By Natalia Hook
Here's Part 2 of "5 Green Living Tips for an Eco-Friendly Home."
3. Shop Greener
Getting a handle on proper recycling is a good start. The next step is taking a fresh look at your shopping habits. Both how you shop, and what you buy. Making a few simple changes can make a big positive impact.
It’s in the Bag
Reusable eco-friendly grocery bags were the first trend in environmental awareness to really take off. You can shop with reusable bags everywhere — drug stores, big box stores, and even department stores. If you can’t seem to remember to take one with you, keep a couple condensable style bags in your purse, backpack, or jacket pocket at all times. Most fold down to not much bigger than a pack of cards and hold quite a bit. Also, they are made of strong, lightweight ripstop nylon, and come in lots of patterns and colors. The Container Store and Bed Bath & Beyond sell them, as do many drug stores and discount stores. If you want to do double duty, keep a set of reusable produce bags in your car or portable grocery cart with your shopping bags, and reduce your plastic use even more.
We tend to think about recycling containers once they are empty. Take a minute to think about the products you’re selecting before you buy. Looking out for eco-friendly product packaging when shopping is a good practice. Recyclable bottles and containers are a step in the right direction, but it’s even better to find products that also already use recycled materials in their packaging. Better still, give your business to companies that strive to use biodegradable options and minimal packaging.
When buying paper goods, look for recycled paper and cardboard, or SFI products. SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) is an independent organization that certifies responsible and sustainable sourcing from managed forests. This means timber is grown and harvested without depleting forest land, so SFI products are guaranteed to be environmentally friendly products. And remember, all clean office paper, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, and chipboard (like cereal boxes) can be recycled. But greasy pizza boxes should always go to the garbage!
Think Outside the Box
Consider buying Earth-friendly products that you might not have thought about before. Try bamboo toothbrushes instead of (non-recyclable!) plastic ones, and easy to clean nylon snack packs for school lunches in place of sandwich bags. Heavy-duty brown paper bags are great for garbage and come in all different sizes. You can find them on Amazon.com and various restaurant supply websites. Paper bags are 100% biodegradable, and some brands, like Duro, offer recycled options.
One last thought about shopping… we live in a culture of overabundance. Almost everything we buy is manufactured, and all manufacturing takes a toll on the environment. Before you rush out to snag the latest look in clothing, sneakers, or home décor, ask yourself how much you really need it. Most of us could probably cut down a bit, couldn’t we?
4. Learn How to Identify Eco-friendly Products
Take a look at your usual health and beauty aids, as well as home products. Packaging aside, how eco-friendly are they? Many contain harmful chemicals that pollute the environment when they are used outdoors or washed down the drain during cleaning or bathing. They may even affect your personal health or the health of your family. You’re better off with eco-friendly cleaning products and health and beauty aids.
Look at the Label
Some common keywords to look for in the quest for eco-friendly products are “biodegradable,” “non-toxic,” “chemical-free,” and yes, “eco-friendly.” Many naturally sourced products will actually be defined as such on the label. Keep an eye out for exclusion lists, too: “no artificial colors,” “no preservatives,” “no chemicals,” etc. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should help you get the idea.
Beware of products labeled “natural” that have a slew of chemical ingredients. There’s no legal definition of the word “natural,” so any company can slap it on a label. Look for the keywords above and exclusion lists, and always check the ingredients. Products with actual naturally sourced, eco-friendly ingredients may list the scientific name of an ingredient, but will also list the common name in parentheses. Chemicals don’t often have common names unless they are trademarked.
Some of the best eco-friendly cleaning product brands that I’ve used are Ecos, If You Care, The Honest Company, 7th Generation, and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, but there are many others. And don’t forget, you can make your own natural cleaning products from ingredients in your pantry, too. From clearing a grease clogged drain to cleaning leather furniture, homemade cleaning solutions tend to keep it safe and simple.
If you’re looking for Earth-friendly health and beauty products, I’ve had great experiences with environmentally friendly companies such as Tom’s of Maine, Veeda, Pacifica, Lush, and Juice Beauty. Another great option is supporting small, independent makers of soaps, lotions and makeup who put a focus on lowering carbon footprints and using organic ingredients. Etsy is a terrific place to find high-quality small-batch products from Earth-friendly sellers.
5. Start Sipping Sustainably
An enormous amount of disposable water bottles and cups are thrown away every day. Recycling the plastic water bottles is a start, but the cups are a different story. Styrofoam recycling is relatively rare, and excludes food and drink contaminated pieces. Most paper recycling excludes waxed paper, like take out coffee cups, so both types of drink containers end up as garbage.
Carrying a reusable water bottle and coffee cup is one of the easiest eco-friendly ideas to adopt, but it has a big effect. Every disposable cup you save is one less in a landfill, and the fewer plastic bottles and paper cups that are made, the less environmental impact there’s on the manufacturing end. If you can't squeeze a cup or bottle in your purse or backpack, get one with a carabiner or clip handle that attaches easily to a strap when you’re on the go.
Facing environmental threats isn’t always the first thing on our minds, and it can feel overwhelming. Making a few Earth-friendly lifestyle changes may not seem to make a difference, but it does. Remember, you’re not one in a million, you’re one of a million… and more. Start small and keep going!
Images used with permission, courtesy of Natalia Hook