• Teja Hudson

Buy In Bulk: Top 5 Quick Actions for Big Impact #3

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

This series of posts is covering the five quickest things you can do for your business to make the biggest impact and the biggest steps towards that magic number: zero. If you want your business to be more sustainable but don't know where to start, read on!

#3 - Size Matters: Buy Consumables In Bulk

This is more of an ongoing project that will build impact over time with only a tiny adjustment to your buying habits: you can reduce the amount of total packaging you buy if you purchase the same product in bigger containers.

One might easily assume that a bigger container would result in more packaging overall (or maybe the same amount of packaging for the same amount of product), but because of the way surface area works, the amount of packaging needed as a percentage of the total volume gets smaller as the container gets bigger. Essentially, that's because more of the product is in the middle of the container, away from the edges and therefore not needing packaging to hold it in (how much surface area is saved depends a little bit on the shape of the container; the closer it is to a sphere, the lower the surface area required and the greater the material savings).


So just buying consumables in larger containers can save resources, transport, and reduce the amount of post-use material leaving your premises. And if you need any extra incentive, it will usually save you money too - both in the purchase price and in the waste disposal costs! (Just watch out for bulk buys that are just multiples of smaller containers, as these do not save resources and often have extra packaging around them to keep the smaller objects together; larger volumes in single containers are best).


What Does It Look Like?

The idea here is to have a refillable smaller containers for daily use, like a glass hand-soap dispenser that is filled from the larger bulk container. Bricks-and-mortar Zero Waste shops, which are slowly spreading across the UK (there's a great list of them here), use this principle when they offer bulk products that you can fill your own containers from, but not everyone has access to or time for shopping at those places. You can easily do this yourself with an online order from a supermarket chain or commercial supplier if you have a little room to store the large containers (if you don't have the room, you might think about pooling demand with other businesses to split the volume of each order instead - you'll all save money and space!).


Hand soap, dishwashing detergents and cleaning fluids are easy examples that most businesses need, but many other consumables are available in larger volumes too - check with your suppliers to see what they offer.


But I recycle my packaging, so why does this matter?

I'm going to go ahead and assume everyone reading this already recycles, (if you don't, please please start! And not just because it's the law for every business in Scotland to separate paper, card, plastics, metal, glass). Recycling is marvellous and necessary and I would always recommend it. But recycling alone is not going to save the world.

Globally, we consume resources at a rate that would require approximately 1.7 Earths to meet sustainably - that means that by August 1st 2018 we had already consumed all of the resources our planet could sustainably provide for the whole year (this is called Earth Overshoot Day). The year before it was August 2nd. This year it might be in July.


Everything we use after this date is borrowed from future generations.


I'm going to say that again:

Everything we use after this date is borrowed from future generations.


And even if we suddenly, miraculously switched to an economy where everything that could be recycled actually was, and everything we made contained the most amount of recycled material it could, it still wouldn't be enough. Because very few materials recycle endlessly, very few products can be made from 100% recycled material, and it all takes energy. We would still be over-consuming.

Prevention is therefore the most effective thing we can do, so every single item that we don't use/buy/create/recycle is one less item we have to borrow from the future of humanity. And unsurprisingly, there's another Global Sustainable Development Goal to cover this (are you sensing a theme yet?) - Target #12.5 is to Substantially Reduce Waste Generation, and is also a core mission directive to us here at Zero, and our aim to Make Less Waste.


Obviously just buying things in bulk instead of small containers is not going to shift this needle madly all by itself, just like recycling won't. But that's no excuse to not bother with any of it. Both are part of a big, complex strategy to Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (in that order!) and we're going to need all of it and more to get back to 1.0 Earth. In fact, my very next post in the series expands on this, and we're going to be dealing a great deal with waste prevention in this blog, don't worry!


But we've all got to start somewhere, and often the smallest changes are the ones that are the easist to accomplish, and the ones that will get us all fired up for the harder stuff. So if this is all you can manage right now, then go for it anyway; I'll be cheering you on from here, big or small :)



Stay tuned for our next blog post in the series, which will cover #4 on our list of Top 5 Quick Actions for Big Impact...

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