Reducing Your Shopping Footprint, one Tote Bag at a Time!

by arlene on March 9, 2010

It used to be that whenever you went to a conference you’d get a T-shirt. Now everyone gives out tote bags, the best ones of which are made out of recycled materials. Friends and I recently commented at dinner that we’ve managed to change our behavior enough to remember to bring the bags into the grocery store most of the time. But what other simple things can we do to be more responsible shoppers when it comes not to the product, but to all the stuff that comes with the products: all that packaging!

A few action items are really simple, and many of us have made good progress in changing our ways. As further incentive, here are a dozen ways to reduce the packaging  and supplies that you consume:

  1. Bring your own mug whenever you go to your favorite coffee shop. Many cafes will fill your mug at no additional charge, and sometimes even for a small discount. That eliminates the need for those one-use paper cups. Even if the cups are recyclable, often they come with plastic lids, or single-use stir sticks. Encourage your favorite caffeine purveyor to use real metal spoons, and wash them after use.
  2. Use a reusable, stainless steel drinking bottle instead of those sinful plastic water bottles. Metal drinking bottles are #2 on the list of giveaway products these days, but if you haven’t collected one for free, it’s time to spring for one! There are numerous top styles; choose one that works well for your hands.

In our Bay Area the next items seem almost unnecessary to mention, but we forget that nationwide the purchase and consumption of truly fresh produce is a fairly recent phenomenon, and that being able to buy a huge assortment of bulk items should not be taken for granted!

3. Of course, buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead of produce in cans, frozen boxes and bags. But beyond that, buy loose veggies and fruit (organic if at all possible), and place them in that tote bag you brought along. Are there still places where buying tomatoes means buying them in a Styrofoam tray, sealed in shrinkwrap??

4. Buy in bulk, using your own containers from home to eliminate the use of plastic bags.  Your products will keep fresher that way too, and will be less vulnerable to infestations of weevils and moths.

5. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. It feels better, and it’s better for your carbon footprint!

6. When buying cereal go for the larger boxes. What if no one ever bought those individual serving boxes?!

7. Another place to vote by your purchasing behavior: never buy “snack-sized” boxes or bags. They are much more expensive, and much more packaging-intensive than bulk or larger bags of products.

8. When washing non-bagged greens, use a salad spinner, or the old-fashioned pillow case. If you still are, get out of the habit of using paper towels to blot the greens dry.

9. Buy quarts of yogurt instead of eight-ounce or smaller cups. We buy the little ones for the convenience, but you pay a high price, both in comparison per ounce to the quarts, but also in the cost of producing and disposing of all that extra packaging.

10. Use cloth or a gold coffee filter rather than paper filters. Or just make espresso!

11. Use metal and ceramic baking pans instead of aluminum disposable pans.

12. Use loose tea instead of one-use tea bags. There’s no comparison in the taste of a cup of tea made from loose tea. Tea bags tend to be made from inferior tea to start with, and often are made from the dregs.

This is all very common-sense stuff. We just need to be reminded from time to time if we’re going to make permanent changes in our behavior.

Next post will be about making and using your own green cleaning products instead of commercial cleaning products.  I’ll point you to some of the best home-made cleaning products. But you probably already know that vinegar, plain white vinegar, is an amazingly versatile cleaner. In fact, there’s a website called that claims to list 1001 uses for white distilled vinegar. It’s environmentally friendly, non-toxic and very inexpensive! More to come!

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