Buying Practice for Groceries and Supplies

Paper or Plastic? Printer Paper Reduce Packaging

The Paper Towel Conundrum Sans Toilet Paper

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GROCERY and SUPPLIES

Telling people to buy less, use less, and reuse more in order to save the planet is easy, but what do we do when we’re grocery shopping and they put the groceries in paper or plastic bags? After being emptied at home, many of the bags end up in the trash. A more eco-friendly option is to carry reusable bags made of recycled materials to the store. This simple act reduces landfill waste, manufacturing energy consumption, and air

pollution, and also increases recycling.

Many of us might not give much thought to shopping bags being recyclable or reusable. However, they can have a huge positive impact on the environment. The same is true for other paper products. Chemical free toilet paper and printing paper made from recycled materials are excellent green choices.

Product packaging is another area where recycling or reusing can significantly impact the environment. Consider all the times we bring items home, open them up, and then just discard the packaging. What a waste of resources! Choosing products that have minimal packaging or packaging that can be used for other purposes like composting, is good environmental stewardship. When we cannot personally reuse packaging, we must remember to recycle it.

Many retailers are becoming more environmentally aware and are taking steps to reduce wasteful packaging practices. In this section, there are a number of ideas for reducing our ecological footprint by making the right choices when shopping.

Paper

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or

 

Plastic?

 

What is it?

How well does this question help consumers reduce their carbon footprint? Paper bags might be made with some portion of post-consumer recycled materials, but even recycling in this instance is going to require manufacturing facilities and energy. It will also require energy to package and deliver paper bags to the grocery store. Plastic bags are no better, since they are typically made from virgin plastic (petroleum- based products), though even bags made from recycled bags require the same amount of energy to manufacture as new bags. Another option available at many grocery stores and other retailers is the reusable shopping bag. Unfortunately, these bags also had to be manufactured, often requiring virgin materials, energy, and transportation for delivery.

As consumers we understand that sometimes compromise is necessary. Sometimes we have to choose expedience or convenience over being maximally green. However, choices made after research, careful consideration, and planning are likely better than spur- of-the-moment decisions. In almost every situation, we have the option to reduce, reuse, or recycle.

What about adding a third part to the“paper or plastic” question—the most eco-friendly of all? Paper, plastic, or homemade? With a little effort, creativity, and ingenuity, it’s easy to make a stylish shopping bag with materials most people already have at home. We’ve included a super simple “how to” that anyone can use for making a reusable, washable tote bag from an old T-shirt.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities:

Reduce the use of plastics

Reducegreenhousegasesbyreducingtheuseofmanufactured goods

Pros:

Reuse materials from around the home

Cons:

Some planning and possible online research are involved

Some sewing or knitting skills required

If T-shirts or textiles are unavailable, they will have to be purchased

Maintenance:

Wash or dry-clean as per the washing or clothing tag of the material used.

Timeline:

Project could take up to a day depending on personalization and design.

Steps:

As stated above, we’ll use a repurposed T-shirt as an example.

1.You will need:

Heavy weight cotton T-shirt (heavy weight fabric &

Youth size XL or Adult S or M work best)

Marking pen for sewing, or pen or pencil

Cost Estimator:

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Dinner plate (8-9”)

Scissors

• Sewing machine or needle and thread

1. Lay an old T-shirt flat on a table. Use scissors to cut and

remove the sleeves. The sleeve holes will be the handles. Leave

the seams in place—this keeps the tote handles strong!

2. Position a plate about halfway over the neck opening of the

shirt. Trace the plate with the marking pen. This is the cutting

line to create the tote bag opening. Cut along the traced line

with scissors.

3. Turn the T-shirt inside out and pin the bottom of the T-shirt

closed–along the hem.

4. Sew the bottom hem of T-shirt closed. Reinforce the tote bag

by sewing over this seam a second time

Quick Tips:

✓✓Go to Tipnut for “50+ Reusable Grocery Bags You Can Make: Free Patterns.” This list provides many stylish options using sewing or crocheting techniques and various materials.

✓✓Go to Curbly for “35 Free Patterns for Resuable Grocery Bags.”

Cost is minimal and can be as little as zero money spent if materials and tools are already on hand.

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Buying

Toilet Paper

What is it?

