There are codes of behaviour in our society that have existed for ages and have been passed on from one generation to another – for example, holding the door for someone, saying a-very-Canadian sorry, or giving your seat to an older person on the bus. 

Since zero waste as a movement is a fairly new phenomenon, we thought that defining and sharing a set of guidelines inspired by our own zero waste practice would be helpful for others, in particular beginners. In this blog post, we’re digging into the Do’s and Don’ts of bulk shopping!

There is a common misconception that bulk shopping is dirty, which is why we work hard to keep our store clean, bright and open. We also want to make sure that the space doesn’t just look clean, but is also safe to shop at. As certified food handlers, we are very aware of health and food safety rules and the risk of cross-contamination through bacteria, food particles and allergens. This knowledge informs many of the following Dos and Don’ts:

DO bring your own containers

As long as they are washed you can use any of your containers:

  • Tupperware
  • Glass jars
  • Cloth bags
  • Plastic yogurt tubs and more!

One exception are plastic bags. It is very hard to thoroughly wash a plastic bag, which means it might still contain food particles and be a vehicle for cross-contamination. So don’t use them for bulk foods, but you can still use them for your fruits and veggies!

DO weigh your containers

In bulk, everything is by weight rather than by volume. There are many different jars and containers and they all have different weights. We need to know and deduct the weight of your empty container (the “tare”), so that you only pay for the product inside. Just go to our taring station at the entrance where you can weigh your container yourself.

DO assume your containers are NOT bacteria-free, even when they look clean

When shopping in bulk follow the “paint principle” – imagine that your hands and jars are covered in fresh paint (paint = bacteria or potential allergens), so everything you touch gets a paint stain. The goal is not to get any paint into the food:

  • Fill up your jars by letting the food fall inside
  • Don’t place your containers in the food to fill
  • Don’t let your containers touch the bulk scoop
  • Don’t put any food back from your container into the bin

DO use a funnel

A funnel is a helpful tool when your containers have a narrow opening. A clean funnel is also a barrier between our clean scoops and your container. Make sure you keep the inside of the funnel untouched. We supply clean funnels – they are located next to the scales at the taring station – so just grab one when you tare your containers and return it to us at checkout.

DO tell us if you break or spill something

These things happen, and we are not going to be mad or make you pay for anything. Letting us know about a breakage or a spill keeps everyone safe from slipping on the floor and allows us to clean up promptly.

DO keep it tidy

Put everything back in place and make sure bins are the way you found them. We want to keep the store neat and clean and provide the best experience for everyone.

  • Close the bulk bin lids
  • Place the tongs and scoops back
  • Turn off the taps (refill wall, oil fustis…)
  • Don’t put your shopping totes and baskets on the bulk bins or lids (they are not clean)

DO rinse off the jars you return

When using our deposit system and before bringing back the deposit jars and bottles (e.g. milk bottle, coconut yogurt jar, jam jar…), please rinse them off. This will ensure that no mold develops inside the jars and suppliers can safely take them back and reuse. We want to make sure that suppliers don’t get discouraged to do zero waste deliveries because they are a vital part of the circular economy we are striving for.

DO ask for help

It’s a learning curve for everyone and we are here to help. No question or request is too silly or strange! (e.g. how to open a honey gate, or get those walnuts from the gravity dispenser) and DO help others. We love when we see our regular customers giving tips to new customers – it creates a very neighbourly atmosphere and helps build the community.

DO have patience

Checkout for zero waste groceries does take a bit longer – we need to weigh every container, deduct the tare and enter the product code. Please be patient with us and other customers. We have three cashes and always jump on a free cash if we see that a lineup is building, but on a busy day, there might still be a bit of waiting. Bear with us. 🙂

DON’Ts:

  • Just like workplace etiquette, when you are sick (especially if it’s contagious) try to avoid bulk shopping and sneeze away from food and in your sleeve. 
  • Avoid overfilling. It’s always better to fill up a little, weigh (to estimate the weight or cost) and fill up more if needed. That’s the beauty of bulk – you can fill up as little or as much as you want. Please let us know if you need help gauging how much 100 g is or filling up specific amounts for a recipe.
  • We trust that you won’t do it yourself, but when shopping with children, please don’t let them touch the products or even do fill-ups. Kids tend to have less precision, less control over the scoop or shorter height. As a rule, we only allow kids over 12 years old to do fill-ups independently. 
  • If you shop with a glass jar and it breaks, please don’t touch the broken glass yourself. Although it’s very kind of you to help, the broken glass is dangerous and glass particles can be transferred to food. Please let staff know (usually we’ll hear the breakage!) and we’ll clean it up for you.

Let’s all follow these simple rules to keep zero waste shopping safe for everyone! Stay tuned for Zero Waste Etiquette (Part Two), where we will cover shopping zero waste in non-zero waste stores and eating out, as well as Zero Waste Etiquette (Part 3) about interacting with others about zero waste, in-person and online.

Sia Veeramani