You should already know that when you shop, you should shop green. To some, however, this seems obvious. In which case, what else can you do in order to shop responsibly? There are many different options available to you. It isn’t just about buying items. It’s about much more. It is about being responsible when you shop; wise shopping means less money spent, better products obtained, and smarter methods of obtaining them. Expand your shopping horizons in order to be as green as possible.
Of course, you should start by looking for items that are green as much as possible. Buying organic foods. Purchasing organic or natural towels and sheets. Avoiding synthetics like detergents or petroleum-based fibers. A huge number of things currently on the market have green alternatives for you to turn to. You can find these items at many locations, from the general stores like Target to the specialty markets like Whole Foods.
Choosing the right products and stores is a very good move. This is because it shows support for the company making green products, as well as the retailer that stocks them. Making the right buying choices can start a chain reaction—especially when many people do so. The company making the product notices that increase in purchases. The retailer keeps an eye on its inventory, so they will know when they get a sudden spike or steady rise in the purchases of specific items. More green products eventually show up, and more consumers see them and buy them. It sends a message that people are interested in green products, which will also prompt non-green competitors to change or be left behind. In fact, Nike has recently announced the creation of a shoe made entirely from recycled material.
As with any product, reading labels is very important. This is especially true when you aren’t familiar with the product. Labels will almost always tell you what you want to know. But if a product has no label, whether it’s a foundation powder or an oven cleaner, then it’s likely full of unhealthy stuff. Green products will always tell you what is in them because the have nothing to hide. Quite the contrary. Green products proudly show off their ingredients like a badge of honor. They don’t use harsh chemicals and are biodegradable in the environment and everyone ought to know it. Products are made from sustainable materials like plants or recycled like reclaimed wood. Make sure you know your labels, organic seals, natural seals, and any other special seals (Energy Star, FSC, etc.) in order to buy the right products.
Don’t be afraid to check packaging these days either. Most plastics simply cannot be recycled, and some companies don’t even try to put their products in recycle-friendly packaging. Others are making an effort; most green product makers use the least amount of packaging possible, use recyclable materials, or make their packaging out of postconsumer recycled material. For example, Method makes dish soap and sells it in a pouch form. It’s big enough to carry plenty of soap, but the pouch is made of lightweight plastic that uses 87% less than the average plastic container. You can find out what most packaging material is made of simply by—you guessed it—reading the label.
You can also find out more about a company before buying from them. This does not just mean food, but other items as well like clothing or electronics—even cars. Knowing what the company is doing to improve their products as well as their manufacturing processes can help to be one of the factors in your decision to purchase from them. Many companies are making the effort and it can be seen in their products. They also offer up plenty of information on their websites and through their customer services contacts. If you notice that a company is content to sit back and ignore change, feel free to contact them. Write a clear, concise letter explaining why you chose not to buy their product and what might change your mind in the future. If enough people voice their opinion and ignore the products, the company will have no choice but to make changes.
If your purchases are able to fit in a bag, you will be faced with the seemingly eternal question: paper or plastic? Some people have long since brought their own bags for shopping, whether they purchased them elsewhere or made them from recycled materials (like old plastic bags). If you aren’t that crafty and aren’t sure where to buy a good shopping bag, there’s no need to fret. Many stores, particularly grocery stores, offer cheap reusable bags that are made from sustainable or postconsumer recycled material.
The United States is running a bit behind when it comes to reusable bags; several countries have already banned them while others charge customers for each bag used. However, various states have begun to submit proposals about both bans and fees on plastic bags, while others have actually made the switch. In 2008 Seattle, Washington agreed to impose a 20¢ fee on every plastic and paper bag (remember, paper has just as many negatives as plastic does!). No one has to pay the fee—only if they want the bags. Certain retailers have actually taken steps to encourage people to bring their own bags. The Price Chopper grocery chain actually gives customers 5¢ off their total purchase for every reusable bag they bring in—and it doesn’t even have to be one of theirs.
If you have no choice but to take a paper or plastic bag, all is not lost. Many places offer recycling for both paper and plastic bags. All you have to do is bring them in the next time you go shopping and drop them into a bin. No muss, no fuss.
When you go shopping, try buying locally as much as possible. In this sense, local means two things; from smaller businesses and from places close by. Why drive to a store 30 minutes away to buy Product Z when the store around the corner sells the exact same thing? Do a little digging in your home town and see what you can find. It might surprise you. You may discover a local dairy farm just a few miles away or someone who works out of their home. Places such as these cut out the middleman (namely the store), offering higher quality, freshness, and good pricing. Shopping at places nearby can also save you money on gas. Sometimes it is true that cheaper prices can be found elsewhere, but it is important to consider whether or not these low prices will be offset the cost of gas needed to travel there.
