Eco Shopping Tips

Ami Voeltz
Do It Green! Minnesota

Did you know that each person in Minnesota generates about SIX POUNDS of garbage a day? Of that six pounds, one-third comes from packaging. While packaging is necessary for health and safety, it is sometimes excessive. Buying disposable, single-use products also contributes to this heap. What you buy directly impacts what you throw away. You can reduce what you toss in the garbage by taking some time to consider your purchases. You have many opportunities to reduce trash you create by reducing and reusing as much as possible. Think about the process it took to make each product before you purchase it: Materials to make product, energy to create product, fuel to transport product, buy disposable product, product packaging, bag to transport product home, disposable product/packaging/bag in trash, fuel to transport trash to landfill, land used to store trash. Advertisers and retailers make impulse buying hard to resist, despite its harm to you and the planet. Before buying anything, ask yourself:

An UnShopping List: Do I Really Need This?

  • Do I really need and want this – can I get by without it?
  • Is it made from renewable, or nonrenewable resources?
  • Is it made of recycled materials and is it recyclable?
  • How long will it last and how will I dispose of it?
  • Can it be maintained and repaired?
  • Could I borrow, rent or buy it secondhand?
  • Is it overpackaged?
  • Is it worth the time I worked to pay for it?
  • Is it worth the cost to the environment?

Why Buy Local?

It supports people in your own community and keeps money there. It reduces the many costs associated with transportation, including fossil fuel consumption and pollution, often passing the savings along to you. It guarantees greater freshness in foods and other perishables. On average, food consumed in the U.S. first travels 1,400 miles by truck, trains or plane.

Don’t Support Sweatshops and Child Labor

Bargain-priced merchandise is often produced by exploited workers,whether in developing countries or in the U.S. Companies often hire desperately poor people because they can pay them wages many times lower than traditional American wages (especially union-scale). Usually they provide few or no benefits and maintain unsafe and degrading workplace conditions. Many of these jobs were formerly held by Americans in U.S. factories. As the global economy expands, it becomes more and more profitable to move operations outside of the U.S., creating layoffs and plant closures here. The consumer savings are real, but at tremendous social cost to our society.

Earth Friendly Terms

Many terms are thrown to describe a product’s “earth friendliness” so consumers are often confused. Here are definitions of some of the most common terms that appear on product labels, to help you make more informed, responsible purchases.

  • Recyclable means the product can be recovered for use as raw material in the manufacture or assembly of a new product or package. Recycled Content refers to how much of that product’s raw materials were recovered from the waste stream.
  • Pre-consumer waste is reclaimed waste materials that did not reach the consumer (i.e., trimmings from the manufacture of plastics, unsold copies of books or newspapers).
  • Post-consumer waste is reclaimed material that has served its end purpose, such as recycled paper or plastic soda bottles.
  • Degradable, Biodegradable, and Photodegradable means the product will break down in a reasonable time if given enough light, air, and/or water.


It is difficult to find one truly eco-friendly paper. It is up to you to decide what is the most important to have in the paper you use. Of course 100% recycled or tree-free and chlorine-free should be a must. See BUSINESS: Printers & Photocopying


Most plastic bottles can now be recycled, but usually only once. In contrast, glass or aluminum can be recycled endlessly. The Plastic Bottle Institute established a voluntary identification system of plastic bottles and these symbols are usually stamped on the bottom of the bottle. See Also see HOUSE & HOME: Recycling

The Truth about ‘Green’ Claims and Certifiers

“Earth-friendly,” “environmentally safe,” “green,” “organic”… what do these eco-eye-catching labels really mean? Retailers and consumers alike are questioning the validity of green claims for good reason. Green products represent a burgeoning market:15% of all new products introduced in the U.S. last year. According to American Demographics magazine, 46% of Americans have bought a product because it made environmental claims. In an effort to educate consumers, two leading environmental product certification groups, Green Seal and Scientific Certification Systems (SCS),have programs which rate and label so-called green products. The two groups take fundamentally different approaches. Green Seal sets standards for types of products and their claims. A Green Seal panel works with consumer groups, industry officials and scientists to develop standards for products such as re-refined engine oil and compact fluorescent lamps. Standards reflect factors such as packaging, product disposability and pollution generated in manufacture. SCS, formerly known as GreenCross, has two labels: Single Claim Certification and the Environmental report card. Products may carry either label or both. Single Claim Certification verifies specific claims in three areas: recycled content, biodegradability, and volatile organic compounds. The label for a paper product certifies not only that the paper is “recycled” but also its percentage of post-consumer waste content. The Environmental Report Card profiles the environmental burdens of a product throughout its life-cycle, from manufacture and distribution to use and disposal. The label reads much like the nutritional charts found on most food packages. The report card will be on a few dozen different products by summer. Third-party certification can cost as little as $2,000 or as much as $30,000, depending on the availability of information and the type and number of products involved. The cost is often offset by increased sales. In Germany,companies whose products bear the Blue Angel logo, awarded by a government-sponsored program, report a 10-30 percent increase in sales.

How you purchase products may be as important as what you buy. Save substantial money and time and waste fewer resources by incorporating these simple changes into your shopping routine. 1. Buy in bulk. The cost is usually much less and there is less wasteful packaging. 2. Avoid excessive packaging. The cost of the excess material is usually passed on to you and you get less product for your money 3. Buy products with packaging made of recycled materials or that is recyclable. 4. Bring your own reusable bags every time you shop. You’ll divert bags from the landfill and take advantage of discounts many stores now give when you use your own bags 5. Avoid impulse buying. Plan your shopping trips and make a list of the items you need. 6. Buy high-quality items. You won’t have to replace them as often, saving you time and money in the long run for most products. 7. Consider renting specialty items that you use infrequently, such as camping equipment, skis, and, perhaps, automobiles. 8. Join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Purchase “shares” in a local farm to receive organically grown produce.

Ten Things You SHOULD NEVER BUY Again

1. Styrofoam cups – They are not biodegradable
2. Paper Towels – Waste forest resources, use cloth towels
3. Bleached Coffee Filters – Bleaching chemicals contaminate groundwater and the air
4. Overpackaged Products – Waste of resources and costs more
5. Teak and Mohogany – Tropical rainforests are cut down, buy certified wood
6. Chemical Pest Killers – Pesticides in the groundwater poses a serious health threat
7. Chemical Glass Cleaners – Contains ammonia which is poisionus, use non-toxic
8. Plastic Bags and Wrap – Use Resealable bags or reusable plastic containers
9. Higher Octane Gas than You Need – The higher octane, the more hazardous pollutants are released
10. Poor Quality Shoes – Too short of a life and end up in landfills

      Information from 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth by The Earth Works Group, and The Green Consumer by John Elkington, Julia Hailes and Joel Makower.


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