. I'm sure the stats in the US are similar if not higher. This is an interesting BBC article and excellent "food" for thought regarding this subject.

BTW, I wish we had a good source for bulk buying here - excellent idea Pam.

Oh Pam I love this topic, you

Oh Pam I love this topic, you know it's a favourite of mine. It's too late here to stand on my soap box for too long, I might tumble off. I think my number one suggestion for cutting down on packaging is to simply buy less and use what we already have.
Living outside of the US has given me more of an opportunity to put this into practice. Goods and services are much more expensive here in the UK and throughout Europe than in the US. Simply put, purchasing anything and everything becomes a bigger decision.
Also, we have trash collection only every other week. Not huge trash cans, modest size cans; and our recycling bins are every other week as well. When you have less space to dispose of things you think more about what fills up those bins.
Having said that. As an art teacher, packaging is treasure. Nothing makes children happier than empty boxes and a huge roll of tape - nothing!

Excellent post, Pam! Don't

Excellent post, Pam! Don't forget that more and more exchange stores are popping up especially for saop products. You buy locally produced soaps, household cleaners and personal cleansers that are biodegradable and earth friendly. Often they come in minimal, no fuss packaging or in reuseable, refillable containers. Check your city/area for soap exchange in the yellow pages.

Great post, Pam. Here in

Great post, Pam. Here in Mexico, lots of stuff ar sold by bulk. In the supermarket and outside.

Can't wait to see your "trash" creations.

I have both made and

I have both made and purchased fabric bags to hold bulk foods. I've made them out of scraps of muslin myself, but my favorite bags are ones made of ripstop nylon that I purchased from Kootsac on Etsy (I have no interest in Kootsac other than as a very satisfied customer). If you have access to ripstop nylon it would be a very simple matter to make your own. The nylon is very nearly weightless, probably weighing less than the plastic or paper bags offered by the store. Every store I've used them in has welcomed them -- the cashiers usually ask where I got them. (I've also seen similar bags made out of bridal netting.)

Thank you so, so much,

Thank you so, so much, Debbie!  I was racking my brain trying to think of something the bags could be made out of besides fabric.  Both of these suggestions would work great!  We just happen to have a bunch of rip stop - we use it in our photo studio!  Who knew! Now I can repurpose it into bags to use at the bulk bins! 

First, I'm excited for your

First, I'm excited for your series! Second, thanks for the blog entry about sustainable purchasing. It really is something we should all be thinking more about! I will think more about it/write about it, and post at

Thank you for your

Thank you for your encouragement, Heather.  I can't wait to read your post.

I am having fun with "the series" !

Here's my response post, and

Here's my response post, and a giveaway of a scrap to-go pack from SCRAP in Portland.