Americans use over 36 billion rolls of toilet paper every year. That’s around 15 million trees, 473 billion gallons of water, and ¼ million tons of chlorine going down the toilet. It takes 17.3 terawatts of electricity (that’s trillions of watts) to make toilet paper! Then there are the monetary and environmental costs of packaging and distribution. This should be enough to have us all searching frantically for ways to cut down.

Using recycled toilet paper is one possibility. Unfortunately, emerging studies have found that some recycled toilet paper contains BPA and BPS , which are hormone disruptors that enter the bloodstream through the skin. These contaminants get into the paper when it is made from recycled thermal paper. After the toilet paper is used, they are flushed into wastewater systems and make their way into marine ecosystems and eventually tap water. Additionally, the recycling process still uses virgin wood pulp, electricity, and in some cases, chlorine.

What about living toilet paper-free by using a bidet? Installing an inexpensive hand-held bidet or attaching abidet add- on to an existing toilet are excellent options. Bidets are specialized bathroom fixtures used to clean the nether regions after going to the bathroom. They are widely popular and commonly used in Asia and Europe. Besides the obvious environmental advantages of using bidets rather than toilet paper, they are actually better for personal hygiene.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities:

Reduces consumption of virgin material

Reduces electricity, water, and chlorine use in the manufacturing process

Reduces greenhouse gases released into the environment

Pros:

Increases personal hygiene

Cons:

Adjustment to the use of a bidet

Cost of purchase

May need professional installation

Maintenance:

Handheld sprayers should be cleaned and sanitized similarly to a faucet.

Timeline:

Less than an hour for installation.

Steps:

1.Review consumer ratings and comments.

2.Purchase online or at local retailer.

3.Install, use, and clean per manufacturer instructions.

Cost Estimator:

There is a wide array of bidet toilet seats and toilet add- ons ranging from around $30 up to a few hundred. Simple handheld bidet add-ons range from $30 to $100. If you have some experience with bathroom installations, you can install it yourself. Multiply the price by the number of toilets needing a bidet add-on.

Quick Tips:

✓✓Choose the bidet add-on that fits the family budget. Check consumer reviews due the nature of the product since some have “no re- turn” policies.

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Buying Paper

Towels

What is it?

Paper towels provide a fast, easy, efficient way to clean spills, dry hands, or wipe up messes. Nevertheless, they can be expensive, and due to potential bacteria, some municipalities don’t want them included in recycling. Instead, they go straight to the landfill. So what’s an eco- conscious consumer to do?

Usingclothtowelsisoneoption,butsomehomeowners resist this idea. Cloth towels can accumulate bacteria and then have to be washed, which uses energy, water, and soap. Plus, they wear out over time. Thus, they make more work and use more energy than the eco- benefit they provide. There are other products offered as well, such as chamois rags, fabric-based wipes, and a variety of sponges. Other options for improving the eco-friendliness of paper towel consumption include using 100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, tree-free paper, or composting used paper towels. Of course, switching to cloth for bigger jobs remains an option. However, for convenience and normal, around- the-house use, it seems nothing challenges the paper towel’s stronghold on the market.

Why do it?

Pros:

Reduces the use of raw materials

Creates rich mulch for gardening if composted

Reduces contamination by bacteria when a fresh towel is used to wipe surfaces or dry hands

Cons:

Quality, absorption, and cost of the paper towel might not compare favorably to cloth towels

Requires constant replenishing through purchasing (trips to the store, storage space, cost of investment, etc.)

Maintenance:

Keep a bucket within your home to collect food (no meat). Water the compost regularly without soaking it.

Timeline:

Steps:

Store paper towels in a trash can or plastic bag until placing them in compost bin.

A simple trip to the store to purchase, and a simple trip to the compost heap to recycle.

Cost Estimator:

$1-4 per roll, depending on quality of towels purchased.

Quick Tips:

✓✓Most paper towels will not withstand rinsing and reuse. Follow common safety rules for cleaning any spills or messes.

✓✓HomeFoodSafety.org provides helpful tips for cleaning surfaces with towels and sponges.

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Printer

Paper

What is it?

As desktop computers and laptops have become more affordable, so have desktop printers. Add the ready availability of cheap printing paper, and it’s easy to understand why so much paper is being consumed today. Each new technological advance leads to greater convenience and the potential for increased consumption. Environmentalists are already seeking ways to deal with issues of deforestation, air and water pollution, and waste management. Now, finding ways to decrease paper usage and waste is another issue to deal with. The good news is that just as you no longer have to go to the print shop for most printing needs, you can choose environmentally responsible printing methods and materials at home or at the office.

