7. Reuse containers and bags, buy in bulk
Sometimes it feels like my canvas bags at the grocery are just a feeble effort to save the tiny bit of fossil fuel that is consumed in making the grocery sack. Sometimes it feels like it is just me, others are not responding to the need to conserve. Sometimes I get discouraged by the waste of putting a bag in a bag, or one item in a big bag, or the many over-packaged foods that get more packaging at check-out. I know that it is not just the tiny bit that I conserve that is important, but the quiet example to others that see me packing my canvas bags. More important still, is my belief that it is the right thing to do.
Many containers that food is packed in can be reused. The plastic cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream container can be washed and reused to freeze soups, chili, stew, etc. You can punch holes in their bottoms and use the lid for a tray to transplant those tomatoes you are trying to get really big (in blossom even) before setting them out. They also make great give-away containers for berries. If you want to share left-overs with a guest or prepare a meal for someone under the weather, this type of container is perfect.
Then there is glass – wonderful, versatile, clean and non-reactive glass. Not much still comes in glass jars and bottles, but when you have one, save it. Soy sauce bottles, vinegar bottles and salad dressing bottles can be used to store your own homemade sauces and salad dressings. Other jars are good for soaking seeds before sprouting, storing bulk beans and seeds. Glass has the advantage that you can see through it, often eliminating the need to label. No need for a label that says “mung beans” when you can see them through the glass. When you do buy in bulk from bins, the glass jar is the perfect storage container to which to transfer the food when you get home. If you are careful, the flimsy bags that transported the bulk food can be reused in the refrigerator for vegetables (don’t need to put them in the bags at the grocery, knowing you have these bags at home). If you grow and harvest your own vegetables these bags again can be used to protect your harvest from the dehydrating effects of your refrigerator. They are even nice to have along when you walk your dog.
Then there is “real” buying in bulk, that 25 pound bags of spelt berries or flax seed, the fifty pound bag of rye. If you do use that much of anything in a year, just 8 ounces a week (a half pound), will total over 25 pounds a year. Stores will give you discounts. There is just one bag and it is usually heavy brown paper, totally compostable or recyclable. You can simply put the bag down in a small trash can with a tight fitting lid and dip out of it to fill a smaller container for the kitchen. I usually put grains and seeds in the freezer for a week or two to kill any bugs, larva and even eggs that might be present. If there is room in the freezer, I will leave it there because a full freezer is more economical to run. Many times a couple friends can get together to reap the benefits of buying in bulk, a mini-coop of sorts. Those benefits: cost savings; higher quality food; less packaging; the convenience of less frequent shopping; a sense of security having a year's supply.
Often times buying really big containers of laundry, dishwashing or hand soap saves money and packaging. You can then just refill your small containers that you use at the sink. Probably the most important message of this idea is to consider how you might reuse before you recycle. There is almost never a need to just throw something out.
Nancy is a retired secondary teacher. She built and lives in an active and passive solar, high thermal mass home. She is an avid gardener and helps others to learn how to garden.