It’s easy being green
by Karen Gaudette
This article was originally published in April 2011
Not all of us can manage all these changes simultaneously, but each one, multiplied over the course of a lifetime, can make a real difference.
Most of us want to help the environment, on Earth Day and every day. But our three biggest areas of environmental impact as consumers — transportation, energy use and food consumption — can seem overwhelming to adjust all at once.
As with all big projects, change is easier when broken into smaller steps. Consider a routine trip to the grocery store. Each choice we make, from whether we put that spinach in a plastic bag to which container we choose for a latte, contributes to how many items we send toward a landfill.
For inspiration, we’ve assembled a list of simple changes for your next shopping trip. Pick one or do them all — the planet, your wallet and sometimes even your health will benefit.
“I think here in Seattle there’s this kind of green guilt: ‘I’m not doing enough,'” said Tom Watson, project manager for King County’s Recycling and Environmental Services. “If you have all these choices, pick the ones that work for you. I believe that the little things really do add up.”
Benefit: Enjoy produce at its local peak, at a great value and from farms close to home.
You know how amazing Northwest tomatoes taste come August and September. Apply this standard to other local fruits and vegetables throughout the year to support the local economy and save by buying produce when it’s most abundant. Need a cheat sheet? Consult our handy seasonal produce chart.
Look for products made from recycled and renewable materials
Benefit: Create a market for these goods.
Help all that recycling we do pay off by supporting producers that give new life to plastic bottles and the like. PCC carries a full line of brushes, scrubbers, sponges and other cleaning tools from Full Circle Home crafted from recycled plastics and other eco-friendly materials. You’ll also find plates, socks and more from various producers crafted from bamboo, a renewable resource.
Re-use plastic produce bags, bring mesh produce bags, or skip bags altogether
Benefit: Potentially cut a dozen bags weekly, or more than 600 bags per year.
Speaking of little things that add up, just think of all the plastic bags that have wrapped your produce during just your lifetime. Replace them with mesh produce bags that can be used again and again to stow kale, leeks, apples and other favorites. Or, flip those plastic bags inside out to dry when you get home (a drying rack works great) so they’re ready for re-use.
Buy flour, snacks, spices and more from the bulk section
Benefit: Less packaging, potential savings, go home with the precise amount you want.
So much of what we take home from shopping (and, what we pay for) is packaging. A trip to the bulk section reduces both. Head home with just the amount you want of staples such as flour, beans, rice, pasta and fresh spices; liquids like olive oil and maple syrup; snacks like granola, nuts and nut butters; and even body care products like body wash and lotion. Reduce waste even more: Reuse your containers, whether a clean jar or drawstring bag. At PCC, be sure to stop by the registers on your way in and ask a cashier for the “tare weight” so that you’re charged only for the weight of your purchase.
Buy products that help other efforts, like the PCC Farmland Trust
Benefit: Help preserve organic farmland for future generations.
Each month, PCC Farmland Trust works with different vendors who donate a percentage of their sales toward the nonprofit organization’s local organic farmland conservation efforts. One standard is Powers Winery of Kennewick, Wash., which blends two wines — a Chardonnay and a Cabernet — exclusively for PCC and donates $2 from the sale of each bottle to the trust. Since 2007, all those bottles bought have added up to more than $60,000. Visit pccfarmlandtrust.org to view how to help this month.
Tote your own travel coffee mug or water bottle
Benefit: For many of us, potentially 365 paper cups or plastic bottles each year kept out of landfills.
Grabbing coffee is part of the fabric of Northwest living. Keep that fabric unsullied by bringing your own mug — stainless steel, ceramic, etc. — wherever you go. You’ll keep countless cups and lids from reaching a landfill. Plus, travel mugs keep your Americano, hazelnut steamer or chai latte piping hot longer than a paper cup. PCC carries a big selection from local maker Vessel Drinkware in a range of vivid designs and patterns.
Carry a reusable bottle each time you’re out and about to reduce the chance you’ll buy bottled water. Find one that fits your needs exactly to boost the chances you’ll actually use it, says Tom Watson, project manager for King County’s Recycling and Environmental Services. Will it sit on your desk? A tempered glass option (like those from Kerplunk) could fit the bill nicely. A BPA-free stainless steel bottle with a tight-fitting lid for the backpack will keep your things from getting soaked.
Choose eco-friendly cleaning supplies
Benefit: Clean house, cleaner environment.
All the cleaning products at PCC are nontoxic, not tested on animals, reduce impact on water quality and marine life, and biodegrade more quickly and more completely. Plus, their botanical ingredients make them smell great (for those who need it, we carry unscented options as well). You’ll also find many of the basic ingredients to make your own cleaning supplies.