If you’re living in a small space, it’s often hard to accommodate 800 rolls of toilet paper. That doesn’t mean that you can’t (or shouldn’t) benefit from the financial sense and environmental kindness of buying in bulk and other smart packaging options. Though you might not have been able to keep the rest of your New Year’s resolutions, get that warm fuzzy feeling from making practical choices that just happen to be green. It’s about more than just organic groceries. We all remember the three ecological R’s from school: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Here’s how to put them into practice in urban living:
First of all, paper and plastic bags are equally defensible, depending on how you use or re-use them. Part of reducing is pre-cycling, making choices that don’t have to be discarded at all. Take your paper or plastic bags back to the store, or use canvas tote bags. Choose loose produce instead of packaged. Buy the largest quantity in the smallest package. Weigh convenience with the extra cost. If you purchase a box of pudding mix versus pudding cups, you’ll save both money and plastic. Though buying in bulk saves packaging, buying more than you can use before the expiration date is just wasteful. Opt for concentrated products (like juice) and bulk non-perishables. Eat in instead of creating take-out waste. As hectic as things get, the convenience of ready to eat, single serving, disposable, and microwaveable foods is hard to deny. However, the extra packaging, trash, salt, preservatives, and cost are a few good deterrents.
Look for products that make the best use of energy resources, don’t pollute air or water, are reusable or recyclable, are made from plentiful resources or recycled material, and use a minimum of materials in design and packaging. Easy, right? Well, start with reusing what you can. Donate trays and containers to schools for craft projects. Save substantial packaging, like butter tubs, for plastic lunch containers. Donate old computers or tech items, so they don’t leach into landfills.
Glass, aluminum, paper, and plastic can all be reincarnated. Plastic cannot be recycled into new food containers, though. If space permits, add come paper bags or boxes under the sink so you can sort as you toss. The biggest impact comes from the biggest items: take clothing and furniture to resale shops or donate to charity. Anyone will get better use out of it than the landfill.
Avoid products which devote more energy to the package than the product. Enough said.
You pay for the extra packaging not only at the grocery store, but in your sewage bills as well. Support vendors who package efficiently and use recycled materials. If you feel like taking on a pet social project, write letters of both support and concern to the companies which come under your radar.
There are so many little things you can do, not necessarily to save the earth, but to save money and clutter. If they happen to make your world a little greener, all the better. Pack a waste-free lunch. Take reusable containers and for a classy touch, cloth napkins. Instead of using a fancy pump-style toothpaste, pay for the product, not the packaging.
Minimize the use of disposable products, like razors, cleaning supplies, and kitchen wraps. Look for paper products that are unbleached and contain post-consumer content.
In short, under consume. Be a conscientious consumer. Let your choices be about whom you want to be instead of what you want to have.