Living green is much broader than simply disposing of products responsibly. Monitoring what items come into your home and how they arrive is just as important as how they leave.
Smart shopping habits are key to decreasing your carbon footprint and are often more gentle on the wallet.
Before You Go
1. Make a Shopping List and Stick to It. Dare to reject the carefully constructed displays and sales that beg you to buy unnecessary items. Be sure to go on a full stomach, so your brain does the shopping instead of your belly. A list also helps prevent an emergency trip for a forgotten item later in the week . A good way to make the list is to plan a weekly menu and purchase accordingly.
2. Take Reusable Shopping Bags. This is often a first step for those seeking to go green. It's easy, inexpensive and makes a real difference. The truth is that both plastic and paper bags can be bad for the environment.
Reusables often hold more and are sturdier, putting an end to the days of heavy items bursting through the bag and onto the asphalt. The trend is spreading, and bags are becoming a fashion as well as an eco-friendly statement.
Sometimes the toughest part is remembering to take the bags into the store. Keep them in the car rather than the house. Get the kids involved. The assignment to remember the reusable bags will help them feel important and teach lasting environmental principles.
3. Carefully Plan Your Trip. Shop during low-traffic times of the day to decrease fuel consumption. Be sure to combine the trip with any other errands, saving grocery shopping for last if you plan to purchase items that need to be refrigerated or frozen. If you are only picking up a few items, consider walking or riding your bike.
4. Carpool. Take roommates, friends and family to the store with you. You will use less fuel, and you may not have to carry in as many groceries by yourself.
At The Store
1. Buy Products in the Largest Size You Can Use. A family of four can save $2,000 a year at the supermarket by choosing large sizes instead of individual serving sizes. About ten cents of every shopping dollar is used to pay for packaging, and small sizes use more packaging per ounce than larger sizes. Buying in bulk will help save money and the environment.
Try to avoid single-serving packages such as juice boxes and small cookie packs. These are especially convenient for out-of-home lunches, but use much more packaging than their larger-sized counterparts. Try buying bigger and separating the desired portions into reusable containers. Here are a few examples:
- Buy juice concentrate and put the desired amount into a reusable water bottle
- Buy chips and cookies in bulk and put a handful in a reusable container
This rule not only applies to food items, but also to cleaning and personal hygiene products. Buy items such as liquid soap in large amounts to refill your smaller dispensers.
2. Patrol the Packaging. When possible, compare products and opt for the item with less packaging or packaging that is more easily recycled.
Glass can be a better choice than plastic, for example, because it does not downgrade when recycled and thus is more valuable.
Learn what is accepted at your local recycling center and makes choices based on that information. Get in the habit of checking all plastic containers to see if they are recyclable. A number surrounded by arrows should be printed somewhere on the item, often the bottom, which denotes the type of plastic and how it is recycled. Plastics #1 and #2 are the most commonly welcomed of the plastic family, but some centers accept all seven types.
3. Buy Reusable and Long-lasting Items. Save money, energy and the need for raw goods by making choices such as:
- Rechargeable batteries instead of one-time use batteries
- A long-term camera instead of a disposable (Also, a digital camera cuts down on the printing of unwanted pictures.)
- Cloth instead of paper towels and napkins (Many families spend more than $260 each year on such items. )
- Washable plates, cups and silverware instead of disposable products
- Electric or hand razors with replaceable blades instead of disposable razors
4. Buy Local. Buying products made or grown locally reduces the transportation associated with shipping items nationwide for resale. Also, the food is fresher, and it feels good to support your community's economy.
More and more people are choosing to shop online. Stay green at your computer screen with these tips:
- If buying a gift for someone who lives far away, ship the item directly to the recipient's home rather than your home first.
- Order multiple items that can be shipped together in one purchase to decrease packaging material and transportation costs. To have ten pounds of packages shipped by overnight air uses 40 percent less fuel than driving yourself round-trip to the mall, according to the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions.
- Ship products through the U.S. Postal Service because it is most likely coming to your neighborhood to deliver mail anyway.
- Recycle or reuse all shipping material.
Not all products claiming to be green live up to their promises. The Natural Products Association, which represents more than 10,000 natural product companies and retailers, reports that Americans spent $7.5 billion in 2006 on personal care products that claimed to be all-natural but often were not.
You can feel safe with the term "organic," which is monitored by state and federal agencies. Look for other trustworthy labels such as ENERGY STAR, Forest Stewardship Council, Good Housekeeping Green Seal and GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality.