8 January 2019

How not to feel like a weirdo at the Bin Inn

Soft plastic recycling bins have disappeared! These bins had been present at many towns and cities in certain shops and supermarkets, and many of us saved up our plastic bags and packaging and stuffed them into these often-full bins.

It felt virtuous, and it was very popular. So popular, in fact, that the recyclers got too much plastic and couldn't find enough customers to buy the end product of their recycling!

The scheme is just on hold for now and is expected to start up again. In the meantime, we have to either landfill our soft plastics or watch it pile up horrifyingly.

Or, perhaps, bring less of them into our lives.


Waste-free Bin Inn shopping trips

One answer is to use your own bags and containers to shop at the Bin Inn. If you do so, they'll give you a 5% discount! Here's how to do it like a pro, with maximum efficiency and ease.

It takes a bit more thought and organisation than a supermarket shopping trip - but not much.

Step 1. Compile a list

I have a separate Bin Inn shopping list, and when something in the pantry runs out that can be bought there, I add it to that list. My shopping lists are old envelopes or the back of used paper.


Step 2. Gather your containers and bags.

Gather enough bags and/or containers to hold everything on your list.

You do not have to have special versions of anything for this. You can use old bread bags and whatever containers you already have. For easy pantry restocking, it's easiest to take the containers you already store the item in. This only works if they are empty or have just a little bit left in the bottom.

Yes! You can even take in a container with the dregs of rice or cinnamon or whatever you're buying in there! More on that soon.

When it comes to bags, remember to take something to fasten them shut (if they're not resealable). I sometimes use clean, used plastic bags (I wash them and line-dry them) and some pegs to fasten them shut. I also use my Pouch Products produce bags. The produce bags are fairly tightly-woven, but finely-ground things like desiccated coconut tend to escape and leave a sifted sprinkling of powder-like coconut around the shop! They are best for chunkier items like nuts and beans.

Loosely-woven produce bags will quite useless here, I fear.

If you're buying ingredients that might be hard to identify, like sugar and salt, or different types of flour, take a pen to write on the bag or container so you know exactly what it is both at the checkout and when you get home. A piece of masking tape placed on the bag or container in advance makes an easy label to write on.

Unlike supermarket bulk bin shopping, you don't have to write a code (or anything else) on bags to show the cashier what you've bought.

Step 3. Choose a basket or carry-bag

Obviously you will not be putting your items in a Bin Inn plastic bag! So, what do you use instead?

A reusable shopping bag is one option. But if you're taking containers, rather than bags, the resulting load can be very heavy, particularly if you're using glass jars. I use a sturdy basket for heavy loads, and I try to park reasonably close to the shop.

But if you don't have a basket, you'll manage with tough recyclable bags.

If you are biking to the shop, I admire you. You'll puff on the way home, and a bike trailer would be perfect for a big shopping mission.

Step 4. Get your containers weighed

When you get to the shop - having remembered your list, bags and containers, and a basket or shopping bag, of course - head to the counter to get any containers weighed. It may feel strange, but the staff are very used to this! Put them on the counter and they will weigh them and write the weight on the bottom with a marker.

If there's a weight already written there from a previous trip, they'll probably just leave it there for this time. Point out to them if there are dregs of ingredients left in the container, so they can re-weigh it - otherwise you'll pay for the dregs again!




Step 4. Fill your bags and containers

Here's where I get crafty if there are dregs left in my container. Because who runs out of cumin, coriander and cinnamon simultaneously just as they're about to to to the Bin Inn? Most likely you're getting low on it and know you'll need more. In this case I either take a different container, or I take my "real" one with dregs in it. But I don't want to put the new item on top of the old one - I want the old stuff to end up on top so I can keep using the freshest ingredients.

Therefore, I just tip the dregs into the container's lid, mostly fill the container, and then tip the contents of the lid back on top of the new stuff. It works a charm.

Label things if you need to.



And try the peanut butter. Oh, the peanut butter - it is the best! We used to buy Pic's peanut butter, but this is much better. Their almond butter is also delicious.


Step 5. Pay

You know how to do this part. They weigh it, you pack it, you pay. They subtract the weight of your containers (and any dregs) from the purchase price.

Bin Inn gives a 5% discount for each item you pack in your own packaging, and it also supplies Bin Inn loyalty cards, and you get a stamp for each $20 you spend. When the card's full you get $5 off your next purchase. Granted, you do have to get 15 stamps, so it's not a huge bonus, but I enjoy the little $5 thrill anyway.

Compared to Pak'n Save prices, I find the Bin Inn to be cheaper for loose items, which is mostly what I'm there for. They also sell plenty of normally-packaged goods (jars, tins, etc), which don't seem to be cheaper. They do, however, sell some packaged items that I can't get anywhere else.

Step 6. Restock your pantry

Here's the best bit. When you get home, it is SO easy to put the groceries away when they're already in the correct containers!



For bagged items than I intend to leave in bags, I have a huge plastic container I store them in to keep out pantry moths.

Notes on the greenfulness, freshness and hygiene of Bin Inn shopping

1. Biodegradable and paper bags. The Bin Inn has always supplied plastic bags to put your purchases in. These days they're biodegradable plastic, which doesn't mean much, because most such bags don't biodegrade completely but simply break down into microplastics. The shops now make paper bags available, too, but given that paper takes more energy to produce than plastic, they're not an ideal alternative. Just use what you already have, instead.
2. Less packaging, not no packaging. Of course there is some packaging involved in this process, because the shop itself has received the items in a packaged form. But because they receive it in bulk, there is much less packaging over all compared to packaging each little half-kilo of sugar, for example.
3. Quality. The food at my local Bin Inn, at least, is always good and fresh. No rancid nuts (although to be honest, I haven't tried their walnuts - rancidity is very hard to avoid in walnuts).
4. Germ exchange. It is entirely possible that there are germs exchanged at the Bin Inn. I pick up the scoop of a bin with my unwashed hands, fill my container or bag, and put the scoop back in the bin, resting on the food. The scoop handle probably touches the food. Every customer does this. Maybe this would concern me if I had a suppressed immune system. But at present I'm fine with the human-to-human exchange of microbes. We were never meant to live in sterile environments.
5. Ecostore refills. Some Bin Inns, at least, do refills for Ecostore products. This got me excited until I saw the prices. The refill prices are much higher than for either their packaged Ecostore products or the supermarket equivalents. When I queried this, they explained that it is due to the huge amount of wastage they have to subsidize. People are messy and spill the stuff. Once, a person let a five-litre container of dishwashing liquid drain out on the ground, they told me! Sad.

2 comments :

  1. A note on Eco store too - stores can not recycle the large tubs that they supply to the refill stores. So they end up going to landfill. If you can you are better to fork out for the 5litre tubs as they are recyclable. (they fit whereas the mega ones do not) But as Eco store have not got a full cycle filling system with their refill stations I am hesitant to support their "green" endeavour.

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  2. Good point! I buy the 5 L dishwasher liquid and refill it at our local environment centre, which we're lucky to have locally. I know Malcolm Brand mentions in his book about their desire to get the refill system sorted out - hopefully they get there one day!

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