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Whole Foods - Educate Customers About Bulk Bins
November 4, 2009 - 5:49 pm

I stock up at the Whole Foods bulk bins once a month – I bring my own containers and always someone in the aisle says “wow, that’s a great idea to bring your own containers” and always the cashier says “wow – what a great idea to bring your own containers”. I usually explain that I like to cut down on packaging and that it is much easier to just put it straight into the storage container rather than fussing with a plastic bag.

What I realized here is that noone seems to know the environmental purpose of the bulk bins (to reduce packaging) – not even everyone that works at Whole Foods.

I suggest they put some kind of poster in the Bulk area – like “Bring your own clean containers from home!” Instructions on how to tare out and mark your container. Something like that.

Best Regards,


Beth Terry
405 Posts
November 4, 2009 - 6:33 pm

Emily, I totally agree! One of the items on my never-ending “To Do” list is to set up a meeting with my local Whole Foods bulk manager to see figure out a way to educate consumers about this. What else are bulk bins for? Okay, you can find some things in bulk bins for less money than on the shelf. But not everything.

Would you be up for speaking to your own Whole Foods bulk manager about this? At our store, there was a point when they were trying to dispel their “Whole Paycheck” reputation by giving tours on how you could save money by shopping there. They could do a similar thing on how you can save packaging too. The thing is, I’m not sure they actually want to. Whole Foods sells so much overly-packaged merchandise. Maybe they don’t really want to encourage everyone to choose the bulk stuff.

November 4, 2009 - 8:38 pm

It’s very difficult to re-use bags at the Whole Foods where I’ve been shopping since I moved to DC a few months ago! I’ve spoken with a couple of their customer service staff members and it seems like their scales at the cashier are not programmed to deduct the tare weight of bags and containers. What I currently do is save the plastic bags I take near the bins and bring them again on my next purchase. It is possible to use them several times but not indefinitely, as the bags are very thin and it is impractical to wash them. However, I have never seen anyone else pulling used bags from their purse!

Also, their bulk section is quite limited (no pasta, no baking soda, no oil, and list goes on).

After a few months shopping there, I sent them a letter encouraging them to improve their bulk system in order to allow customers to bring their own containers and (heavier) cloth bags. I retrieved some information from an old post Beth had written about how different bulk stores in San Francisco work and I included that on the letter. I also urged my local Whole Foods to start a campaign to educate customers about bulk bins.

I never got a response from them. I’ll send the letter again sometime soon but I am not sure one person can make enough pressure.

Beth Terry
405 Posts
November 5, 2009 - 12:41 pm

Hi Marisa. One person can make a difference if they can inspire others. Do you have friends who would also write letters or speak up to the managers? Could you go in and ask to speak to the manager yourself?

It’s my understanding that Whole Foods is organized regionally and that various regions make their own policies. So I think local actions are probably the most effective.

November 5, 2009 - 11:18 pm

Hi Beth, I’m going to keep trying for sure. I’ll try and speak with the manager.

I’m also planning on contacting the organizers of the farmers market where I shop to discuss the isse of plastic bags, which are widely used.

November 6, 2009 - 8:58 pm

We don’t have a Whole Foods here but we do have a Bulk Barn. My problem is that I have celiac disease and places that use bins cannot guarantee the safety of their “bin” products. It’s frustrating.

February 21, 2010 - 2:41 am

Some of our WF offer paper bags in the produce and bakery sections. I use these instead of the plastic ones normally kept in the bulk section and then write the PLU on the bag. These can be reused many times and then recycled. I bring clothespins with me to clip the folded bag shut to prevent spillage.

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