If one thing makes me want to rip my hair out, it’s standing in line at the grocers with my reusable cup and cloth bag in hand while watching the cashier toss the preceding person’s purchases into single-use plastic bags. A lot of these bags end up in our oceans and landfills, as do other single-use plastics.
However, I remain hopeful most people mean well. And if you hold concern for our planet, thank you. Taking a stand for our planet can look a multitude of ways, here are 12 easy ways to minimize your environmental footprint when shopping:
1. Select mainly plant-based foods
Choose wisely when heading to the market for groceries. Nearly 80% of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil now forms pastureland for cattle, and the new Bolsonaro regime wants to open more lands to deforestation. This isn’t to say you can never enjoy the occasional hamburger, but consuming red meat does contribute to the decimation of rare plant species.
Related Post: How to Start a Plant-Based Diet
Instead, fill your basket with plant-based foods. You can convert to full veganism, or strive to make half of every plate filled with veggies. You’ll save money, and you’ll enjoy better health, too. Health professionals link excessive consumption of red and processed meats to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
2. Patronize local farmers markets
To help reduce your carbon footprint, opt to patronize your local farmers market spring through fall — all year long if you live in a sunny locale. You’ll head home with reusable bags full of fresh and local produce.
This helps reduce your environmental footprint because local farmers transport their wares over short distances versus hundreds of miles in a semi-truck. This in turn reduces carbon emissions. You can do a doubly-good deed for Mother Earth by outfitting your bicycle with a basket and biking your way to the market. You’ll reduce your own vehicle emissions while burning calories.
3. Make a compost bin
What do you do with your orange peels? Do you freshen the dishwasher or mix up a batch of all-natural cleaner? Or do you toss the scraps in the rubbish bin?
If you do the latter, stop. Instead, make a simple compost bin to save non-meat food scraps for future garden use. Spend time learning what you can and cannot compost, but in general, you can compost most veggie or fruit waste as well as certain coffee filters and tea bags. When you plant your garden in the spring, you’ll save yourself a trip to the home center for fertilizer and you’ll reduce landfill fodder.
4. Bring your own bags
I can’t believe this needs to be said in 2019, but for the love of all that’s holy, please bring your own reusable bags to the store. Some jurisdictions like California have outlawed single-use plastic bags, but in much of the country and many parts of the world, their use remains legal. Paper bags do biodegrade — but until the Farm Bill results in the production of such sacks from hemp, they fell thousands of trees.
Invest in a quality canvas bag, not the kind which rip easily. If you want to go the extra mile, look for reusable bags made from hemp, which grows far more quickly than trees. Keep these bags in your car, and after unpacking groceries, hang them on your front doorknob so you don’t forget them next time market day comes.
5. And don’t forget your own coffee cups!
Okay, I get it — Starbucks is mega-delish. However, all those plastic cups and straws add up. Most every shop has reusable cups you can purchase for less than $5, and you usually get a discount each time you bring your own vessel. How cool is that?
Train yourself to think past your coffee shop runs as well. Keep a reusable cup in your car for drink stops at a convenience store — which is especially useful on road trips when you might stop more often for a caffeine kick.
6. Buy only what you need
Many sustainable experts recommend buying in bulk, but unless you have a large family, you risk tossing food and other goods before they see use. Before you head out for a bit of retail therapy, ask yourself whether or not you truly need the item or if it represents a want (and if it does, how much will you use it if you want it?)
There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a treat now and then, but try to make it sustainable. As an example, instead of bringing snack bars wrapped in single-use plastic to work each day, considering making and self-packaging treats to munch on at the office. You can pack your treats in reusable containers or opt for options like beeswax sheets instead of plastic bags or saran wrap.
7. Only expedite orders when absolutely necessary
The Amazon effect of speedy shipping increases environmental damage because it doesn’t allow for the optimal delivery route. One study found that 78% of U.S. consumers were conscious of the environmental impact of their ecommerce deliveries. Opting to consolidate goods is better for the planett. Instead of ordering one item on Amazon or other e-commerce site to receive in two days, wait until you have three or four (or more!) in your shopping cart, to minimize the number of times a driver needs to make the trip from the warehouse facility to your house.
From a business perspective, bulk ordering products and storing them at the warehouse is one of the best options. Choosing shipping methods based on the carbon footprint of a vehicle alone isn’t feasible. If manufacturers still shipped cellphones via ocean liners, the devices would spend 10-20% of their life cycle in transit. If a business only needs to order a handful of cell phones or other products, they should look into freight consolidation to keep their environmental footprint to a minimum. Consumers can encourage this behavior by asking their favorite companies about how green their shipping methods and supply are.
8. Think outside that box
While online retailers like Amazon, or big-name stores like Target, can entice your shopping habits, consider patronizing smaller merchants located near you. Better yet, say adios to many big box stores altogether.
Shopping locally stimulates your local economy and puts food on your neighbors’ tables. Check the Chamber of Commerce directory to identify online retailers located where you live.
9. Buy quality fashion items
Buying an inexpensive shirt can tempt you, but when you toss the holey shirt in the garbage a few short months later, how logical will your purchase seem, particularly in light of finances and environmental impact? It takes longer to save for quality items, but doing so can reduce your carbon footprint. You need to replace quality items far less, which results in fewer trips to the store and shorter transport times.
10. Order with friends and family
Do your friends and family share your online ordering addiction? Maybe you live in a rural area where you either ship goods in or go without. Why not make a collective order with family and friends?
Ordering together cuts shipping costs for everyone, but most notably, it helps to reduce your carbon footprint.
11. Place one bulk order
If you order online regularly, opt to make a list and order everything in bulk rather than placing several smaller orders. Strive to order online no more than once per week even if you live in a remote location.
The savings equate to ordering with family, plus you’ll reduce carbon emissions.
12.Think longer term
Thing more long term when striving to shop more sustainably. When purchasing big-ticket items such as a TV, shop around for a high-quality version and invest in the extended warranty. Shipping small parts creates fewer emissions, and repairing items versus replacing them saves landfill space.
Look for ways to re-purpose everyday items as well. Rinsing out a plastic cup of macaroni salad to recycle it? Why not use it as a storage container? Yes, you run the risk of looking like grandma, but anyone who grew up during times of economic shortage can tell you, it’s cheaper to reuse than buy new — and it’s way better for the planet.
Shopping the sustainable way
Whether you shop in a retail store or online, taking certain measures can reduce your environmental footprint. Start using these 12 tips above today to protect the earth we all share.
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Feature image via Tularu via Etsy.