Update 4/2020: As you may know, EarthFare is now closed :(. Please scroll to the end of this post to see your current options for low-waste spices. I’m keeping this info about EarthFare up because there is some talk of them re-opening in the future!
I wish I had known about the bulk spice section at EarthFare 10 years ago. Seriously, refilling your spice jars is one of the best financial zero-waste swaps!
I also made a low-budget video on how to refill your spices, if that is more your thing, but the following blog post is more thorough.
EarthFare’s selection is incredible. They have every spice I’ve ever cooked with–and many I’ve never used before. They even have some mixes like curry powder and chili powder. You can also find non-spice items such as baking powder, bentonite clay, arrowroot powder, and bees wax. There are also quite a few medicinal herbs.
You probably already have containers for your spices– simply refill what you already have. I have my set of “pretty” spice jars on display where I can reach them easily. You probably do too. Or, at the least you have the containers currently holding your spices, pretty or not :). You can continue to reuse those, just bring them by the cash register or customer service the first time you use them to get a tare weight. One exception might be if your current container is made out of plastic. I do not trust plastic to store anything that will be eaten–especially if it is holding something like a spice that isn’t frequently used and therefore sits in the container for a long time.
Here is why you should totally do this:
- The spices taste so much better and have more micronutrients than the typical store brands. They are all organic, non-irradiated, and are made by Frontier Coop, which is an awesome company.
- They are all sustainably harvested and grown–for both the people growing them and the planet.
- It is way cheaper. You can walk to the packaged seasoning section and pay 2x more for the exact same spice! Packaging isn’t free. I filled about half of my spice containers and only spent about $9!.
- You skip the plastic bottles in which most spices are packaged. Plastic isn’t truly recyclable. Its just used once or twice more before going to the landfill. Many spices are not used frequently, meaning that they can sit in a plastic container for a long time, letting the chemicals in the plastic leach into your spices.
- Its super easy to do! Directions below 🙂
Ready to spice up your spices?
The first and optional step I recommend is that you Konmari your spices. That means you take all of them out–yes, all of them–and put them in one pile on your counter. Next, pick up each bottle one at a time and decide if it deserves to use up your precious time and energy to keep. If you absolutely love a spice (or someone in your family does), then keep it. If you keep it just because you feel like you’re supposed to, or because your mother did, or because a recipe you didn’t like called for it 3 years ago–throw the spice in your compost bin (or post to FB that you have it up for grabs). If the container is made out of glass, consider keeping it to accommodate a new spice. If its plastic, put it in the recycle bin–it may still end up in a landfill, but I would still try. The shiny packets with metal-looking liners are not recyclable and need to be thrown away. Now put your spices back in a way where you can see all of them at once.
When a spice jar is empty, take it to EarthFare to refill. If a jar only has a few teaspoons left, I will dump that into a dry mug or glass so that I can refill the empty container.
The first time you use a jar, you will have to tare it. It is the same way with any container. Just bring it to the cashier and tell them you need a tare. There is also a small scale in the spice section you could use. I write the tare on the side of my jars with a Sharpie. Or, I put a sticker on the lid and write on it with a pen/pencil. That weight will be subtracted from the total weight when you check out so you don’t pay for the weight of your jar.
Then, head over to the herb/supplements section, and you will find the spices. Fill your spice jars and either write the item number on the jar or take a picture of the item number with your phone to show the cashier. I choose to write the item # because I will be using the same container for the same spice, so the item number isn’t going to change. Plus I don’t have a smart phone….
Then fill your container using the scoops provided. Bringing a funnel would be a good idea too!
Sadly, EarthFare has closed nationwide :(. Although there are is talk of EarthFare being re-started by a group of former employees, there will not be a branch in Chattanooga for quite some time.
In the meantime, here are some other options for low-cost, low-packaging spices. Most of them involve buying spices in larger sizes, the sizes used to re-stock the bulk bins. Most spices only stay safe for about a year, maybe a little more for seeds, so this is a better option for spices you use frequently. Or, go in on a bag with a friend so you can split it. Even with shipping costs, these larger bags are WAY cheaper than buying the equivalent product in the small jars typically sold. You also are buying a better product since most of the options below are non-irradiated, something that can’t be said about spices bought at most mainstream grocery stores.
- WildFlower Tea shop–This is one option where you don’t have to buy a large amount. They will happily refill your spice containers and they have a large selection, particularly of medicinal herbs. This is also where we buy our tea, they
- Grow your own herbs. This doesn’t help with more exotic spices. But choosing just a few herbs to grow will help cut back on your trash footprint. Many herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage are perennial in Chattanooga, so they are a good place to start since they tend to be more hardy and don’t have to be replanted each year. Near the fall, remove leaves and air-dry them for about a week and then pack into a large sealed container. If you don’t grow enough to last the winter, don’t stress about it, at least you made a big reduction in your packaging use! Comment below with other perennial herbs you have had success with.
- Azure Standard–This is a bulk food co-op that makes a monthly delivery to Chattanooga. They have a wide range of bulk foods, including spices. I recently bought 1 pound bags of cinnamon and onion powder and was very pleased. They did come in plastic bags, but that is the same as the bags used to refill the bulk spice bins. The company overall tries to be as zero-waste in their packing facility, by doing things such as reusing cardboard boxes for packing and using 100% paper packaging wherever possible. They tend to be the least expensive option. (note, the link above takes you to Azure standard through their refer-a-friend program. I’m not sponsored by them, but if you use my link and make a $100 purchase, I get a discount on my next order).
- Frontier Coop–This is the company EarthFare used to stock their bulk bins. We have really enjoyed some of their spice blends, like the chilli powder and curry powder.
- Mountain Rose Herbs–Similar to Frontier Coop, they sell spices and herbs in bulk bags. There is a Chattanooga buying group for both Frontier Coop and Mountain Rose Herbs. Through the buying group, all orders are combined to get the bulk discount and free shipping. You can do a search on FB for the group or click here.
- Asian and Indian food stores–Often these stores have spices in 1-2 lb bags. I have bought large bags of turmeric, anise, and mustard seeds at Desi Brothers, but there are other similar stores in Chattanooga as well.
It’s really great if you can find a friend or two to split the large bags with. That way your supply stays fresher. Store your spices in a cool, dark, dry place–I keep mine in a kitchen cabinet away from the stove.
Also, reading a few books on the health benefits of spices might inspire you to use them more!
5 thoughts on “Spices, fresher, cheaper, and zero-waste”
Had my first bulk / zero waste shopping experience last night and I was so nervous. Pushed through it and I’m so proud of myself for stepping outside of my convenience driven comfort zone. Had a little mishap when I wrote the tare weight in oz. instead of lbs and the cashier rang it up without manually entering my tare. Had to call a manager over because my peppercorns were ringing up for $12. After a bit of math and some patience from myself, the gracious employees, and the kind woman stuck in line behind me, I walked out feeling triumphant with my peppercorns in my own glass jar. Wish I had seen your blog first though lol!! Have been reading through it all throughout the workday and am so so so grateful for your writing and sharing your journey. It’s so helpful to see the experience of another Chattanooga local. ❤
Good for you! It is such a great feeling to walk out of a store with an item in your own glass jar! 🙂 And the good news is now you know how much that jar weighs and don’t have to go through that again. The scale they have near the spices at EarthFare changed and now it doesn’t do pounds, only oz…I need to update this post! Usually if I get back to the spice section and realize I need a tare on a jar I stop by the meat section and ask them to weigh my item…it takes less time then walking up to the front.
Saffron is also very expensive… but not nearly as much
Yes, one great thing about the bulk bins is that for more expensive items like Saffron or pine nuts, you can just buy the amount you need. That way you don’t spend a lot of $$ for stuff you don’t need!