There's actually a bit of a distinction here that trips people up. Shopping in bulk can refer to purchases made at wholesale warehouses. These are mainly for small businesses who can then resale these items. Often, in the case of food, things are individually packaged for this purpose. That said many families shop this way in order to save money. The second way shopping in bulk can mean is making the use of bulk bins. These are items that are loose, and you scoop them out and put them in a separate container. I'm mainly going to talk about this way of shopping because it is the most effective way to avoid handling packaging. You can also shop the first way in order to reduce packaging as well provided that you are getting one large container of pretzels, for example, rather than one large container with individually wrapped snack bags of pretzels. The idea is to reduce the amount of packaging one household generates. While the loose pretzels would be fine, the individually wrapped bags would essentially generate the same amount of waste as traditional store purchases.
1) Have on hand your own containers- There was a time in which I thought that this meant I'd need to buy an assortment of glass canning jars and muslin bags. That's simply not true. I'm sure that you have stuff on hand: an empty mayo jar, sandwich boxes, an unused pillow case, old sheets that have a hole in one corner, old t-shirts, etc. Whatever you have on hand that you intended to recycle can be repurposed for the job of containing some other item.
2) Use the health food stores- Often health food stores and other bulk stores have giant barrels that have loosely everything from sugar and salt to oatmeal to candy and other snacks. That will save you from taking packaging home and you can get whatever amount of whatever you want without paying the cost of packaging.
3) Go the counters- Want deli meat, cheese, fish, chicken, and beef? Find a store with a counter. While a number of stores are phasing these out, they still exist. I remember a time when they used to give us cookies at the counter. I bet you can find an ordinary supermarket that still does this. Don't forget the number of convenience food counters too. If you're very busy and aren't able to throw together a meal, instead of hitting the drive through which comes with all sorts of packaging, go to the store's counter instead. We periodically get baked chicken and sides there instead.
4) Don't skip on the salad and soup bar- One of our grocery stores has a salad and soup bar near the deli and prepared foods counter. This is also great if you are wanting something with less packaging too. If you like olives or pickles, check out the salad bar. We also have a sushi counter too. And no, this isn't an upscale grocery store.
5) Look in the bakery section- Our bakery section has various types of rolls, muffins, donuts, and bagels for sale. If you don't have loose baked goods, there are a number of deli restaurants and coffee shops that also sell baked goods. We even have a specialty doughnut shop in my area. It's a little bit more pricier so we tend to go to the grocery store to find our loose baked goods.
6) DIY- This isn't always practical. I looked into an easy way to make ketchup or mayonnaise that didn't involve lots of packaging, and it would have taken more packaging for me to buy and make than to just buy it ready made. However I find that I can make my own pancake mix using the bulk bins and things I normally have on hand like eggs and milk. For cleaners I reuse a squirt bottle and buy vinegar and baking soda in recyclable containers. I haven't found a bulk distributor yet for my cleaning supplies, but I don't have a product for every task either. See if you can do something similar by removing one bit of packaging from your life.
7) Try the farmer's market- This one is more difficult for me because of time conflicts and distance, but it might be easier for you. You can buy in season produce, homemade jams and jellies, homemade pastas, fresh eggs, etc.
8) Buy your meds in bulk- I get a three months' supply of my medications shipped to my house. But buy only what you need. For things like cold medication less can be more. Things do expire. My medication I take daily. Avoid buying medication with individual push tabs. Opt for the bottle instead. Bottles are better for keeping children out of them anyway. Some places will recycle the bottles or take them back.
9) Buy your toilet paper in bulk- I don't understand it but toilet paper is packaged in annoying plastic that rips apart too easily. I'd much rather just have my toilet paper in cardboard. You can find this type of packaging at office supply stores and restaurant/hotel supply stores. Many times each individual roll is wrapped in paper, but that's compostable just like the box is. If you can handle it you can also use washable clothes for toilet paper.
10) Make further use of the office supply store- It's best to avoid printing, but sometimes it's necessary. You can buy printer paper in cardboard or reams wrapped in paper. You can also get your ink cartridges refilled there too.
11) Try out your local co-op- This can or cannot be financially savy or do able much like a farmer's market. But if you have the space and money up front, group sharing a cow or joining a local co-op can be great. One of my local co-op stores is open to the public. The prices for produce are very high but it looks like they have the ability to refill soaps and other liquids. My plan is to go visit them one day to see if a periodic trip is worth it. I know that to visit them for food staples wouldn't work not only because they are priced higher but also because of gas usage. Travel is something to keep in mind with co-ops as sometimes you have to meet them somewhere far.
12) Try a buy by the pound place- Many local thrift stores have a "buy it by the pound" spot in the city. One recently opened close to wear I lived and so I set out to visit it. They sell housewares, purses, shoes, and clothing. Lots of clothing in fact. The majority of it was women's clothing. I was able to buy the remaining winter pants Knee needed there. I wasn't looking for something super nice, but something that he could play in that had life to it. After some minor repairs it looks fine. It saves me money and packaging as there aren't any tags on any of the clothes. I also don't have to stress if he rips a hole in them because they cost so very little. My mother-in-law had a bulk bin in one of her local children's thrift stores, but they discontinued it. Look around. You'll be surprised what play clothes you can find on the cheap and without plastic tags.
I hope that you've found my article helpful. Happy bulk shopping!