This is another good reason you should look into farmer’s markets and other local celebrations and get-togethers. Supporting small businesses is great in today’s economy, and supporting the people in your area is even better. Doing so will help keep your local economy strong and you will get to obtain the freshest fruits, vegetables, and other products available. Don’t forget about those little roadside stands either. It’s ironic how people will buy from a local area, rave about how delicious the apple butter is (because it really is), and yet never return to buy more, much less other items. It may very well be that we consider these places or items specialty items and are so conditioned to go to the traditional grocery store for all our needs, we neglect them, no matter how amazing the freshly baked bread was.
Breaking yourself of these habits can be a great start toward getting fresh foods and handmade items. After you find out all the locations of various small businesses and local sellers, try mapping out a shopping route. By organizing your shopping by what you need and when you need it, you can minimize your driving distance and time. Public transportation is always a good choice as well. Of course, if you live nearby, try walking or biking instead. And don’t forget your reusable bag!
There is the argument that online shopping is better, though no one has come out with a definitive answer yet. However, online shopping does have its place, especially when you can’t find a kapok pillow in any of your local retail outlets. This is also very true for people who don’t live near big cities, as they are the most common areas for green specialty stores to open. The biggest cons against online shopping are transportation and packaging of the item. But when it comes to transportation, here is something to think on.
When you want one or two items, you hop in your car, drive over, retrieve the items, and drive back. Let’s assume it’s a 20 mile round-trip that uses about one gallon of gas in order to do this. Now consider how many people might do this every day. On the flip side, think of the truck that hauls around a maximum of 30 tons of cargo each day. If that truck travels 1,000 miles, a package in the truck can account for around 0.1 gallons of gas compared to your 1 gallon. Though it is true that truck isn’t going to come straight to your door, shipping companies like UPS and FedEx don’t want to spend any more money on fuel than necessary. Instead, they constantly come up with new, more efficient routes in order to be as quick as possible in delivering items.
Packaging for products is less of a concern than it was many years ago. Most packages come in cardboard boxes, and cardboard is recyclable. In some cases, the packaging is already made of recycled materials. In order to keep products safe on the inside, companies like Amazon.com use shrink wrapping so items don’t shift. Shrink wrapping uses significantly less plastic than other methods such as plastic air pouches or numerous sheets of bubble wrap. Other companies have switched to plant and starch-based biodegradable packing peanuts instead of Styrofoam.
A combination of online shopping and local shopping truly is the green way to go. When you do shop online, try to bundle your items by shopping from one place as much as possible, as this will save even more on shipping. You should also choose ground shipping instead of overnight air as it uses less fuel. Recycle any packaging materials you get. By shopping smart you can make the most out of being online.
In the end, one of the most important things about shopping responsibly is knowing when not to shop. Many of us tend to have items in our house that we simply do not need. They serve no purpose. We see frivolous goods at stores and think of how they might look in our house instead of what their function might be. Look around your home and see how many things you can spot that don’t have any real reason to be there. Now think of how much money you might have saved by avoiding them.
Granted, it is difficult to avoid some things. We love to decorate for holidays. Wall hangings help make a place feel homier. But there is such a thing as excess. This goes for just about anything, whether its clothing or electronics. Buying just for the sake of buying, because it’s the newest cool product to have, or because you simply don’t have one of “that color” is a poor choice for yourself and the environment. The next time you’re out and about, hold yourself back. You already have an iPod—do you really need the newest version for $300?
By holding back on our shopping, we can keep more money in our pockets and create less demand for unnecessary things, which in turn puts less stress on the environment through manufacturing processes and shipping. If you really want to buy something though, why not get some extra cash by selling? Comb through your house to find out what you don’t want and hold a garage sale. Use that extra cash to buy things you truly want (don’t buy on whims!). When it comes to deciding what clothes to get rid of, you can take your time in order to make sure you really won’t wear something. Hang up as many clothes as possible—but hang them backwards. Throughout the course of a year, clothes you wear can be hung up normally. At the end of a year, anything left hanging backwards should be sold or given to charity.
By shopping only for things you need, when you need them, and making discriminating choices, you’ll be able to save money, support quality companies and people, and help the environment just a little bit more