Online Bulk Directory

Online bulk directory for purchasing refillable, zero waste beauty and cleaning products | Litterless

Shopping in bulk locally supports local businesses and keeps zero waste resources alive and vibrant in communities. But rare is the person who can find everything they need in bulk in stores near them, which is where online bulk purchases come in. Online bulk shops sell bulk beauty, household, and DIY products in packaging that you can recycle, compost, or return for refill and reuse. When you consider that many of our recyclables are shipped overseas to be recycled or simply thrown away, the impact of shipping back a container to be re-used is put in perspective.

Online bulk directory for purchasing refillable, zero waste beauty and cleaning products | Litterless

Below, a full list of U.S.-based online bulk and refill shops. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

-Arbor Teas: Most stores that offer any selection of bulk foods also sell herbs and teas. If you aren’t able to find bulk tea available locally, consider these folks, who sell organic loose-leaf teas in packages that are backyard compostable. You can choose their largest “bulk” size to cut down on packaging even further. Ships from Michigan.

-Amazon: I do my best to shop from small or local businesses when possible, but Amazon can be a good source for certain bulk items. I purchase refills of Castile soap from the pump dispenser at my local co-op grocery, but if you don’t have that option, you could buy a gallon of Castile soap yourself on Amazon, where it comes packaged in the same bottle as in the bulk aisle at the co-op. Amazon also sells gallons of the same shampoos (EO Products and Giovanni), conditioners (EO Products and Giovanni), body lotion, and liquid hand soap that I’ve often seen in bulk aisles. If you have a product you love but haven’t been able to find in bulk, searching “[product name] gallon” might turn up a larger size. To ensure it all gets used, consider splitting a bottle with a friend, choosing a product your whole family can use, or decanting some into a smaller container for easy use and storing the larger bottle in a closet or under the sink.

-Common Good: Common Good makes non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning supplies like laundry detergent, dish soap, all-purpose spray, glass cleaner, hand soap, and more. In addition to their refill stations around the country, they’ve introduced refill boxes for online customers, where you can order their products in 80% less packaging than the originals.

-EarthHero: A one-stop shop for all things sustainable, EarthHero has several bulk beauty offerings, including refillable Plaine Products shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion, All Good sunscreen in a reusable, recyclable metal tin, or a bulk, 32-ounce bottle of mineral sunscreen.

-Etsy: It’s harder to say what you can’t find on Etsy than what you can. Of interest to the zero-waster: package-free shampoo bars (or this one), vegan body butter in a glass jar, or lip tint in a compostable tube. Look for items that come unpackaged or are in containers you could reuse or donate, and then leave a note to the seller that you’re hoping your order will be shipped in reused packaging rather than new. If you’d like to minimize shipping distance, use their geographical search tool to narrow the field to your local area.

-Fillaree: North Carolina-based Fillaree makes and ships refillable soaps and cleaning supplies throughout the United States. We use their Clean Plate Club dish soap refill program, and they also make a refillable all-purpose cleaning spray and liquid hand soap. To sign up, choose your shipment frequency, and then you’ll get a shipment packed in paper and sealed with paper tape of a refillable bottle. Decant the soap and send it on back for reuse! (You can send any empty container back to them for reuse, even if it’s not part of their refill program). Ships from North Carolina; you can also look for a local refill stockist near you here.

-The Good Fill: The Good Fill offers bulk beauty and cleaning products that ship in recyclable paper bags or reusable plastic pouches. The latter comes with a pre-paid envelope so you can send the pouches back for reuse. Standout examples include dishwasher powder and bulk hairspray! Simply decant the products into your own containers. Ships from Nashville, Tennessee.

-Meliora Cleaning Products: Kate and Mike make rigorously tested and rigorously certified natural cleaning products out of their Chicago warehouse space; we use their laundry detergent and cleaning spray religiously. To buy in bulk, choose the “refill” option for their laundry detergent, which comes in a paper bag that you can reuse or recycle, or their all-purpose cleaning spray refill, which makes 18 bottles worth of their powerhouse spray. I’m also a big fan of their plastic-free stain stick and unpackaged bar soaps. Orders come packed in paper and sealed with paper tape; ships from Chicago.

-Plaine Products: Plaine makes environmentally-friendly bath and beauty products in refillable metal bottles; when yours are empty, you can send them back to be washed and reused. They currently offer refillable shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap, body lotion (which I use every day and love for its mint-rosemary scent), and face wash and moisturizer.

