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Goodbye Plastic Free and Zero Waste Shopping: Whole Foods Won’t Allow You Fill Your Own Bulk Bin Containers

Every Zero Waste and Plastic Free advocate suggests you can reduce your household waste by filling your own containers from the bulk food bin section at the grocery store. Often, but not always, the bulk bin unit price is cheaper – especially when it comes to buying spices. As always, your mileage may vary - compare the unit price before you buy!

I’ll admit, the even cheaper sale price was the reason I stopped into Whole Foods because they were giving Amazon Prime members a discount on bulk bin items (learn more here via my affiliate link.) I figured it was as good of time as any to cross a few items off my grocery list while at the same time help slim my trash and recycling bins. (We like to keep our weekly household waste as low as we can but are not an official Zero Waste or Plastic Free home.)

Another reason I like filling my own containers is it helps me from accidentally misjudging the quantity I need and overbuying. Let’s face it the two ounces of spice that fills a spice jar looks like nothing in a bag.

No zero waste customer containers allowed in the bulk bin food store
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Not to mention my food blog is named LAZY Budget Chef for a reason. If I can save a few seconds by filling my own container (when I remember to bring it) in the store to directly shove in a cupboard instead of decanting into a jar when I get home from the store I will.

Now I knew that somewhere, somehow the universe was going to give me a good, hard, back to reality smack up side the head the minute I was patting myself on the back for remembering my jars, shopping list, number 5 plastic recycling (takeout happens,) AND the reusable shopping bags that live in the trunk of my car. I swear there has to be something in the air at Whole Paycheck that makes you feed like a pretentious goody goody no matter how hard you try to fight it the second you walk in the door.

The universe clap back came after I asked the customer service desk to weigh and tare my containers. The woman regretfully informed me that Whole Foods will no longer allow customers fill their own containers at the bulk bins per the FDA and Heath Department rules. I have to use the containers the store provides. If I wanted my bulk bin purchases in glass, I have to buy a glass jar from them. 

Well this is a disappointing heaping helping of First World Problems.  I’ve filled my own containers at that Whole Foods store before. It must be a new policy because the checkout person didn’t know about it until I told her why I had a bunch of empty jars in my shopping bag. She said it was news to her and probably why she hasn’t seen may reusable containers go through her line lately.

After getting a range of different bulk bin experience when I checked in with the Lazy Budget Chef and Condo Blues Facebook community here. I emailed Whole Foods. This is their reply:
“Thank you for reaching out to Whole Foods Market with your question. Federal Food & Drug Administration regulations prohibit consumers from using their own containers for bulk and prepared foods purchases unless the containers are both intended for reuse and purchased at the retailer. Specific details about FDA regulations regarding reusable containers can be found on page 107 of the FDA code: https://www.fda.gov/.../retailfood.../foodcode/ucm374510.pdf
If you’re interested in avoiding plastic, we can give you paper bags for bulk foods.
We also have compostable containers for prepared foods, butcher paper in our full service meat and seafood departments, and cheesemongers can custom-cut cheeses and wrap them in paper for you at the cheese counter. Just ask one of our Team Members and they’d be happy to help.”

I used their paper bags for dry items I bought (using my jars to measure how much I needed, because I'm a rebel.) and put them in my compost bin after decanting the contents in my containers at home (I don’t have access to grass clippings and use shredded paper for browns instead.) So I was able to keep those purchases zero waste, go Team Compost Bin.

But I’m stuck with the crappy non recyclable container for the local honey, which I still bought because I’ve always wanted to try it. Yeah, yeah not the fault of the store. It was totally my choice and  more militant plastic free zero wasters would just cross it off their list. This is another reason I consider us Low Waste Home verses a No Waste Home.

But next time we’re out of honey it’s back to Aldi where raw honey is cheaper (minus the WF sale) and in a fully recyclable container where I live.

After more research, I can’t really blame Whole Foods for the bulk bin policy change because the laws allowing customer containers varies widely based on individual county and state health department rules. Whole Foods employees tell me on the down low that Amazon has been changing store policies for the better to reduce food waste. It makes sense to have one bulk bin policy for all stores, even if it means that the city of Chicago’s bulk bin container laws ruin it for the rest of the country. Thanks a lot Chicago :(

It’s disappointing but not really a deal breaker for me either way. I rarely shop Whole Foods to begin but I know many of you do and though you should know. Do your local stores allow you to fill your own containers?

If you are interested in how to reduce your household waste when shopping, check out the options below!

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