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Bulk-buying: eat healthy, waste less and save money

Buying in bulk has all the advantages we could think of. We get to eat healthier food and at the same time, we also save money. We generate less waste, living a more sustainable life. We also get to decorate our kitchens in a colourful way, displaying all the glass containers on the shelves. 

Bulk-buying is an essential component of a zero waste lifestyle, a concept that is spreading around the world, together with groceries shops that offer a bulk section. 

While the concept of bulk-buying was previously reserved to dry grains, nowadays it includes almost everything: from all the types of grain to flours, snacks, legumes, pasta, meat and home and body products such as hand soaps, shampoos, cleaners. 

The first rule when buying in bulk is to go equipped with personal containers. Glass ones are the best so that we avoid the use of plastics in any possible way. Of course, we must remember the weight of our containers to not include them in the purchase. Yes, because now we are not buying a can of beans anymore, but we pay our food by weight. A solution that helps us buying what we need, without wasting food that would otherwise still be edible. 

In the European Union, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros. Along the entire value chain, food waste amounts to about 173 kilograms per EU citizen per year, corresponding to about one-fifth of all food that is produced. This waste is responsible for a global warming potential of about 186 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. 

That’s why all EU Member States must recycle 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2035. The Czech Republic believes that green shopping will help the country meet this target. In particular, the Czech Ministry of the Environment will introduce a financial bonus for selected products that will contain a certain proportion of recycled plastics. 

“Thanks to the bonus, we want to create a demand on the market for certain specific products, for which we know that recycling is already possible,” said Minister Richard Brabec. “A higher demand will increase their availability and reduce their price. This can be quite crucial for the launch of green shopping.”

Awareness-raising is the dominant policy option. The Czech Ministry will launch a platform called #wepurchaseresponsibly, the aim of which is to motivate especially private entities and public administration ones to prioritise the purchase of those products or services that have the least negative impact on the environment. 

“The platform will draw attention to good practices, but also to the challenges and problems faced by various entities,” explained Anna Pasková, Director of the Department of Environmental Policy and Sustainable Development of the Ministry of the Environment. “It can thus become a good source of information for the state administration, which should try to eliminate legislative or administrative obstacles associated with green shopping.”   

Indeed, the Czech Republic is an example of a country that has recently amended its legislation to facilitate the prevention of food waste and to promote food redistribution. As reported by the European Environment Agency, in 2014, the 15 per cent VAT rate applied to donated food was abolished and, in 2018, the Czech Republic introduced an obligation on stores of more than 400 square metres to donate unsold but still consumable food to charitable organisations. 

As the new regulation forced many stores to start donating, the volumes of redistributed food increased dramatically. The distribution is taking place through food banks, not-for-profit organisations that handle donations on a large scale and distribute them further to NGOs. In total, there are 15 food banks in the country serving in Prague alone through around 120 NGOs.

But it is not only a healthy lifestyle. Bulk-buying can also have a positive impact on our wallet. According to Eurostat data, in 2018, households in the EU spent over 1, 047 billion euros (the equivalent to 6.6 per cent of the entire EU GDP) on food and non-alcoholic beverages. In other words, we spend 12.1 per cent of our money on food, a huge expense second only to our energy bills. 

Romanians are those who spent the most: around a fifth of total household consumption expenditure went on food and non-alcoholic beverages (27.8 per cent). The next highest shares were recorded again in the Central and Eastern European region: Lithuania (20.9 per cent) and Estonia (19.6 per cent).

Hungary ranks 6th (at 18.1 per cent) but new needs of Hungarian citizens are emerging, giving space to bulk stores to open. Among these, the Bulk Vegan Shop, which not only sells food which is organic, plant-bases and not wrapped in plastics. It also provides its customers with more than 450 recipes for a healthy lifestyle. Bulk shopping is based on what Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy used to say: “Anything worth having is worth sharing as well.”

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