One of the most basic habits to help you become greener is to read labels thoroughly. The practice helps you make conscientious purchases when you buy: consider what the product is made of, where it came from, and what waste it will create.
By reading lables, you can choose to reduce chemical exposure, create less waste, eat whole foods, buy local, and reduce dependence on petroleum.
Here are few tips on what to look for and how to make greener buying decisions:
In the grocery store, look at the sticker on your produce. You will see the country of origin and either a four-digit code (indicating conventionally grown produce) or a five-digit code starting with 9 (indicating organic growing practices). Produce labels will also help you to choose foods that come from the USA or North America rather than Asia or South America.
Plastics by the Numbers
If you have concerns about plasticizers, hormone disrupters, or styrenes leeching into your food, you can avoid foods packaged in number 3 plastic (vinyl), number 6 (Styrofoam), and number 7 (miscellaneous plastics including those that contain BPA).
Instead, look for packaging labeled with a 1 or 2 (these are most easily recycled and safe for food if they are not heated). You can also look for details that indicate a product is BPA-free or recyclable, and ultimately for products with little or no packaging.
Hair Products, Lotions, Toothpaste and Makeup
Start educating yourself on toiletry ingredients. There are far too many to know about (tens of thousands), but you can look up the products you have in the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database and learn about the chemicals in the ingredient list.
You may decide that the suspected risks associated with some chemicals are enough to eliminate them, or you may determine that there isn’t enough research. Buying all-natural products is another option. Just be aware that products can claim to be natural in the title without containing natural ingredients—another reason to read the label carefully!
In the department store, you have many clothing options—look at the tags. Maybe you prefer clothes made only with natural fibers, such as cotton or wool. Or perhaps you prefer to buy clothes made only in the Unites States. By looking a little closer, you can gradually make your wardrobe greener.
Once you start routinely reading labels, you will learn about the content, origin, and waste generated by things you may not have paid much attention to before, such as pet snacks, shower curtains, toothpaste, and furniture. Certain products, such as décor items, electronics, and building materials, may not have detailed labeling, but at-home Internet research can be helpful for researching such items.
The bottom line is that by carefully considering your purchases—what they are made of, how they are packaged, where they came from, how much waste they generate—you make choices you are comfortable with and feel good about. Find your own comfort zone for your budget and your green goals. And with every purchase and every bit of research, you will be able to make greener and greener choices. It is gradual, easy, and progressive—the best way to go green.
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