Going grocery shopping as a college student can be expensive, space-consuming and overwhelming. Bulk food shopping is a method that offers a fix to everyday grocery shopping problems and environmental issues surrounding waste.

Bulk food shopping cuts down on packaging, food waste and pricing. Bulk allows customers to bring their own jar, reuse it and eliminate single-use packaging. This practice saves both money and the environment. Packaging consumes everyday shoppers, and most of the time, the amount of plastic waste goes unnoticed. 

It can be difficult because people aren’t used to it. Most people avoid the bulk section due to lack of understanding. It seems that people are scared of bulk food, but the process is actually simple and user friendly. 

The first step in the process is to bring a reusable jar or container from home. The container must be able to be cleaned and sanitized, so washed plastic bags are not acceptable. For example, empty glass pasta sauce, jam and spice jars can be easily washed out and used again.

Once at the grocery store, shoppers can tare their containers at the bulk section. Taring is done by placing the empty jar and lid on the scale, weighing it, placing a piece of tape on the jar and writing the weight on it.  

The shopper is now ready to bulk shop. Anything can be put in these jars offered in bulk. Honey, coffee, nuts, flour, cleaning products, candy and spices can be used to fill the jar to any amount needed. 

If someone needs one tablespoon of dried rosemary for a special meal, they have the option to only purchase that one tablespoon. If someone needs six cups of a specific flour for a unique cake recipe, they can get that exact amount without leftovers.  

Once the product is in the container, shoppers have to write down the product price number found on the bins and save it for when they go to the counter. Some people write the numbers in their phone, but most attach it to their jar using the labels provided in the bulk section. 

At checkout, shoppers give their groceries to the cashier. They will then subtract the weight of your jar from the total weight to find the weight of product. Then, they will punch in the product price code, charge you and place your jar in your bag. 

Every visit makes the process simpler. Once the jar has been tared, shoppers can skip that step on their next trip and simply refill their jars.  

Spokane offers a wide selection of bulk food store options, even in walking distance from Gonzaga’s campus. The Main Market Co-op is a 15-minute walk or three-minute drive from campus. This location provides the community a bulk section filled with nuts, coffees, spices, grains, cleaning supplies and delicious treats, like chocolate peanut butter cups. 

“Save your jars. Use your jars,” said Brook Reese, Main Market Co-op grocery manager. 

Reese oversees the bulk section at the co-op, and said many people are hesitant to switch to bulk. She said people have misconceptions about the process. Main Market Co-op is trying to change the narrative, and is expanding its bulk area. 

“I am proud of how much organic, local and fair-trade product we have in bulk,” Reese said. “We source from local farms and local businesses. We are all here to support each other, and when the product is that good, how could we not?”

Main Market offers a wide variety of dried fruit, candy, nuts, grains and coffees, but what truly makes its location unique is the cleaning products. Customers can refill their shampoo and conditioner, along with laundry soap. Olive oil, coconut oil, honey and soy sauce can also be found in the back-left corner of the market. 

Another great spot for local, organic bulk food shopping is Huckleberry’s Natural Market. It is a short seven to 10-minute drive away from GU’s campus, and it is completely worth it. Its ethical, engaging culture promotes healthy living, waste reduction and quality products. 

“People can get what they want without having to fill up the landfills,” said Josh Davidson, Huckleberry’s store manager.

Aside from the bulk-section staples like nuts, banana chips and flour, Huckleberry’s offers its customers a huge spice section. Dozens and dozens of spices from around the world can be found in the bulk corner, from a Japanese Togarashi Chile spice to an Indian Garam Masala spice. 

The loose-leaf tea selection is another section that keeps customers coming back. 

“You can buy just as much as you need,” Davidson said. “It’s a great way to buy products in small or large quantities.”

Yoke’s Fresh Markets, Fred Meyer and My Fresh Basket also offer solid bulk food sections to Spokane community members and GU students.

Bulk shopping is an up-and-coming shopping method, and it’s saving money and resources.  

Allie Noland is a staff writer.

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