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There are more sustainable ways to bulk buy than Costco

I had a Jewish grandmother from the northeastern United States who, like everyone's Jewish grandmother from the northeastern United States, retired to Florida.

Once installed there year-round she had many ways to fill the hours between morning bagels and 5.30pm early bird specials - golf, mah-jong, and the most competitive game of them all, boasting about grandchildren - but among her favourites was shopping at the West Palm Beach Costco.

My tiny Mima, who barely grazed five feet, who lived alone and who, in the grand female tradition, had been on a diet for roughly 50 years, loved to squeak a trolley slowly along Costco's hallowed linoleum floors. She liked nothing better than to bulk buy, stocking up on salted peanuts, white tennis socks, vacuum bags or detective novels as if in constant preparation for another Great Depression (she lived through the first) or, more likely, one of South Florida's notorious hurricanes. 

Textiles at Trade Aid are available for wholesale purchase.


Textiles at Trade Aid are available for wholesale purchase.

If I went to visit her for a week, Mima's pantry would be heaving with quart jars of the kosher dills to which she knew I was partial - that's nearly a kilo of pickles per jar. There would be bottles of shampoo and conditioner big enough to last several months in the guest shower, and catering platters of pastrami in the fridge.

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All for me. All from Costco.

Soon we in New Zealand will be able to partake of the same joys.

Little Yellow Bird sells fair trade uniform items like these aprons.

Little Yellow Bird

Little Yellow Bird sells fair trade uniform items like these aprons.

There's no doubt that for many, like large families and small businesses, a new low-cost bulk buying option is great news. 

But while Mima wouldn't look past a bargain, in 2019 New Zealand many consumers have concerns beyond the price-per-pickle. We're looking for ethical treatment of workers, fair trading practices, sustainability and environmental awareness in our consumer products.

We also like to support local businesses.

Whittaker's is one Kiwi brand selling its ethical products wholesale.


Whittaker's is one Kiwi brand selling its ethical products wholesale.

Costco is many things, but committed to fair trade and sustainable practices it is not - and it is, like my Mima, American.

There's good news, though. For us Kiwis there are plenty of eco bulk buying options available - and most of them deliver, saving you the trip.


Ecoware does a great line in industry-grade food packaging and tableware: Think wooden forks, plant-based, compostable takeaway coffee cups, paper straws and reusable paper bags, with unit orders starting at 200.

Costco is fun, but it's not very sustainable.


Costco is fun, but it's not very sustainable.

Trade Aid is probably the best-known name among New Zealand fair trade retailers, but what's not such common knowledge is that Trade Aid can provide any of its products in bulk to customers who satisfy its wholesale criteria.

That means everything from chocolate to jewellery to baby toys, but for business customers, homewares are a real standout - particularly stationery items, decorative products, textiles and organisation systems.

For less prosaic, but nonetheless necessary, household goods, turn to Smartass, the company offering toilet paper made from sugarcane and bamboo fibre starting at 48 rolls per carton (they do tissues and paper towels, too).

And Ecostore is a good one-stop online shop for cleaning and personal hygiene products, offering large orders of everything from baby products to toothpaste to washing up liquid.

The best place for kosher dill pickles might still be Costco

Bill Smith

The best place for kosher dill pickles might still be Costco


If you're in need of uniforms or other bulk clothing items, look no further than Wellington-based Little Yellow Bird, which specialises in hospitality and corporate uniforms that are produced using 100% organic materials under fair and ethical trading conditions. They also do a line of t-shirts and kids' clothes. 

Liminal is another great local option for custom apparel. They'll print your logo on their aprons, bags, t-shirts, hoodies, singlets and wristbands - all sustainable, organic and fair trade.


When it comes to buying ethical food items at a wholesale level, the easiest way in is to find product-specific suppliers. Some you will likely have already seen on your supermarket shelves: Scarborough Fair tea, Whittaker's chocolate, L'Affare coffee (although almost all New Zealand coffee companies rate highly on the ethical scale). All Good Bananas are a wholesale purveyor of fair trade and organic bananas.

There are a large number of free range egg suppliers in New Zealand now, though it still might not be enough to keep up with demand.

On a smaller scale, you can stock up on bulk goods from retail outlets like Commonsense Organics, or look to online specialists such as Kilo, for nuts and dry goods.

I don't know about kosher dills, though. You might have to head to Costco for those.

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