Zero Waste Attempt #4: Three Rivers Co-op

To start off, I just want to say I love the Co-op! I haven’t been there in awhile and I was happy to return. If you know me outside of this blog, you know I love to support local businesses. All of their produce is organic and you can find a lot of products from grass-fed and humanely raised animals. I’m in love with my grass-fed yogurt! I drizzled a little bit of the local honey on top and mixed in seeds, nuts, and dried fruit. Nom!

The Co-op started off as a buying club back in the 70’s and eventually evolved into the grocery store we know and love today. It’s not only a grocery store though. It also has a little cafe where you can get your coffee fix and grab a bite to eat. This came in handy on this particular trip because my youngest had a meltdown. When I put the bananas in the cart instead of his mouth, it was the armageddon. Nothing calmed him down. Nothing. So I went to the cafe and grabbed a huge blueberry muffin to split between my two little gremlins. Suddenly there was peace… well for a little bit anyway.

So here’s how the Co-op scored on my rubric.

  • Bulk Bins with a variety of options. (1 point)
    + 1 point. Very good variety of staples and treats. Plus, they have coffee!
  • Refill stations for oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, etc. (1 point)
    + 1 point. I love my local honey that I bought!
  • Bulk dried herbs and spices. (1 point)
    + 1 point
  • Most produce is available without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1 point. A few veggies I wanted were pre-weighed in ziplock bags, but most of the produce is naked or mostly naked.
  • Bread without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1/2 points. I didn’t see any bread loaves without packaging. 
    However, you can easily get muffins from the cafe without packaging so I’ll give them a half point for that.
  • Meat without packaging. 1 point
    1 point. I got some turkey meat for sandwiches. Deli meat is the only meat you can get in a jar. Everything else is prepackaged in the freezer aisle.
  • Cheese without packaging. 1 point
    + 1 point. I didn’t have a big enough container, but they will gladly let you use your own.
  • Hygiene products without packaging. (1 point)
    +1/2 point. I saw some soap bars, but that was all I saw without packaging.
  • Necessary packaging that can be brought back and reused (i.e. egg cartons). (1 point)
    +0 points. I’m not sure about this. I was in a rush, but I will gladly give them this point if someone knows if any packaging can be returned to them.
  • Positive experience using my own bags and/or containers. (1 point)
    +1 point. Everyone was very nice and received my bags and jars without hesitation. The lady in the checkout lane next to me thought bringing a jar to get deli meat was brilliant. I think I might have created another BYOJ (bring your own jar) convert!

img_3768Bonus Point: Toddler friendly. +1 point. Although my littlest gremlin was being a terror, this store is great for kids. The staff was incredibly friendly to them, they have little kid size carts, and the cafe has nice little treats for them to eat if they get hangry.

Three Rivers Co-op’s final score: 9 points!

Other considerations for the eco-conscious crowd:

  •  Ability to safely walk or bike to location: Yes, if you live close enough. It’s too far for me to walk, but I’d be willing to bike there if I didn’t have to tow the kids. I’m hoping to get a basket for my bike to make grocery shopping more eco-friendly.
  • Locally sourced products: Yes! My honey, cheese, and eggs were all local. They definitely make an effort to bring as many local products as possible to their store.
  • Is the company dedicated to eco-friendly practices?: Yes. All of their produce is organic and many products are local.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what I bought, the price, and its packaging status.

Completely naked produce and misc. (no plastic, rubber bands, twist ties, or stickers)

  • Oranges (3 for $0.79 each) $2.37
  • Sweet Potatoes ($1.99/lb.) 2.14 lbs. = $4.26
  • Leeks ($2.99/lb) 1.32 lbs. = $3.95
  • Lemons (3 for $0.99 each) 3 = $2.97
  • Rolled Oats ($1.59/lb.) 1.62 lbs. = $2.58
  • Parsnips ($2.99/lb.) 0.67 lb. = $2.00
  • Turkey deli meat ($7.99/lb.) 0.77 lb. = $6.25
  • Cheddar (local cheese from Swissland) ($7.49/lb.) 0.53 lb. = $3.97
  • Local Honey ($4.99/lb.) 0.77 lb. = $3.84
  • Blueberry Muffin $2.49

Free of plastic, but with stickers, rubber bands, or twist ties.

  • Mango (2 for $1.99 each) 2 = $3.98
  • Tomatoes ($2.39/lb) 0.94 lb. = $2.25
  • Pears ($2.39/lb.) 1.29 lb. = $3.08
  • Avocado (3 for $1.50 each) 3 = $4.50
  • Bananas ($0.79/lb.) 4.46 lbs. = $3.52
  • Apples ($2.89/lb.) 1.41 lbs. = $4.07

Returnable Packaging

  • None that I know of currently.

No package free or refillable options

  • Eggs (Seven Sons Farm Free Range Eggs) $4.39
  • Blueberries $3.99
  • Yogurt $5.39
  • Salsa $2.89
  • Sugar Snap Peas ($5.99/lb.) 0.61 lb. = $3.71

Grand Total: $76.35

My Final Takeaway: The Co-op scored very high on my rubric, but I can’t say I was surprised. It is more pricey, but this place would be for quality over quantity shopping trips. Everything I purchased is wonderful and I hope to return to try more of their products that you can’t find elsewhere in Fort Wayne.

On that note, I’m announcing this as the last detailed grocery store breakdown. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to establish a routine that will be easier for me. Grocery shopping with a three year old and almost 2 year old can be very challenging and stressful. This last trip was rough. I still plan to share Zero Waste tips, but it won’t be so meticulous.

So here’s my plan for moving forward:

  • img_3771Tortillas, bread, muffins, etc. will be homemade when needed and when I can’t buy them without packaging. I made tortillas yesterday and they resulted in a delicious Taco Tuesday dinner. On the right is the loaf of bread I just pulled out of the oven. Delicious.
  • Yogurt will be homemade.
  • I’m going to start refusing the produce I can’t buy without packaging even though it sucks. The kid love berries so I’m hoping a farmers market vendor will let me return their berry containers this summer.
  • Hygiene products will either be homemade or purchased at Lush. They have solid shampoo and conditioner bars that come free of packaging. I’m excited to try them once my current supply of bottled shampoo and conditioner runs out. You can also return the pots of some products to be reused and you get a free face mask!
  • Milk. I’m a bit torn on the milk. I’m going to try to continue saving as much money on groceries as I can so that I can justify the expensive Oberweis milk. I’ve been saving approximately $30-$40 on groceries every week since I started this project.
  • Soup stock/broth. I have some soup bones in the freezer and I plan to start making my own. I’m hoping I can make a bunch at once and freeze it because it’s a long process.
  • Juice will be purchased from Beet Street because they let you bring your bottles back to be reused.
  • Beer will be purchased in growlers from local breweries. I really want to see if Three Rivers Distilling would let me return their bourbon bottles. I really don’t want to give up bourbon. Wine might be a lost cause. I’ll give a high-five to whoever can find me a wine source that will allow refills/bottle returns.
  • Pasta. I haven’t seen pasta in bulk yet, but I hope I can find it. I’ll make it if I have to, but I don’t want to because of the time it would take.
  • Condiments such as salad dressing, mustard, hummus, guacamole, and salsa will be homemade.

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