A good way to start is by choosing the best paper available, using three eco-criteria: 1) contains at least 30% post-consumer recycled content; 2) was processed chlorine-free; and 3) has the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) logo. By using these three criteria as a guideline when purchasing printing paper, you can help save the environment and ensure that future generations will have printing paper available to them as well.

A question to ask when considering printing is, “Does this really have to be printed at all?” Emailing, texting, or using cloud storage are technology-driven alternatives to printing. Cloud storage can even synchronize and make files accessible to several people simultaneouslyv.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities:

Collective awareness and dedication to using paper wisely will lessen paper manufacturing and waste

Pros:

Cheaper process in the long run

Environmentally friendly

Cons:

Paper following the three eco-criteria might not be readily or cheaply available

Learning curve for using cloud storage for those who are not computer savvy

Making the appropriate choice amid all the greenwashing done by some companies

Maintenance:

When your current stock of printing paper runs out, consider using the three eco-criteria for purchasing new paper. Keep paper stored in a dry, dust-free location until ready to load in the printer.

Timeline:

Check with office supply companies or online articles to remain abreast of new technologies to lessen paper use or make recycling more environmentally efficient.

Steps:

1.Daily routine: Use smartphone apps such as calendars, bookkeeping spread sheets, recipe catalogs, and reminders.

2.Students and teachers: Use tablets or laptops for note-taking, purchase ebooks, and submit work online.

3.Small businesses: Use online advertising, presentation software, file-sharing, and online cloud storage.

Cost Estimator:

Post-consumer recycled paper can cost $1-2 per ream more than regular paper. Computer or smartphone apps can be free, but even those that aren’t free are relatively cheap. Full-use software can be expensive, but free options also exist.

Quick Tips:

✓✓When implementing strategies to reduce pa- per usage, online reviews and software demos for office software, apps, and online storage can be very helpful and save time and money.

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Reduce

Packaging

What is it?

Product packaging is everywhere, from simple gum wrappers to packing boxes. There’s even a specialty field for Packaging Engineers in the manufacturing sector. Lessening the environmental burden of packaging can be an enormous task, since just about everything we purchase, use, or ship involves packaging. There’s no simple solution to the waste produced by packaging materials in our consumption-driven society. However, switching to companies or stores that offer buyers recycled packaging or provide in-store package recycling is a good first step. Those brands that choose to be environmentally friendly will, whenever possible, package their products with recycled, renewable, or reusable materials.

Another solution to packaging waste is to consume less “stuff”that requires packaging. While it might not be easy, this can work. Keep reading to learn how.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities:

Reduce use of manufactured plastics and raw materials

Reduce energy used to manufacture new packaging

Pros:

Reduce landfill waste by consuming less

Save money in the long run

Reduce personal carbon footprint

Cons:

Environmentally conscious packaging will be more expensive until more widely used

Alternative measures call for upkeep and a proactive consumer

Replacing plastic products around the house requires constant awareness and preparation

Maintenance:

Requires more effort to wash a coffee mug or stainless-steel water bottle instead of trashing or recycling a paper cup and sleeve.

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Also requires more time and space to save packing materials and packaging or boxes from purchased items against future need.

Timeline:

Your dedication to reducing packaging takes extra work up- front, but becomes a habit over time. It’s an ongoing, proactive process.

Steps:

1.Consume less; recycle and reuse older products.

2.Stores boxes and packaging that are reusable for future use.

3.Use trunks instead of plastic storage containers.

4.Buy less prepared or precooked food since it requires additional packaging.

5.Purchase glass or steel kitchen items for storage—think permanent.

6.Buy an in-sink water filter rather than cases of bottled water.

7.Make coffee at home or travel with a refillable, spill-proof cup.

8.Preparing to move? Collect old newspapers, reuse boxes, and save bubble wrap from big purchases. Also, almost any day, someone is giving away boxes and packing materials online.

Cost Estimator:

Plastic packaging is almost always the least expensive route. Buying products packaged with more permanent materials, such as glass, steel, and wood, increases costs. Savings can be made by avoiding excess over time.

Quick Tips:

✓✓Constantly look for and think of new ways to curb consumption, reuse existing packaging materials, and recycle rather than toss.

✓✓Check out StopWaste.org for information on how to reduce packaging.

✓✓Go to Care2 to read “15 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging.”

✓✓The EPA also provides tips on reducing packaging.

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