Written by: Wendy E. BrawerEvery time you shop, you make an environmental decision. Use your common sense and take a minute to consider the product's impacts before you buy it. Watch for new and improved products, packaging and systems of delivery. Shop smart and make a positive impact.
- Examine the product's energy efficiency -- look for energy-rating stickers on large appliances. Make sure "instant on" features can be turned off. Select replaceable rechargable batteries for small appliances and use a good recharger, or consider buying a mechanical or solar-powered model instead.
- Can it be repaired? Can it be upgraded? Does it have a good warranty? Is it well-made and sturdy? Is it classically designed?
- Look for product warnings before you buy and minimize chemical wastes and other by-products of production and use. What is the product's impact on indoor air pollution? Is there a natural, benign substitute available? Can you mix up your own & save money, too?
- Consider the source of the product's raw materials -- is the resource being sustainably and carefully extracted? How are animal products "harvested"? how much waste does mining result in? Learn about tropical hardwoods, formaldehyde, virgin vs. recycled content, finite vs. renewable materials.
- When buying food, plan carefully to use it all while fresh. shop organic for whenever you can, especially for milk, baby food, and other produce and grains. Find local sources for your food, like farmers' markets. Think twice about eating meat: it's fattened with questionable animal feed and incredibly resource intensive. Find out about dwindling fish and shellfish stocks - there's plenty of other tasty protein sources available. try new vegetarian foods and eat healthy, homemade food.
- Minimize your use of disposables, including nylons, take-out food containers, pens, etc. Even if bringing your own cup isn't feasible, say no to unneeded napkins, spoons, sugar packs , etc.
- If you buy plastic, make sure it can be recycled locally and/or that it's made from recycled plastic. Those numbered 1 or 2 have the highest recycling rate.
- Are the product and package designed to be taken apart and readily recyclable? Look for a single material or single plastic resin, integrated connections, labeled parts.
- Check environmental claims on label or package -- use your own common sense. Are claims verified by a respected certifying agency?
- Look for minimized packaging -- check product-to-package ratio and buy the lighter weight, less complicated package. Shop in bulk, use concentrates & refillables. Look for recycled materials. Give preference to packages that can go into your local recycling program
- What can it be used for after you're done with it -- consider resale value, hand-me-down, other adaptive reuse. Don't buy planned obsolescence, choose products with a second life. Second-hand shopping is very eco-smart (but watch for energy guzzling on older appliances and cars).
- Make comparisons -- check Consumer's Report (available at most public libraries) or other product rating magazines. Consider the product company's overall record, consult company watchdog books like Shopping for a Better World, and watch for news reports of good business practices.
- Consider the many advantages of buying products produced in your own local region. Are the cheap products manufactured abroad causing misery in the workers' lives? What environmental regulations are being skirted?
- Can you lease, rent or borrow it, rather than buy it? Do you really need it? How resourceful and self-reliant can you get? Can you share one product with several households?
- Always keep a shopping bag in your briefcase or purse (even a reused plastic bag will do) and when shopping, pull it out before your sale is completed. Let everyone know you brought your own bag.
- When shopping by mail or phone, tell them, no mailing lists, don't rent or sell your name.
- Talk to store managers about your shopping preferences.
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