Every choice consumers make, regardless of scale, impacts the environment. However, the buying process can be overwhelming, and it is best to start with the basics. Some important tips to remember are:
• Avoid excess packaging
• Buy products in recyclable containers
• Buy reusable and long-lasting items
• Buy locally and/or buy in bulk
Considering the average Minnesotan generates six pounds of garbage per day, how you purchase is as important as what you buy. As more consumers make responsible and informed purchases, the growth of “earth-friendly” labels can easily confuse even the savviest shopper. Many companies use the labels to market the product, and it can be difficult to know what or how to buy. Definitions of the most common labels are as follows:
Recyclable: product can be recovered for use as raw material in the manufacture or assembly of a new product or package. Contact your local recycling facility to learn what is accepted. Remember also that plastics can be recycled only once whereas glass and aluminum can be recycled endlessly.
Certified biodegradable: typically means a product will break down in a reasonable time given enough light, air, and/or water. However, it depends on the disposal method and it is best to contact the manufacturer. In general, biodegradable products do not break down in landfills, as they are designed to keep out sunlight, air, and moisture.
Certified organic: product has been certified based on standards set by the USDA National Organic Program. However, this label is only meaningful on food items, as similar standards have not been implemented for cosmetics or other products.
Fair trade certified: ensures that farmers and farm workers in developing nations receive a fair price for their product, have direct trade relations with buyers and access to credit, and encourage sustainable farming methods without the use of harmful pesticides and forced child labor. TransFair USA is the only certifier of fair trade goods in the US.
Post-consumer waste: reclaimed material that has served its end purpose and can no longer be recycled into a new product.
If you want more information on other labels, check the Consumers’ Union Guide to Environmental Labels and contact the manufacturer for further information. Although it can intensify the buying process, the more you know about a product and its contents the better you will feel as a consumer.