Our world is filled with an overabundance of stuff, we are almost constantly being advertised a product to buy that will bring us comfort, happiness, or excitement. As Americans we have been trained to impulse buy and not consider anything other than the present and the price. As the topic of sustainability and climate change becomes more of a concern to the mass, a lot of us are making a conscious effort to make better shopping habits. But we still are filtering though dozens if not more products to find one that is "sustainable" or "environmentally friendly".
It's not easy.
So many companies take advantage of those who want to be better but don't know how and greenwash consumers into thinking their product is "green" when it's no different from the product next to them. Unfortunately shopping sustainably and conveniently isn't something thats available yet. Personally, I would love to go to my local corner store and pick up whichever items I need that day, I know I can find what I need but I also know that it isn't the best sustainable option. For example, the other day I needed to buy a new toothbrush - something a few years ago I didn't think twice about buying. I'd pick one up at the grocery store or target. The only thing I'd check was the strength of the bristles and the price. Or I'd go into my cabinet and grab whichever one my dentist gave me after my last cleaning.
Having a sustainable mindset is understanding that while it's just a toothbrush, it'll stay on this planet far longer after I'm done using it. I go through 2-3 tooth brushes a year, and so does nearly everyone. My dog even has a plastic toothbrush! With a little over 8 million people in NYC alone thats 16-24 million toothbrushes taking years to biodegrade plastic chemicals into the soil.
Switching your mindset from how will this help me now? To how will this help me in the future? And how will it affect the environments future when I'm done with it? These are three questions we can all ask ourselves before making a purchase.
Below are some tips that can also help you shop smarter, and keep the environment in mind. Remember that you are also human, and don't overthink it and get anxiety about buying "the right one" more times than not - there probably will be a few better options that what you were buying. (Ex- swapping toilet paper for - recycled toiled paper, bamboo toilet paper, or a bidet).
Tip #1: Read the packaging - This is something that sounds so simple, but most of us don't do. While there is a lot of marketing and misleading info, try to read the labels with black and white perspective. What is the message? Is it simple and straight to the point? Or is it very general and a bit counteractive?
Tip #2 Compare products - Don't just reach for the product that has the most attractive label. This goes hand in hand with my first tip - read the labels and compare. For example when shopping for a clothing item - compare the content, where it's made, look at the reviews, does the company give back or have and certifications?
Tip #3 How does this product benefit or service you? - Breaking the habit of impulse buying is hard. I would always get sucked into that front section at Target that has the cute little cheap buys. Ask yourself what will this product do for you, and also ask yourself if you already have something that serves the same purpose. For example, I just cancelled my dog Levi's bark box subscription because he doesn't need 100 toys! As fun as it was getting new toys every month, realistically he is just as happy with a few. While a few toys benefit both myself and Levi - eventually they all serve the same purpose. Now if Barkbox came up with a toy recycling program incentive, we might still be customers. I've also thought about doing a dog toy swap - message me if this is something you'd be interested in!
Tip #4 How long do I plan to keep this item and was it made to last that long? - We should try to shop with the intention to keep it forever, like a denim jacket, garbage can, silverware sets, or furniture. But sometimes we buy things that we won't need forever like a notebook. What will we do when it's filled up? Will we throw it out? Can it be recycled? Or will you keep it for future reference? These questions also apply to a lot of food packaging. Food shopping for me is one of the most difficult especially during a pandemic. Get creative and do your best. I find the more I make from scratch the less waste I have.
Tip #5 What will I do when I'm done with this product? Is there a better option? - This plays off of the tip above. Understanding what you will do with the product when it's no longer needed or no longer works plays a big role into my initial purchase. While it's nice to buy the already cut up fruits and vegetables, you can eliminate the plastic by bringing your own reusable produce bags and cutting them up yourself - you'll probably get more bang for you buck that way too. This also goes back to doing things more intentionally. Washing, cutting, and preparing a meal - you'll appreciate more because you put so much work into making it. I used to hate cutting up pineapple, but loved the fruit so I almost always bought it cut. I've learned to appreciate the whole process of picking a ripe pineapple, cutting it up, slicing it however I want, and enjoying it throughout the week.
Tip #6 Does this product support the environment in any way? - What is the packaging made of? Can I reuse it or can it be recycled? Does the packaging even serve a purpose? Does it have any certifications or credibility to back up the claims on the labels?
I hope these help! Especially for those who want to start making better choices, asking yourself these questions will hopefully make your decision making process a bit easier.
What are some things that sway your decision when shopping for a product with a sustainable mindset?