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Full Bulk Society?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Excess packaging  = landfill waste. Think bulk. [photo: megansquire]
Excess packaging = landfill waste. Think bulk. [photo: megansquire]

By Jen Stotland

Imagine a society where you could get up in the morning, with your milk delivered to your step and your empties taken away. After putting your milk in your solar powered fridge you stash some empty plastic and glass containers in your bicycle pannier and head off to run errands. After a full morning you bring home root beer, potato chips for tonight, a stick of butter in a reusable container, cloth bags full of produce, a bar of soap and a refilled glass jar of deodorant. There is a grassroots industry of shuttling empties back to a central distributing facility, or the brewery, or the dairy.

We have no real bulk store in Halifax, like the one in Kensington Market in Toronto where you can walk in with your own rugged container and get local, organic and wholesome products and goods. There is the Bulk Barn, but they won't let you use your own container and I find the ones they provide are barely better than disposable. Plastic containers for liquids break almost immediately, are hard to clean and do nothing to satisfy those of us who are avoiding plastic or wanting to use glass.

Purchasing our belongings in several layers of disposable shrink-wrap is a new thing. One hundred years ago over-packaged goods from half a world away simply didn't exist. It makes transporting items like food from remote locations possible with less contamination and spoilage. It became necessary for the mass-production of medications (look up the Chicago Tylenol Murders). Recycling one-use plastic and aluminum containers is also a new thing, but it is a stopgap measure. The first part of the 'Three Rs' is to Reduce.

You can find some bulk products in Halifax already, if you know where to look. It does take some discipline, in some cases more cash upfront. I hope it's something that will catch on, or at least facilitate stiff regulation around packaging. Here is some of what we do have and can support.

Vegetable oil: The Grainery sells Fox Mill Nova Scotia-pressed organic canola and sunflower oil at a discount if you bring your own container. It's a bit pricey so I do this when I can. Be careful pouring as it's easy to have overflowing oil! This is a great deal for Locavores.

Vinegar: The Grainery will let you refill a container of vinegar from a 4L jug. Those 4L jugs are not themselves refilled but it's a start. If you get Brian Boates' local apple cider in a tinted glass jar you can bring the jar back to him at the Old Brewery market and he will sterilize it and use it again. The plastic containers cannot be sterilized and he is not able to refill them. Just note that Brian is only there certain seasons.

Soap: Down East are located in Burnside and offer bulk "all purpose", dish and laundry soap. Due to an issue with the vats being leaky, bulk Down East is only available in one store in Halifax: the Grainery Coop on Agricola street.

Milk: Fox Hill milk offer refillable containers. For a one-time deposit of $2.50 you can get an exchangeable glass bottle. Your first bottle will be $5.50 and subsequent milk is $3 a litre. Fox Hill's cows are grass-fed and seasonally pastured.

Regular grocery stores like Sobeys and Superstore stock bulk produce, candy, dry fruit, nuts. A few years ago Atlantic Superstore tried to phase them out due to elevated bacterial levels. They seem to have later reversed their decision.

Beer: The modern glass growler was first introduced by Charlie and Ernie Otto of Otto Brother's Brewing Company in 1989,and Halifax has been an enthusiastic fan of them for the past number of years. Propellor, Garrison and Granite breweries offer a growler exchange.

Wine: The NSLC will let you bottle your own of what they call a House Wine at Bayers Lake and Portland Street locations.

Condoms: Venus Envy will let you purchase a box of condoms. For $25 plus tax you can purchase a cardboard box of individually wrapped (of course) condoms, which cuts down on tossing many smaller boxes. Lifestyles is the only brand which offers this deal. You can also get 12 dozen condoms through the Aids Coalition at acns.ns.ca.

Coffee and tea: Java Blend, planet organic will both let you refill bags of coffee and tea from Java Blend and Just Us.

Eggs: egg cartons are often exchangeable if you bring the empties back to small producers

Honey: Cosman and Whidden will give you a discount if you bring your own container for honey. They are located at the Seaport farmer's market.

Planet Organic sells a variety of grains, beans, candy, flours, herbs and other dry goods and you can bring your own bag.

Bulk Barn sells flour, cocoa, all manner of candy and baking items, oils, honey, molasses and more. If you kept track of Bulk Barn branded bags and brought them back every time you could probably get a few uses out of them.

What we need: Here are just some things. I'm sure you can think of more.

Shampoo and body soap, makeup, toothpaste, medicines, deodorant, aftershave and Bug repellant. Laura of Osha Mae soaps and aromatherapy says she can take back room-spray glass bottles.

Essential oils

Seeds, nut butters


Soy sauce, ketchup and mustard


Windshield washer fluid and motor oil

Chips, fair-trade cocoa and sugar and fair-trade chocolate

Smaller producers and retailers have greater leeway to negotiate bulk arrangements directly with customers and it is here that I think we can make the best headway. If necessary you can always contact suppliers and ask for larger package deals and you might get them. Stocking up is more of an upfront cost but often cheaper in the long-run. If you are or are planning to become a producer, please consider having a strategy for bulk exchange or refills.

A plastic free blog in Metro:



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