Buying clubs and ‘zero waste’

Lately, there’s been a welcome buzz about ‘zero waste’, rejecting throw-away culture and embracing the principles of reduce – reuse – recycle. Bulk buying clubs have long applied these 3Rs in practice without necessarily using the terminology.

It’s notable that one of the best elements of their approach has recently been reworked through a trend toward ‘bring your own container’ vendors. These outlets and stalls can sell you a few scoops of beans, rice, oats, pasta or nuts ‘packaging free’, doing so by focusing on sourcing bulk wholefoods available in 20-25kg paper sacks – or smaller pouches in the case of spices and loose teas. The principle is sound but, of course, saving waste and saving money are not necessarily connected when it comes to buying wholefoods. To cover wages and other costs, zero waste vendors add a fair chunk onto the wholesale prices they pay – something that non-profit buying clubs can readily avoid.

Conversely, groups using the ‘pop-up wholefoods’ model generally go well beyond sourcing minimally packaged bulk staples to include other everyday items, ranging from tinned tomatoes to toothpaste – and it’s here the zero waste vision has its biggest challenge. A nut butter jar may be reusable, the glass recyclable, but there’s also the thick plastic that wrapped it tight with five others to make up a ‘six case’ for transportation. Members of buying clubs have the advantage of being able to assess how manufacturers package their products for distribution, not just how they want their products presented on the shelves, thereby gaining a more rounded view of many thorny questions. Individual members can make their own decisions about acceptable packaging and so can the group as a whole. Ultimately, bulk buying clubs make their own rules and can be selective about which products go on their available for purchase list – while offering a wider and more pragmatic range than is possible within the constraints of ‘packaging free’.

About this site

This site aims to encourage and support the setting up of further bulk buying clubs and small food co-ops in Ireland by sharing the experience of individuals who have operated a ‘pop-up wholefoods’ model over a number of years.