13 February 2008

being a greener shopper

Sometime last year I read this fact on a wall at grocery store: “Every year the U.S. produces enough plastic film [in the form of plastic grocery and produce bags, etc.] to shrink wrap the state of Texas.” Quite frankly, that freaked me out. While it’s not exactly surprising, to hear it put that way was pretty impacting and got me to thinking about more ways we can be ‘greener’ shoppers. And not just at the grocery store, where we might think about it most, but also in our runs to the general stores, clothing stores, and anywhere where we leave with more than we came with.

We are a culture obsessed with over-packaging (as evidence by the photo above, taken at the corner deli), everything come pre-packaged for our convenience, in tissue paper, a box, and a bag with more tissue paper. We haul around over-sized carrier bags from shops, each yielding small items that could easily be fit into one bag. And what happens when we get these things home? Things get thrown away, or maybe reused once or twice. If we’re really on top of our game, they get recycled. But would it be better to avoid having all the excess bags in the first place?

In the post-An Inconvenient Truth days, it’s especially chic and sexy to be green, so use that social trendiness as your inspiration to incorporate more
earth-friendly habits into your routine. Many of us recycle, but beyond that, you
can make your trips to the grocery store and beyond more environmentally friendly.

bring your own bags
Reuse bags from what you’ve hoarded over the past few months, or purchasing reusable bags made of canvas or other material. Most grocery stores sell inexpensive bags near the checkout, or you can have some fun shopping around for bag that reflects your personality. Keep them in your car or day bag so you always have them handy. And even if you’re just quickly popping into any store, refuse the extra packaging when possible- stores always appreciate you saving them time and money by not wasting another bag or box. You’ll generally find you can live without having another bag to carry around. And if you’re just going from store to car to house anyway, the bags are hardly necessary.

Websites like ecobags.com and reusablebags.com sell a lot of neat bags made from materials like organic cotton and hemp, and other recycled material.

don’t bag your produce
As a country, we use and waste a lot of plastic bags (among many other things). And for a product that does not biodegrade and is not commonly recyclable, we certainly abuse them. Several countries across the world have banned their use (incl. China, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Taiwan) or imposed per-bag taxes (Ireland). Plastic bag waste, and plastic waste in general, has detrimental effects on wildlife, and the environment, not to mention the petroleum used to manufacture (and import/export/ship) them.

Many produce items come wrapped in their own packaging, courtesy of Mother Nature. So, with the exception perhaps of fragile, wet, or especially dirty produce, do your best not to put everything into plastic bags. It’s simply not necessary. For the short trip from the market to your kitchen, where the bags will only be discarded.

For stores like Central Market where the customers weigh and price their own produce, I like to print the stickers and adhere them all to one plastic bag or a piece of paper for the cashier to ring up as I checkout. Having done this several times, I have been commended on the idea by the cashiers.

ask for support, be encouraging
While cities like San Francisco and Austin have imposed mandatory or voluntary no-plastic bag actions, you can make a difference in your home town or local shops by talking to store owners and managers about reducing their waste, recycling, and encouraging customers to bring their own bags or to use fewer bags. These are the people who have the power to make a difference, and one of their main motives is to keep the customers happy by giving them what they demand. And by encouraging your friends and family to be greener shoppers, the word will spread further than your initial reach, and as far as shopping green goes, that can only be good news.

1 comment:

Jef said...

these are great tips! Too often, I forget to bring the cloth bags--I'll start keeping them in the car!

Go green! --Jef

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