How Tare You

Dear Christine,

I was just wondering, if you take your own containers for bulk buying at the market, how will the check-out person know the weight allowance for the containers? Would you provide the weights and expect them to trust your numbers? Would you go through the line and give them to a check-out person to weigh before filling them, and then hope the same person is there when you are ready to check out? Would you first use the plastic or paper bags provided, pay for your purchase, and then empty the bags into your containers?

Thank you,

Hi Alex,

Great question! I assume this came up after reading last Saturday’s tip of the day: Practice BYOC or Bring Your Own Containers when shopping in the bulk section of the grocery store.

All empty containers have a weight allowance including bags and boxes. This is called a tare. When you pop some apples into a plastic bag (which I don’t suggest you do), the cashier will punch in the bag’s tare when weighing them. This prevents the weight of the bag from being included in the price you pay for the apples. The same concept applies to other containers you bring to the store. You must have your containers weighed before you fill them with food. We take our containers to the customer service desk when we get to the store and write the tare directly on the boxes with a permanent marker, then we shop.

Some readers may wonder why I bring my own containers or suggest not using plastic bags. We bring our own containers for several reasons:

  1. My fiance is an environmentalist and this reduces our use of plastic bags. We also do not use plastic bags when buying produce. We just place the produce “naked” in the shopping cart. When we get home, we wash it really well and store it in reusable boxes in the fridge to help keep it fresh longer.
  2. Bill likes bran cereal flakes from the bulk section. When we buy it in our hard containers, it doesn’t get smashed in the shopping bags on the way home.
  3. We buy a lot of food in the bulk section including brown rice, oatmeal both rolled and steel-cut, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, sesame sticks, and beans. When we fill our own boxes, it makes putting the groceries away easier (except when I drop the box of say, steel-cut oats, and thousands of little kernels spread across the kitchen floor). These dry goods go from bag to shelf straight-away — skipping the step of moving from plastic bags to boxes, which prevents tiny rodents, aka mice, nipping at the bags in the middle of the night.

BYOC goes hand-in-hand with bringing your own shopping bags. It takes a bit of planning to determine which boxes are needed for each particular trip to the market. Once you get in the habit, it’s not a big deal. My grocery shopping habits have changed quite a bit since I met my fiance. It’s quite interesting when a vegan meets an environmentalist. We could write a book on that. In short, I have reduced my use of packaging and plastic bags considerably. The proof is in the reduced amount of trash and recycling we create each week. It’s worth the extra effort and makes me feel good.

Fair warning: The City of Chicago does not allow shoppers to bring their own containers to the grocery. Although I reside in Chicago, I do most of my shopping in a nearby suburb, where I have been warned by numerous cashiers that BYOC is against the rules there as well. Once I’m warned, the cashier continues on her merry way and rings up my groceries. Basically, there are laws in place to prevent BYOC, however, they are not enforced in all grocery stores. Check your area if you are concerned about this.

Do you practice BYOC? Have you been told this isn’t allowed?

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