Shifting towards greener products for everyday use
How can we, as consumers, help bring about change when it comes to some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time?
Demand change, and begin that change at home. Rethink and revise your daily shopping and consumption habits. Your household purchases—the items you select when you're walking down the aisle of Target, Walgreens, Walmart, Costco, or any other retailer— all play a role in our collective impact on the planet.
Engage in bolder actions on a daily basis: if all of us were to be more thoughtful and meaningful about the items we purchase while shopping, we could move the needle on some of the most critical challenges facing the planet. But it will take significant, collective action.
While it's unreasonable to expect consumers to research every single purchase, it is simple enough to become more educated shoppers who arrive at a store armed with the mental knowledge and tools needed for "label critiques". This means identifying specific eco-friendly certifications and logos on the packaging of items you select when shopping.
A few of the most notable certification logos to keep your eyes peeled for when choosing a product include the Leaping Bunny certified symbol, the EPA Safer Choice logo, and the BCorp symbol.
It's important to pay attention to labels and look for these types of certifications, because there's a lot of greenwashing going on right now. Searching for eco-friendly and sustainable certifications on products is at least one way to ensure that the company making the items you select is trying to do right by the planet.
Get Educated on Local Recycling
Just because a package says it's recyclable, doesn't mean it actually is recyclable. Many recycling programs across the country are simply not able to recycle much of what they receive. A lot of packaging that people toss into their recycling bins is not something their local centers can actually take. For instance, a 'cardboard' milk carton is likely to have a plastic aluminum-paper blend film on the inside, and therefore cannot be disposed of so easily. Further, many recyclables become contaminated when placed in the wrong bin, or when a dirty food container gets into the recycling bin. Contamination can prevent large batches of material from being recycled.
Glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely, while paper can be recycled five to seven times before it's too degraded. Plastic can only be recycled once or twice. Ultimately, six times more plastic waste is incinerated than is recycled. There are simply too many different types of plastics being produced, and few viable markets for these items. According to a Greenpeace report, the only plastic that's being recycled with any widespread regularity is that which is labeled with a No. 1 or a No. 2.
So when walking down the aisles of a store, you should look for the recycling number on the plastic items you're considering purchasing. To step up your efforts even further, actively search for products that are not packaged in plastic but are instead packaged in glass, aluminum, or cardboard.
Demand More of Brands and Retailers
Once you start paying careful attention on your shopping trips, you'll begin to notice aisle after aisle of plastic packaged products, or items that contain chemicals harmful for the planet, or products that through their creation, distribution, or end-of-life disposal—are environmentally harmful in some way.
Green products have had a bad rap for some time because finding them may be more work, or they're more expensive, or they're less effective—brands and retailers need to change this. As customers, we need to demand "accessibility" to eco-friendly, and climate-friendly consumer products. This means your local Target, Walmart, or other retailer starts offering more options on their shelves. This also means being able to purchase such options at an affordable price and with confidence they will work well.
Make Carbon-Neutral Purchases
Carbon emissions are considered to be the No. 1 contributor to climate change, making it critical that the companies you support with your shopping purchases are taking accountability for their carbon emissions. Many brands are now adopting corporate sustainability practices that minimize their own carbon footprint and the footprints of their customers.
Refill. Reuse. Repeat.
We must think before consuming. Do you really need that item you're considering purchasing new? Can you reuse something? Can you borrow something? If you make a mindful shift to reusing items more, or borrowing them, or even begin purchasing secondhand items, it can reduce your daily cost of living, along with helping the planet.
Over the last year, it's been interesting to watch what's happened just within the category of cleaning products. The concept of refillable cleaning products is becoming more widespread and this change is being driven by consumers who want to lead a more eco-conscious lifestyle.