EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we are launching Green Prescription, a monthly sustainable advice column.

I live in a rural area where it is difficult to find bulk food or other products like laundry soap. What are some alternatives to buying in bulk?


DEAR TRYING: Among the reasons we envy our Canadian neighbors is that unlike them, we don’t (yet) have a whole chain of container-free stores like Bulk Barn. Given the constraints of container-free buying in rural Maine, I am going to put on my professorial hat and give you a set of homework assignments. Of course sustainable living requires a much broader set of practices than buying in bulk, but this homework should get you started. And not to worry: Having nabbed a few ounces of bulk arrowroot powder at my local natural food store, I’m too busy trying to make my own deodorant to quiz you at the end.

Assignment No. 1: Talk to the folks who work at your local supermarket, including the managers, the bakers and the butchers. They don’t hear enough from those of us who are trying to live more sustainably, and sometimes they can be persuaded to use containers you bring from home (tip: try pillowcases for bread and glass jars for meat; zero-waste guru Bea Johnson swears by these).

Assignment No. 2: Look for other places you may be able to use your own containers, like farmers markets and pick-your-own farms. Starting this month Maine features many such farms offering strawberries, and the season extends into the fall with apples.


• Assignment No. 3: Buy the largest container size available. If you are committed tousing shampoo, for example (as I am, unwilling, for now, to go “no-‘poo“), and you can’t find anywhere nearby that sells it in bulk, buying a quart or more at a time will ensure you’re using fewer containers and achieving a better container-to-product ratio in the long run.

Assignment No. 4: Grow your own food and make your own household products. Admittedly, getting up to speed may take time and effort, but there are plenty of websites that will hold your hand, including Wellness Mama, with lots ofvery simple recipes for health and beauty products.

Bonus points: Wouldn’t it be cool if Bulk Barns came to Maine? I’ve been bugging all my friends to quit their jobs and start one near me, so far to no avail. Maybe you’ll be more successful.

Lisa Botshon is a professor of English at the University of Maine at Augusta, where envelopes are routinely reused. The child of back-to-the-landers, she lives in a household that is skeptical of her zero-waste efforts.

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