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Bulk grocery items good for pocketbook, environment

written by: Steve Graham•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 3/1/2010

A wide range of bulk grocery items are available at many stores. Bulk groceries can be more cost-effective, healthier and better for the environment.

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    Bulk beauty

    The most surprising bulk section may be the bulk beauty items, such as soap, shampoo and lotion. They can also save money and packaging. The other advantage is knowing what you're getting. You can test and smell most of the items (as long as you don't stick your finger in the jar).

    Another way to save packaging is to use refillable glass or metal containers. They will last for years, and you can even take them to the store and directly refill them. You'll want to talk to an employee first and check the weight of the empty container. Then the cashier will only charge you for the weight of the soap or shampoo. You should only have to do this once. You can put the empty weight on a sticker on the bottom of the container.

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    Herbs and tea

    Loose-leaf teas, spices and herbs can often be found in the bulk grocery section. Again, you can get a small amount of an herb and not let a whole jar go to waste. You can also use unusual herbs to make mixes as gifts. Likewise, you can mix and match teas for a perfect flavor mix, and put exactly the right amount in for a large pot of tea.

    One caution with herbs: make sure they are fresh. A busy store with plenty of bulk grocery turnover should not be a problem, but herbs expire within months. It's worth asking a manager how often herbs are restocked and whether the new stock is just mixed in with the old. Read this article for more on bulk herbs.

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    Dry goods

    I buy most of my grains and beans as bulk groceries. They are usually pure and additive-free. They are also usually a good value and I can find more interesting varieties of rice, lentils and other items than I find at the regular grocery store.

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    Liquid consumables

    Pure honey and nut butters are typically available in the bulk grocery section. Plus, grinding your own peanut or almond butter makes for a fun grocery store activity for the kids. Other sweeteners such as agave nectar may also be available.

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    The bulk grocery section isn't necessarily free of additives and extra ingredients. Sometimes, items come premixed but still have less packaging. Brownie mix, protein powder, Felafel and hummus mixes and soup mixes are all available in the bulk grocery section.

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    Candy and snacks are probably the most common bulk grocery items. They are a good way to try a new snack (buy a few and share with the family. The employees don't want you sampling every snack). Get the kids a few dried cherries and a whole box won't go to waste if they don't like them. The selections often include unusual dried fruits and creative snack mixes. For a family hike, a big bag of bulk trail mix can be more practical than a box or several small bags.