-The Refill Revolution: My friend Britt at Refill Revolution has a huge selection of bulk products - you choose the container, and you can either keep it or send it back to her for a refill. Find bulk beauty products, bulk cleaning supplies, bulk essential oils, bulk DIY ingredients, and bulk gallons. Of particular note: bulk Meow Meow Tweet deodorant, bulk lavender essential oil, and bulk coconut oil. Ships from Colorado.

-The Refill Shoppe: The Refill Shoppe sells refillable cleaning and beauty supplies. Pick what you want, add a scent if you’d like, choose a size and package, and they’ll ship your bulk products right to you with an envelope for returning the packaging for reuse or recycling. You can find their full list of refillable products here. Ships from California.

Zero-waste online bulk directory for shops that sell refillable, package-free items by mail | Litterless

This directory will live permanently in the sidebar at right, under the name “Online Bulk.” I’ll continue to update it there as I learn of more resources; I hope this can be helpful over and over again.

PS. The “Essentials” page up top is back, by popular demand (so many kind emails!). I’ve been re-vamping it to be more useful and to focus on highlighting smaller makers. Keep checking back for more.

Thanks to The Refill Shoppe and Meliora Cleaning Products for sending samples my way to photograph for this post.

Grocery Shopping Without Bulk, Part Three: Kroger

Grocery shopping without bulk at Kroger

This summer, I'm tackling what low-waste grocery shopping could look like, if stores near you don't make truly zero waste grocery shopping easy or doable. (Find parts one and two of the series). I've said it before, but since progress is the goal here, not perfection, it's totally fine if your grocery haul currently looks more like the above than, well, something more like this.

So, in the spirit of things, next we're headed to another Midwestern grocery chain: Kroger. While visiting my parents in Indianapolis last month, I took my mom's grocery list to the store and attempted to stick to it in spirit, if not in letter. I chose zero waste or low waste alternatives where I could, and honored her requests when I couldn't. Below, a peek into each item on the list:

-Bananas. I learned from a friend that single bananas are more likely to go unpurchased and be thrown away than bananas in bunches or pairs. So, I've been picking them up myself!

-English cucumber. Those long, skinny cucumbers called English cucumbers almost always come entirely sealed in plastic (why?). So, instead I purchased a regular cucumber and tucked it into a reusable produce bag. Yes, I am a grocery store tyrant, sorry Mom.

-Garlic. Since you don't eat the skin, it doesn't really need to go in a bag. I placed it in my cart loose.

-Lemon. The first lemons I saw at the store were packaged in a net mesh bag containing a few lemons. Nope. Usually stores who sell bagged lemons that way also sell individual ones. After another moment of looking around, I found the single lemons and popped one in my cart, sans produce bag.

-Flat leaf parsley. Many stores now sell large bundles of unpackaged herbs, in lieu of those small plastic clamshells of herbs. Always look around to make sure you can get the herbs package-free before resorting to plastic-packaged. Luckily, this was the case with parsley, which I just placed into a cloth produce bag.

-Cremini mushrooms. When I purchase mushrooms at the farmers' market or my local Whole Foods, they're loose and I'm able to fill my own bag with only what I need. Loose mushrooms are fairly rare at other grocery chains, though, which really leave you no option but to buy them packaged. I'll recycle the cardboard box, but the plastic wrap will become trash. (Instead, you could seek out mushrooms at the farmers' market or even grow your own).

-Two boxes of spring greens. Instead purchasing two smaller boxes as requested, I bought one bigger box to save on packaging. And, this box is recyclable, which gives it a leg up over plastic bags of washed salad mix. If you wanted to go a step further, you could buy a head of lettuce instead and chop and wash it all at once, so that it's just as easy to reach for in your fridge as a box of pre-washed baby greens.

-Brown rice and green lentils. This one was tough. Brown rice and green lentils also came in plastic boxes, which would have been recyclable (to my knowledge, the bags these came in - pictured above - aren't). But the boxed rice and lentils were conventionally grown, and I wanted to stick to organic, which meant buying the bagged versions instead. One of the times that zero waste is most frustrating is when I have to choose between organic / not zero waste and conventional / zero waste. I took the bags back with me to Chicago, where I'll use them as makeshift "trash cans" under my sink before I toss them for good.

