Let’s face it: opting for organic, locally grown kale and raw, grass-fed butter isn’t always easy when their mass-produced counterparts often come at a fraction of the price. Three Vancouverites, however, are hoping to offset the higher cost of sustainable, ethically sourced, and better-for-you goods by bringing communities together to participate in a bulk-sharing program.
Mount Pleasant resident Bryan Jacobs conceived of the idea last year as a way to “take the economy back for the people”, and along with cofounders Lisa Dekleer and Kit Walton, set up a public Facebook group in May to kick-start the initiative.
The Vancouver Bulk Sharing Community has since grown to over 500 people. Its mission is simple: to inspire Vancouverites to buy together in bulk, thus making environmentally minded products more accessible and, most importantly, a possibility for those who may otherwise not be able to afford them.
“It’s a reinvention of the old bulk-buying clubs, and applying it to our new network-technology society,” Jacobs says at a Main Street café. “We’re taking the idea of having a core group of people who are always buying the same things, and we’re opening it up to anyone in the community.”
Jacobs, Dekleer, and Walton have conducted two offline meetings so far, where members discuss what products they’d like to collectively purchase. Suggestions ranged from whole-grain flour and supplements to chocolate and chia seeds, and the item of choice is determined by a majority-rules vote.
In May, 12 people chipped in for 15 pounds of freshly roasted East Van Roasters Bodum Blend whole-bean coffee—purchased at the wholesale price—while June saw the co-op committing to 20 litres of unscented natural laundry detergent from the Burnaby-based Live for Tomorrow.
The former deal allowed the group to save almost one-quarter of the retail price, and the latter was split into two-litre batches for $12.90 each, 24 percent cheaper than the retail price. The products are either delivered by the “host” or organizer, or picked up by the participant, who pays his or her share of the transaction in person.
“We really want people to ask themselves what products they would want to buy, but they feel like they have to buy an inferior product instead because they can’t afford the premium, organic, or local variety,” says Jacobs.
While buying in bulk helps reduce waste, there are less obvious eco-friendly benefits to shopping with your neighbours as well. By having only one person visiting the store, numerous other trips are eliminated, potentially lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting local businesses also means that the items purchased likely didn’t have to travel far to reach their destination, further minimizing the group’s carbon footprint.
“You’re building community and having people talk about the products they buy, so that kind of brings in a bit of peer pressure,” Jacobs notes. “So if people are making unhealthy choices, and they’re opening it up to their community, then they can actually police themselves and encourage people to make healthier choices in the marketplace.”
Jacobs adds that any member can host a deal either online or at a monthly meeting—the next takes place this Wednesday (July 6); visit the Facebook group for meeting dates and location updates. As long as there is enough interest, the coordinator can source and purchase the appropriate product, then send a message to participants to organize delivery or pickup times. Items can be replenished by the host as needed.
“Just getting to build the community, talking to like-minded individuals about what products they want to buy and where they’re coming from, and getting involved in that whole process is really refreshing and rewarding,” Jacobs says. “So I want to pass that along to other people and help them feel the same way.”