Changing Consumption Habits For The Better


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Each of us is going to continue to buy stuff. We can buy less, but the fact is that we are going to keep buying, so there is no way we can tell everyone on the face of the planet to stop shopping — it’s just not going to happen. I am not one of those environmentalists that think everyone should sit at home and just read a used book and watch the paint slowly yellow on the walls; it’s just not in my nature to be like that. We still need to live — we still want to listen to new music, read a new book, get some new clothes. We still want to turn on a light bulb at night or take a hot shower…and I don’t begrudge anyone for doing so. The majority of us are not going to willingly go live in a cave!

But with all that in mind, there are some very simple things we can do to reduce the impact of some of our impulses, and while I have talked about low-cost steps one can take to be more green, what happens when it is time to go shopping? How can you reconcile your desire for something new with your desire to be green? Hopefully a few of these will help you balance that equation if only a little bit.

  • When buying music, downloads are best. There is no plastic shrink-wrap, no plastic CD case, no paper inserts, and no shipping costs. I know some people like to listen to CDs in the car, but if you have a portable music player (like an iPod), you can get a plug to adapt your car stereo so you can listen to all your music.
  • Buy food in bulk. I am not talking about buying things in bulk just for the sake of buying in bulk; not everyone needs to shop at Costco for their family. But buying things like nuts, cereal, granola, cookies, rice, and candy in bulk from the store saves a lot of packaging. Think of the last time you opened a box of cereal – that paper and plastic box is half empty by the time you get it. You can even bring your own reusable cotton baggies to the store; just have the clerk weigh it first to determine the tare.
  • Building on “buy in bulk”, bring your own container. While this pertains to your shopping bags as well, I am mentioning this specifically for buying food from a hot or cold bar in a store. For example, Whole Foods has a wonderful hot bar – but has plastic and paper containers to bring the food home in. Why not bring your own?
  • Buy it used and/or trade for it. This can pertain to clothes, garden tools, snowblowers, baby supplies, etc. When I was growing up, a few of my neighbors shared a snowblower. They all went in on the price, and the one person with the most space to store it got to use it first. But as soon as they were done, it went from house to house. Not only did it save each family money, but it meant that 2 or 3 more snowblowers did not make their way into someone’s garage.
  • See if the electric company offers green power. You have to buy power, right? (Unless you live in an earthship, that is) Call your electric company and ask them if you can sign up for green power, which is normally just a few dollars more a month.

  • Shop Farmer’s Markets. I know many of you are in colder climates than I am, but when Spring comes around, check to see if there are any markets near you. Buying straight from a farmer cuts out the factory farms, the transportation needs, the packaging needs, and the grocery store markup, all while supporting a local farmer in your community.
  • Recycle electronics when you are done with them. Along with recycling, you could also donate electronics in working condition to Goodwill. Check out Where To Recycle Household E-Waste for more ideas.
  • Buy hand-made and/or Fair Trade gifts. It feels great knowing that for some gifts one can support an independent artist rather than just some factory owner in China.
  • It’s a no-brainer, but buy organic if you can. Organic food is not much (if at all) more expensive than non-organics, but comes without all the pesticides, hormones, etc. And if you don’t do it for yourself, at least buy it for your kids as they are going to be exposed to way more toxic stuff than you and I will be over our lives. See What Foods Are Most Important To Buy Organic for more tips.
  • When buying new clothes, check out eco-friendly lines from Patagonia and REI. Both companies make items which are either partially or fully made from recycled plastic and/or clothing, and I previously wrote about my Patagonia fleece made from plastic bottles.
  • When you can, buy less. That is the single most important aspect of trying to green your consumption habits, because if you are not buying anything, you are not having an impact on anything. The average American family now has a 3,000 square foot house. Do they need it? Probably not. Buying for the sake of buying not only doesn’t make financial sense; it doesn’t make green sense.
  • Buy a reusable water bottle — why pay for plastic bottles full of tap water over and over again?

Shop wise and do your part.

Photo by shlomif2

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  1. Great post. I already do most of those. I need to see if I can get green power in my area. The good news is that where I live doing these things isn’t looked down upon. It’s “cool” to be green. I brag about thrift store finds and making handmade gifts in hopes that others will clue in and try it too.

  2. Re: Buy hand-made and/or Fair Trade gifts
    An issue close to my own heart. Not only does buying hand-made support home based business, but when you give band-made it inspires others to give hand-made as well. It promotes a DIY mindset, which is happily experiencing a mini-revolution these days. Great article! Write-on 🙂

  3. I buy food and supplies in bulk and share durable items with neighbors with the help of an online tool called SplitStuff. It’s an efficient way for us to be able to find participants and organize the logistics of each ‘split’. We’ve reduced our expenses dramatically and have actually strengthened our community as a result.

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