Friday, March 28, 2014

eco-lent: week 4

This week's eco-challenge from The Northwest Earth Institute's "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" suggests buying less.

At the moment, we're really trying to stick to our budget and buy only the essentials for economic reasons, so I feel like I'm pretty good at this one, but there's always room for improvement. I'll give a few ways that my family attempts to buy less, and then list a few areas I could work on.

Tips for buying less:

  • Last weekend we had a garage sale! Believe it or not, there are some parts of the country where this is not normal. But it's a great way to get rid of unwanted stuff, or things you haven't used in a while and that someone else might use, and you make a bit of cash while you're at it. It felt really cathartic to just let go of possessions, to release them and not hoard them.
  • Buy used. This way another item doesn't have to be made and thrown in the landfill. I like to go to thrift stores, and of course you can buy used things online.
  • Acquire used. My friend Lotus is a great coordinator for clothing exchanging! She gets some, gives some, facilitates trades between similar-sized friends, and shares with me. I also have friends with whom I pass down clothes from my kids, or receive their hand-me-downs. So far my kids love this arrangement, because every once in a while we get a big garbage bag full of "new" clothes. They also enjoy packing things away for their younger friends and seeing them wear favorite items.
  • Freecycle and other e-groups. Our Friends meeting has a very active e-group, and in addition to prayer requests and announcements, people often send out emails listing "Needed" or "Available" items or opportunities. When we lived in a different town there was an active Freecycle e-group and we got some great, free stuff (furniture, kids clothes) in a place where we weren't as connected in to the community.
  • Buy quality. This is my husband's big thing--when you're going to buy something, buy an item with excellent quality so it will last, rather than buying something cheap that will wear out and have to be replaced. This option is more expensive up front, but less expensive in the long run.
  • Buy local foods and other items. At least when we do this, there's generally less packaging and less shipping. We buy local honey from a friend, we grow our own eggs, we try to buy foods that are produced in our area whenever we can...although we're not exceptionally good at this.
Areas that could use a little work:
  • Be satisfied with what you have. This is the difficult one, right? There's always something newer, faster, trendier, cuter...but can we be satisfied with our phones, clothes, home decor, cars, etc. for just an extra year? How about 2, or 10? I'm still working on this one in some areas. It requires letting go of one's ego enough to not care if you have the shiny new thing first, or if you look cool, or if your home/car/wardrobe keeps up with the trends. In my own life, this requires a process of constant internal renewal.
  • Coffee, quinoa, sugar and other extras that have to be shipped from a distance and are cash crops that require destruction of natural habitats. This makes my head hurt just to think about it--a preemptive caffeine headache.
  • Truly buying bulk food and local food, rather than the cheater way at Costco or Winco. In our area there's a company called Azure Standard, and they sell bulk items and try to find as much as they can locally and organic. This cuts down on packaging and shipping at all levels of the supply chain, and also requires me to make more from scratch rather than getting conveniently pre-packaged food that isn't as healthy (for my family or the planet). Azure is generally cheaper, too.
  • Electronics. We're not the kind to have to go buy every new gadget that comes out, but we do have our fair share (or, really, on a worldwide scale, way more than our fair share). There's environmental impact from all the plastics and metals, etc. that go into making the things, as well as the factories and the shipping. Then there's the increased international conflict for access to the raw materials, as well as the ill health and slavery-like situations of factory workers, not to mention how many electronic items end up in landfills.
Goals for the week:
  • Make an order for Azure Standard.
  • Pay even more attention to where foods come from. Try to buy locally produced foods, or do without.
  • Ponder my coffee habit. I'm not ready to give this one up yet...


Bethany said...

Never thought of quinoa as being a bad thing to buy. Coffee would be my biggest hang up too. That and gasoline.

Cherice Bock said...

Unfortunately, the problem with quinoa is that it only grows in certain locations (needs the right altitude and climate), so you can't just grow it anywhere. It's too expensive for the formerly-subsistence farmers in the Andes to purchase their own crops now, apparently. Here's a good blog post about it: and here's a really helpful one from Mother Jones: