This post is by blog team member, Amy. Check out our team page and her blog Spunky Avocado to learn more about her! Also, be sure to sign up for her FREE Suburban Smackdown Week-Long Mini-Challenge that starts today!
Happy Earth Day, All! Can you feel it? A shift is happening. People are waking up to a collective feeling of responsibility for being good stewards of this beautiful planet on which we live. We are starting to see that our consumption choices matter and that mindless consumption hurts us all. Believe me, I’ve been as guilty as anyone (perhaps even more) of contributing to our burgeoning landfills and the floating islands of plastic in the Pacific. I once filled my closet with too many clothes, cared too much about labels, bought my kids too many toys, and gave little thought as to how these things were made or where they would end up.
My Wake-Up Call
In recent years, however, I’ve taken a long and painful inventory of the consequences of my buying. All the waste and all the excess led me to make an intentional choice to not burden my children with these same bad habits. So, it wasn’t easy, but I’ve changed the way I shop for everything by considering the long-term impact of my purchases. I’ve started to replace my need for stuff with a deep desire to experience the richness of life that you can’t find in a shopping mall. It has changed the way I see the world. I have become a conscious consumer and a consumer of far less. As a result, I’ve become a happier person because I don’t measure my life by what I own.
There are a million little ways our choices can add up to make a big difference. Admittedly, it can feel a bit daunting to begin to change deeply engrained habits. But, if you tackle them one at a time, you’ll find it’s almost always more manageable and you will come out on the other side being proud of the important changes you’ve made. You may not be ready to admit to (much less conquer) your addiction to shoes and accessories, but I bet you’re ready and willing to at least start somewhere. So, let’s start in a very common place, a place we ALL visit regularly and spend a lot of money, a place where we can all make a significant impact by the choices we make there: Our Grocery Stores.
Today I tackle just one big consumption question: How can we minimize our negative environmental impact by the way we shop for the food that sustains ourselves and our families? Knowledge is power and the following list will give you some of the tools you’ll need to begin flexing your eco-savvy shopping muscles.
If you’re into making a bigger impact beyond just the grocery store, we’d love for you to join our free Suburban Smackdown Week-Long Mini-Challenge that starts today. Check out our short video as well as our blog for the list of rules you’d need to follow and the sign-up form. It’s completely FREE and only for one week!
12 Easy Ways to Go Green at the Grocery Store
- BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags)
I am putting this one first, because it is so very simple. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a pile of reusable bags. So please keep some in your car, take them inside the store, and use them. This is one of the easiest changes to make, yet when I am in a conventional grocery store, 9 out of 10 people walk out with a cart full of plastic bags.
If you need a recommendation for outstanding ones that hold up to anything, carry a ton, and even help organize your groceries, Lisa’s choice of My Eco Bags is my choice as well. They rock, but any reusable bags will do the job. It is important because only 1% of the countless plastic bags that are used world wide get recycled. Many end up in our oceans claiming the lives of millions of aquatic creatures. I know you don’t want to contribute to those numbers. Stop the madness and liberate your reusable bags!
- Buy Seasonal and Local Whenever Possible
The undeniable truth is that aside from local, fresh-picked, seasonal produce just tasting better and having most of its nutrients intact – it’s also much less-traveled, which does take a toll on the earth. When you buy in season you also tend to get the best prices, but that is only part of the story. Most US produce is nearly a week old by the time it lands on your grocer’s shelves and comes from, on average, about 1500 miles away. You read that right, just US Produce!
When you consider all the produce that is shipped from other countries, that number increases substantially. And, while it might seem that having produce from all over the world would be a good thing, it actually has a high environmental cost through the use of fossil fuels. These same practices can also be devastating to small farmers because they are left to fend for themselves, while the large farms (with shipping resources) get huge governmental subsidies. What we are left with is a food system based on both giant agri-business and the oil industry, neither of which, I believe, have excellent, healthy, and ethical farming practices as their top priorities.
Instead of supporting these practices, seek out local, seasonal produce as well as local meat and dairy for both your good health and the health of a strong, vibrant, and self supporting community. Many grocery stores carry and label locally farmed products, and your local/regional farmer’s market is an invaluable asset where you will have the opportunity to purchase from the farmers themselves. If you need help locating resources in your area, these websites may be helpful: Local Harvest, Sustainable Table, and Eat Wild.
- Buy Organic Whenever Possible
I am going to keep this one short and sweet because the old argument about whether organics are a “better choice” than conventionally raised foods is just silly to me. Let us instead ask ourselves this, “Do we really believe that consuming foods sprayed with synthetic herbicides and pesticides, or better yet eating animals that also eat these foods that are doused in herbicides and pesticides, is a smart and healthy choice without cumulative effect and consequence?” Just think about that.
Then, think about the farmland robbed of minerals through monoculture, the same land soaked in herbicides and pesticides, and then consider the effects on the water table below or the run-off that goes to the nearby river basin. Do I really need to say anything more? Organics are just good common sense. The Environmental Working Group can help guide you on the essentials with their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.
- Plan Ahead/Consolidate
This one is pretty simple. Plan your shopping in a way that consolidates your trips in order to consume less energy. If you have multiple stores to go to, try to complete your rounds in one outing. Have your shopping list ready and stick to it. This will eliminate impulse buys and the accumulation of items you don’t need or items that might go to waste.
- Waste Not Want Not
Consumer of food and household items, know thyself. Only you can determine your consumption habits and how to best shop for them. Online, large scale bulk buying can be a wonderful thing, but only if you are going to use that item in bulk. Otherwise, you are going to have to store it, or worse yet depending on its perishable nature, have to deal with the guilt of throwing it out after it has gone bad. Plan the scale of your purchases wisely.
- Package Size Matters (giggle)
Look for minimal, recyclable packaging whenever possible. This is an area where the bulk bins in our favorite stores are superstars. Just be sure to bring along your small reusable bags or containers. While you will not always be able to avoid packaging, you can almost always make use of it. We have a box of items that we use for school projects, art projects, and robot building.
Also, I admit to a complete addiction to otherwise disposable glass jars of all sorts. Marinara jars, large pickle jars, tiny jelly jars, along with a myriad of mason jars have almost completely replaced all of my old plastic storage. And bonus, they make for a very pretty pantry.
- Stop Buying Single Use Disposable Items
These banes of my existence are 2 hours at a birthday or graduation party and forever in a landfill (think red solo cups). Last year while in the throws of our first Suburban Smackdown Challenge, where along with not buying anything new for 6 months my family also did not use disposable items, we adapted very quickly to taking our light weight reusables to picnics. It simply became habit. And, believe it or not, I have yet to purchase a roll of paper towels since our challenge ended on October 31, 2014. Prior to that, we were a 3 roll a week family. We did not, by the way, give up toilet paper.
- Stop Buying Bottled Water
If you are worried about the safety of your tap water, buy a water filter or a water filtration system. It is less expensive in the long run, especially for our planet.
- Avoid Factory Farmed Animal Products
Not only do huge factory farms contribute greatly to overall pollution, greenhouse gases, and contamination of lands and water, but their inhumane treatment of animals and less than healthy practices (hormones and antibiotics) do not make for a healthy animal product.
Commit to buying your meat, eggs, and dairy from farms that use humane methods for raising as well as for slaughtering their animals. It is best to look for 100% grass-fed and pasture raised animal products. Yes, buying these products will be more expensive but you can adjust your budget and better your overall eating habits by consuming animal products, albeit less, of a much higher quality. Also, see Lisa’s post on how to select real seafood.
- Understand Labels Beyond Their Ingredient List
Some products will make label claims such as “all natural,” “free-range” and “cage-free” which come along with obvious implications. But, the words themselves have nothing to back them (i.e. they are not regulated). In fact, “Greenwashing” has become a very common and effective marketing strategy.
You’ve also likely seen labels covered with logos that reflect various types of certifications. To cover them all here would be a post of its own, but check out this good overview of some of the legit and sustainable certifications. Educate yourself so you are beyond the influence of a marketer’s deception.
- GYOG (Grow Your Own Garden)
Nothing beats being able to walk out into your own yard, pick ingredients that you have grown, and take them inside to prepare a meal for your family. It is incredibly gratifying, and you don’t need a lot of space to grow a significant amount of food. But even if you only have room for a few containers, take advantage of easily grown tomatoes and herbs, and I guarantee you many moments of bliss throughout the growing season. Having a garden can save you a lot of money, reduce the environmental impact on our earth, and give you peace of mind knowing exactly how that garden was grown.
- Use the Same Kind of Care and Discretion for Non-Food Purchases
Aside from food, it’s also important to not negate your careful grocery shopping by purchasing and using potentially toxic personal care and cleaning products filled with unregulated chemicals. There are plenty of high quality products available today that won’t hurt your body or your budget. Be sure to use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep and Guide to Healthy Cleaning databases.
Well, that about wraps up my advice for now. It is my hope that you will use some or all of these principles on your next eco-savvy grocery day out. For more information on simple, green living, visit my blog at Spunky Avocado.com.