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Precycling and Package-free Bulk Shopping

Updated on May 16, 2015

The City of Austin (Austin, TX) has set a lofty goal is to reduce the amount of trash sent to their landfills by 90% in 30 years (by the year 2040).

They've created a master plan which includes a system to reward those community members who divert waste from entering landfills and it includes a “Home Composting Rebate Challenge”. In addition, they have developed improved recycling programs and are implementing home composting carts.

One group of entrepreneurs in Austin has jumped on board to forge the way in reducing waste through a unique business model. The first ever package-free and zero-waste grocery store in the United States debuted in 2012 and is called:



A unique grocery shopping concept

"In.gredients" has been unique collaborative effort between business, the Austin community, and consumers. Their goal is to reduce waste by eliminating packaging altogether. An old practice that over the last century the U.S. has strayed from.

Instead of recycling packaging that’s already been produced, they are implementing the concept of "precycling" - the practice of eliminating the packaging before it before it’s even made.

For local consumers, here is the design:

1. Those shopping bring their own shopping bags and clean containers from home. Resuable containers will be available to purchase for those that forget theirs from home.

2. In.gredients weighs and labels the empty containers

3. The eco-conscience consumer fills the containers with the desired food (fresh produce and bulk items)

4. At check-out, the consumer pays based on only the weight of added food.

The concept is based on old and simple principles and one that is still used regularly in open markets in other countries.

Local Food Sourcing - a key component

"In.gredients" sees local food sourcing as a top priority. The premise is that the local economy will be stimulated when consumers buying locally. In terms of fresh produce and fresh foods, consumer choices will be based on what is in season. The emphasis will be on real food, not food that has been chemically modified.

Buying food package-free enables the consumer to control how much is purchased. This encourages portion control and reduces the amount of wasted food. Why by a huge bag of carrots when you only need four or five?

The store offers:

  • Fresh Produce
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc)
  • Dry bulk goods (grains, baking ingredients, spices, coffee/tea, etc.)
  • Liquid bulk goods (oils/vinegars, beer/wine, etc.)
  • Fresh and local meats
  • Ready-to-eat fresh foods
  • Baby food
  • General merchandise (containers, bags, reusables)
  • Household items (green cleaners, personal care items)

How can those of us outside of Austin benefit?

First and foremost, Austin should be applauded for taken such a bold initiative. Many cities across the U.S. can learn and emulate this initiative.

Second, while most of us will never have the opportunity to visit and shop at In.gredients, there is much that can be learned from their efforts. provides many useful precycling tips, tools and links out to other useful green and sustainability sites.

In.gredients provides an educational blog with tips on how to reduce household waste. And you can learn how to compost in an urban setting through their website.

If this business model proves to be successful, you may very well see more stores like this popping up across the country!

In the meantime, there are three steps anyone can be take to move towards socially and environmentally conscience shopping.

  • Take resuable shopping bags to the store
  • Seek out a local co-op and buy in bulk
  • Eat more fresh produce and less pre-packaged food

A Real Example on How Bulk Grocery Shopping Saves Time and Money


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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Au fait - thanks for stopping by. It's is amazing (and sad) how much all that packaging is costing us. I've been buying all my spices in bulk now and you are right, you can save big time by doing that!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      in.gredients looks interesting! Of course buying foods without all of the expensive packaging saves money and landfill space. All those sauce mixes and flavoring mixes that sell for $1.25, give or take a little, and all they contain is a few pennies worth of spices. Once you have the recipe you can buy those spices yourself and save BIG.

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 5 years ago from Greece

      Whilst the idea of taking our own bottles, jars or bags to put our groceries in may sound like we are stepping back in time, it is the right thing for us to be doing. We produce too much waste unnecessarily and the planet will only take so much more abuse. If we all do a little it can add up to a lot.

      I would love to see shops using this idea over here, but until then I'll keep reusing where I can.

      An interesting hub and thanks for sharing.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Melovy, @Melis Ann, @cat on a soapbox - thanks for all your comments and contributing to the discussion!

      I agree that there can be some concerns and potential hazards to bulk items but as I've watched our local co-op handle these, I feel a much more comfortable with the concept. It requires excellent training by staff, proper bulk containers, and tracking to make sure bulk items are turning over quick enough to avoid them going rancid.

      The issue with bulks running the risk of attracting unwanted little visitors can be a problem at restaurants too as most buy in bulk. Thankfully, our local health department does an excellent job of "policing" all of these establishments, including the co-ops, to make sure all health and safety standards are in practice.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Kris, I really enjoyed this topic and appreciate your writing about it! The concept of bulk foods takes me back 40 years to the co-ops. It's a great idea in theory but doesn't often work in practice. Air exposure in bulk foods causes things to quickly go rancid and attracts meal moths and rodents. There is also the element of health and safety. Anyone can put contaminants into bulk items, touch them with filthy hands, or sneeze in or near them. Unlike produce, these items can't be washed. As much as I would LOVE to see this package-free idea go forward, it makes more sense to package drygoods in recyclable paper materials and liquids in recyclable paper tetra-bric containers.

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      This is a great concept which I have heard of on a small scale at food co-ops, but nothing like this exists locally for me. I hope it's successful and comes my way. Until then, we can do our best to be creative and use less packaging.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      Thank you for highlighting this. It is so encouraging to read about initiatives like these.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Sunnie Day, Cardisa, and Imogen French - thanks for your comments and I love the concept too. I've been buying more in bulk from our co-op and now I just need to get into the habit of taking my open containers!

      I agree, Imogen French, there is still far too much packaging! And often difficult to open!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      Sounds like they are setting a great example in Austin. There is still far too much packaging on most products and there is really no need for it. I love the idea of filling your own containers with just the amount that you need! Great hub, with some important reminders about using our resources carefully and reducing waste.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 5 years ago from Jamaica

      I love the pre-cycling idea of bringing my own container. This is very interesting. I wish my county could adopt some of these ideas as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 5 years ago

      Wonderful hub..I live outside of Austin but a bit too far to enjoy their lovely farmers markets on a regular basis..I have been and just love them. I love this whole concept. We do eat fresh and buy in bulk as much as we can, eliminating much waste. We compost and feed our chickens a lot of leftovers. Thank you for sharing this insightful hub.