Buying in bulk is good – sometimes

Much of what we buy in bulk is a result of clever marketing rather than clever purchasing on our behalf. Here’s an example:

I go into the supermarket and see oranges for $4.00 for 2lbs – but wait; there’s a special and I can get 4lbs for $7.00! A quick mental calculation and I tell myself I’d be nuts to pass up that offer. I walk out of the store; well pleased with my purchase and thinking that I’m a gun shopper. I sure took advantage of the supermarket didn’t I…suckers :).

The oranges are brought home, but the problem is I don’t really eat a lot of oranges and 2lbs of them go bad. The store made extra money from me and good food has gone to waste (unless of course you compost them or use the orange peel in other ways). A ton of resources went into growing and harvesting the oranges, then there’s the issue of energy and fossil fuel wasted in food miles.

We recently moved house and when the pantry was emptied last minute a stack of food that had gone out of date was discarded. It was shameful – we couldn’t believe how much of it there was. Much of the waste was due to the lure of specials on particular products.

All that food, glass, plastic and embedded energy in producing and shipping it all pretty much wasted aside from some composting and recycling. Aside from food, there were also a stack of chemical products that we’d been carting from house to house over the years that was no longer usable – our own toxic waste dump.

Given that we’re not alone in these sorts of habits, the collective negative impact on the environment must be incredible.

This doesn’t mean to say that buying in bulk is bad, we just need to be particularly careful of what we do purchase – and it’s pretty easy to do.

Make a list of everything you buy regularly and from that list divide it into perishable and non-perishable or long-life goods, then make a commitment not to ever purchase the perishables in bulk regardless of how good a special might be unless you’re 100% certain they will be used.

Some items on your non-perishable list may be:

– Toilet paper
– Canned goods your family eats regularly
– Cleaning items
– Grains with a long shelf life
– Coffee

With some of the items such as grains, check the “best before” date first and then calculate how much you’ll be able to use by that date before loading up your trolley. For example, I buy fair trade coffee in bulk. It’s more expensive than the coffee I usually drink, so I buy in bulk to help offset the additional cost – but coffee certainly has a finite shelf life, so I check the use-by date first and figure out what I’ll need.

The other danger of buying in bulk is that we use more than we usually would of a product – we become wasteful or greedy. A good example of that in our household would be chocolate :). I love the stuff. The more we have, the more we eat and it’s not exactly a staple food product. When a particular brand of chocolate is on special, I’m tempted to go nuts and load up the trolley with it, but I just resist the urge and we try to make it last as long as when it’s not on special.

A positive aspect of buying in bulk to take advantage of special prices – when it’s done responsibly – is that it can save you trips to the supermarket; so that means less fuel.

Our purchasing behavior is such an important part of going green, and by adhering to a few simple guidelines when buying in bulk, trying to lead a more environmentally friendly life can really save you money while lessening your impact on the planet that sustains us.