-Ranch dressing. Always a crowd pleaser, ranch dressing was requested for a salad to bring to a potluck. I found it in a glass bottle, which could be recycled, donated, or even upcycled - with the label removed, wouldn't that be a cute flower vase? Or a pencil holder? As a bonus, I loved the smaller size, since I thought that a larger one would go unfinished at our house.

-Sandwich thins. I chose the variety with the least amount of packaging. Some of the options on the shelf came packaged in a plastic bag inside another plastic bag, what?!

The verdict: this was pretty different than my standard grocery haul, but it represents a good compromise, I think. If this is similar to what going zero waste looks like for you, don't sweat all of the perfect photos of unpackaged, bulk grocery hauls you see on Instagram. I've thought for ages that imperfect sustainability from all of us is what we need, not perfect sustainability from a few of us. My pal Meredith summed it up thus:

"I’m not trying to 'win' zero waste. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone on Instagram or online about how little trash my family can produce. I’m setting myself up for the long haul – for a lifetime of my family being mindful about how we view materials and treat our planet through decisions big and small."

YES, emphatically.

Okay, now fess up: how similar to or different from your weekly haul is this? Would you have approached any of these choices differently? I'd love to hear. Back next month with the next installment in this series - leave me a comment with what you'd like me to tackle in that one!

PS. You can read the rest of this series right here.

Grocery Shopping Without Bulk, Part Two: Jewel-Osco

Grocery shopping without bulk at Jewel-Osco

First up in my summer series of trying to shop zero waste at a few of the large Midwestern grocery chains, we've got that Chicago cult fave: Jewel-Osco. Jewel-Osco is pretty much your standard big-box grocery store: a small organics selection, lots of conventional produce, and then basically a whole store of packaged foods and no bulk aisle. Come walk with me through the grocery store as I take you through how I made the decisions I did!

I visited on a Sunday night to grab ingredients for a few days' worth of meals. Because I live within walking distance to work, where there's a grocery store with a bulk section two minutes away, I typically shop for just a few days rather than picking up ingredients for a whole week's worth of meals. It's so easy to pop in and out of that store, and my evenings these days can be unpredictable (always up for a last-minute hang-out with pals). This helps ensure that I actually eat what I buy, and means that I have flexibility to do whatever I want in the evenings rather than worrying about what produce might be going bad.

So, I went to Jewel-Osco with a few thoughts of what I might eat the next few days bouncing around in my brain, but no firm plan. I think that's the best way to approach shopping zero waste at stores where it's a bit harder: having some sense of what you might want to eat, but being flexible in case what you want is only available in some form of heinous plastic packaging. It was HOT that week, and I wanted a few simple, low-oven meals: sandwiches, panzanella, salad, and then some healthy snacks.

With my cloth bags and reusable produce bags in tow, I made a bee-line for the organics section - although it's worth noting here that you certainly don't need to choose organic to be zero waste. I picked up celery, carrots, and apples for simple snacks throughout the week. Instead of baby carrots or shredded carrots, I bought whole carrots, which came with just a twist tie instead of a plastic bag. If you rely on baby carrots for lunches or snacks, you could purchase whole carrots and then cut them up into sticks yourself to store in the fridge. In the produce section, I also picked up a lemon (to put in water for a summery beverage) and tomatoes for the panzanella.

Next, I visited the bakery section to grab bread. Choosing loose mini loaves instead of plastic-packaged shelf-stable loaves enabled me to use my own cloth bag from home, zero waste style. I toasted these babies into croutons for salad and panzanella, and split them lengthwise for simple veggie sandwiches.

The other things I needed were beans to add body to the panzanella and to turn into homemade hummus, as well as vinegar for the panzanella and for salad dressing (I was using olive oil I already had on hand at home). I chose to buy beans in cans, knowing that the cans were recyclable. I also considered buying them dry in larger plastic bags, but I ultimately wasn't sure if the stretchy plastic bags were recyclable; I collect stretchy plastic bags that come my way and take them to a local drop-off for recycling, but I never am confident that they actually get recycled. So, cans it is. However, dried beans have a lower transportation weight (there's water in the cans), and you get more beans in the package - essentially a form of buying in bulk. So I think it could go either way on that one. I also purchased a small glass bottle of vinegar. I chose this one because it looked like the tastiest one on offer, but as a bonus it's packaged in glass (recyclable!) and I can take the cork on top to be recycled too, unlike a plastic cap that other ones would have. The bottle is so pretty, though, that I might peel off the label and include it with my next thrift store donation - I bet someone would love to reuse it.

