Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Refill! Refill! Refill! by MCR Michelle C.

Join me on my six month journey to waste reduction for my family of four.

In November of 2018, I became conscious of my family's household waste.  I realized that the bulk of our waste was from packaged food products. Most of the packages were not of value on the recycle market and were likely ending up in the landfill.

After some research, I noticed that most of our general household pantry items could be found locally in bulk. With the intention to drastically reduce the amount of waste my family puts on the curb I took action immediately by:
  • Sewing myself some reusable produce bags. It didn’t take long to build a collection of 15 bags to fill with lots of produce that my family enjoys on a regular basis. 
  • Shopping in bulk for produce at H &W, a local produce store.
  • Shopping at Bulk Barn and Earth's General Store as they offer the option bring your own container to refill when shopping for bulk items. (Both stores take the tare weight of my containers before I shop then subtract that weight when I pay for my items).
On my first trip to the bulk stores, I had no intention of buying, but generated a list of regularly purchased items that I could buy package free. I created a shelf in my recycle space at home that I could store containers for refilling; so the next time I went grocery shopping I could easily grab the right size containers for what I needed. This also helped reduce our recyclables and grow a collection of refillable containers.
A 3lb pre-packaged bag of apples cost
more than my 3 lb reusable bag full!
Cost was was my biggest barrier in getting started. However, I am happy to say there was only one item that I found through this process that didn’t make sense economically to buy in bulk as a refill and thankfully it comes in paper packaging. Actually, I have found that most items are cheaper bought in bulk. In some cases, I can buy a smaller amount and prevent future food and storage waste.

I also found that more variety was available in bulk for items like flours, grains, and legumes. Looking back over my grocery budget over the last six months, I have spent less each month as I continued on my refillable journey.

Making the decision to change my family's shopping habits resulted in shopping at local, Edmonton based stores that were actually closer to my home than my former one stop shopping centre. Choosing to shop differently has helped reduce the amount of curbside waste we set out and support Edmonton based businesses.

Now, six months into my refill shopping journey, I refill an average of 50-60 containers a month. I am able to regularly purchase items in bulk by refilling my containers with items including and not limited to: 

  • Gluten free and specialty flours
  • Oatmeal and cereal
  • Coffee and loose leaf tea
  • Dried fruit, dates and dried coconut flakes
  • Sugars and xylitol
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Baking ingrediants like baking powder, yeast  and baking soda
  • Maca powder
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Nuts, 
  • Seeds
  • Pasta, quinoa and rice 
  • Legumes
  • Popcorn
  • Coconut oil and local canola oil
  • Pink salt
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Molasses
  • Organic vanilla
  • Liquid shampoo and liquid conditioner 
  • Topical essential oils
  • Frozen fruit
  • Frozen perogies 
  • Frozen vegan meat alternatives
As a result, my family has gone from putting one recycle blue bag out every week to once a month. Committing to refilling containers for many grocery and household items is not as hard as it may sound. Make a list of items your household consumes regularly and find out which stores offer refillable options and go from there, one reusable container at a time.  

Michelle joined the MCR ranks in May of 2019. Michelle is passionate about waste reduction in Edmonton. I also am on my own journey of living a more sustainable life, and love to pass along all the tips and tricks I’ve learned! If you like to see my Journey in more detail or watch as I explore further into waste reduction you can follow me on Facebook @earthkeeperedm or Instagram @earthkeeper .


  1. Wow! You've certainly raised the bar, Michelle. Once a month for recycle is fantastic. I think I'll aim for that too! I love your idea of just going to the bulk store first and making note of what they carry. I use the mesh bags that bulk produce such as tomatoes, lemons and oranges come in for my produce shopping. There is a bin full of them at the Reuse Center.

  2. Thank you for your inspirational story! I find it hard to do refillable containers only because I am a transit user and it is not easy to take all of that on the bus. I do what I can with reusable bags and trying not to buy anything in a plastic container. I have also started making my own jams and sauces to reduce the number of containers I set out for recycling.

  3. unknown - i feel your pain - as a transit user it is a little difficult to cart glass around
    i use my produce bags, (hand made from old sheets-so there arent any holes in them), to fill up and then transfer to glass jars once i get home

    if you need bags - Earths General Store has a REUSABLE BAG TREE - check there before you buy any!