I also grabbed soba noodles in packaging. I've been unable to find soba noodles in bulk anywhere in Chicago, and for years I did without - but I love them, they're protein packed and cook quickly, and I just find that my life is way better with them. So though they're not zero waste by any means, I still buy them. And I'm so happy that I do. I chose this brand because it's organic, inexpensive, and I can compost the cardboard insert. Since I gave away my trash can a few years ago, I keep non-recyclable plastic "bags" like the one the soba noodles come in under my sink to corral small pieces of trash I make. I like being able to upcycle them once before they hit the landfill.

Total non-recyclable trash from this trip: a receipt, five produce stickers, three twist ties, and the plastic sleeve on the soba noodles. Not too bad, right? The major key to staying zero waste here was purchasing mainly produce and then bringing it home in reusable cloth bags rather than plastic. In total, I spent around $30 on this haul, but many of the items - celery, carrots, vinegar, soba noodles - lasted for a while. And, I could have chosen less fancy vinegar to bring down the total.

Is this similar to or different from a typical shopping trip for you? Anything you would have done differently?

For more in my series on how to grocery shop without access to bulk foods (and to see who's profiling groceries in other parts of the country), hop over here.

Grocery Shopping Without Bulk Options

Grocery shopping without bulk

If you've tried to go zero waste, there's one thing you already know: in many ways, it's all about what you can find in bulk near you. I've experienced the joy of finding things I need in bulk and the frustration of not having access to other things package-free.

We probably all wish our bulk options were a little bit, or maybe even a lot bit, better. And yet, there are so many places where bulk grocery options are truly nonexistent. Maybe there isn't a bulk aisle near you; maybe there's one in your city, but it's too far from you to be a viable option. I'm fortunate to have the time and money to be able to prioritize bulk shopping, even if it means going out of my way to do so (which it often does), but not everyone's in the same camp.

So, this summer I'm excited to be partnering a with a few other zero wasters from around the country to share how to shop lower-waste at some of the bigger chain stores where you might already shop.

Throughout the summer, I'll take you to three local Midwest grocery stores that aren't my typical zero waste go-tos, and we'll talk through the choices I made and how I stayed low-waste there. Then, at the end of the summer, I'll share the breakdown of what I've learned about how to think about shopping zero waste sans bulk, with hopefully lots of nuggets of advice you can tuck away for your next trip to the grocery.

If you're not in the Midwest, don't worry! We've got ladies from all regions of the United States on board. Take a peek at the line-up:

-East: Meredith of Meredith Tested will be profiling Trader Joes', Costco, Hannaford Supermarket, and Wal-Mart.
-South: Manuela from Girl Gone Green will be going to Aldi, Publix, Thrive, and Wal-Mart.
-Midwest: That's me! I'll be taking you to Kroger, Jewel-Osco, and Wal-Mart.
-West: Andrea of Be Zero will be featuring Lucky's, Safeway, and Wal-Mart.
-Pacific: Kathryn of Going Zero Waste will be visiting Target, Grocery Outlet, and Wal-Mart.

Before we start, know: I'm a big fan of shopping locally and small. Farmers' markets can be some of the best places to find package-free produce, and if you're choosing produce wisely it can be affordable, too. For example, tomatoes in June are pricey, but tomatoes in the August glut are less expensive. Plus, many markets accept and match SNAP benefits (if you live in Chicago, here's a list of which Chicago area markets do). It's good to keep food dollars in the community, with farmers and co-ops and smaller stores. That much is for certain. But if that approach doesn't work for you - time, money, transportation, the constraints of geography - that in no way disqualifies you from being zero waste. It just means you may have to get a little creative at your supermarket.

Do you struggle with finding access to places where you can shop zero waste-ish? What have been the biggest challenges for you? If you leave them in the comments below, we'll tackle them together. Back later this week with the next installment!

Pictured is my current grocery shopping kit: a Baggu bag bought secondhand, as well as cloth produce bags from Dans le Sac and Simple Ecology. You can find more thoughts on what to pack when you go to the grocery, here.