Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tips to Lower Environmental Impact of Clothing and Furniture Purchases

Shopping for clothing and furniture is one of the best opportunities to go green.  The first step is completely exhaust the items you already have, a penny saved is a penny earned.  However, once you have determined that you absolutely need a replacement, then it is time to consider your options.  Buying these items through the traditional channels can be extremely costly, both financially and in terms of environmental impact.  Many of these items are constructed overseas, and oftentimes the raw materials come from another overseas location, then the company that produced it will resell it to the retailer, and most of the time there are even more steps.  All of these intermediaries use energy to transport and build this product, and each step of the way, the end price increases.  Of course, this is good for the global economy, but it is not necessarily the best course of action.

There are a number of great alternatives though, if you want to save money and also lessen your environmental impact.  My favorite option is thrift stores.  These are pretty easy to find, and many of them are even run by charitable organizations, so the profit that these stores makes goes to a great cause.  All of the items in a thrift store come from donations.  People are allowed to donate items that are worn, but usually the items are in great condition and sometimes even brand new, for a FRACTION of the price.  Although, you are not going to be able to go to the mall and get the latest fashions, you can get great items for an affordable price.  So not only does this option benefit you financially, leaving you with more cash to spend on green products you might otherwise not be able to afford, but you are repurposing items, which means they do not go to waste.  Although they have probably already been produced overseas and gone through the whole process, they were donated locally, and the environmental effect was extremely minimal. 

Along the same lines, Craigslist is a great place to score all kinds of items.  There are a number of free items, such as used appliances or furniture, if you are patient and jump on a good deal quickly.  Another great tip is to look for people who are moving and are willing to sell things at even lower prices because they do not want the added cost of transporting it.  Buying goods here accomplishes the same environmental saving effects as shopping at a thrift store, except there is no energy needed to run and operate the store, all transactions are done from seller directly to customer.  Another similar option is Ebay, where a multitude of options exist, but the cost is oftentimes higher both financially and environmentally, as these items almost always are shipped from another part of the country or the world, much less energy is expended and wasted than on purchasing a new item.  

I am also a big fan or yard/tag sales.  Check your local newspapers for weekends during the summer or drive around ritzy neighborhoods, looking for signs.  THere will often be great deals, and once again lightly used/brand new items can be found at a fraction of their original cost, and with no additional negative impact to the environment.

Feel free to post a comment with any of your thoughts!

Go Green Idea: Reduce Trash, Increase Recycling

A friend of mine @GoGreenMorimoto and I were discussing the problem of recycling in America on twitter the other day. We debated a couple methods that the government could use to increase recycling. Obviously there are two ways to encourage a behavior, either rewards for good behavior or punishment for bad behavior and we discuss both methods to solve this particular problem.

Currently, there is a small reward/punishment in place, on a state by state basis, most commonly in the form of a bottle deposit. This means the state tacks on 5 cents to the cost of a plastic bottle, but allows you to return it and recoup your nickel. The idea is that people will want to get their own money back, lest they pay an additional 5 cents/bottle. This also encourages others to grab discarded bottles and recycle them to claim the 5 cents.

I think this method is a great step, and definitely a good model, however I believe it is not enough. 5 cents is just not enough money to convince people to go out and recycle. Instead, states should raise the bottle deposit limits to 25 cents, which would make the bottles much more valuable. Nobody can claim that it is too expensive, because they will get the money back as soon as they finish the bottle! This encourages people to recycle, and for those who just throw the bottle away, a quarter is enough motivation for someone poor to go through the trouble of obtaining these discarded bottles.

However, I do not think we should stop at plastic bottles. I think that cardboard/glass/metal food packaging is important and should be recycled as well. To do this, the FDA would have to standardize packaging sizes or offer a number of templates (which is hardly a hassle) and then states would force food producers to package in these containers to be able to sold. The deposit would be something less, say 10 cents/box. This is better than the 5 cents, and since many people buy lots of packaging, they should have to pay the deposit temporarily. If they decide that they do not want to recycle, they should have to pay a dear price. If it is only a few cents (like under the current system) then many people will simply just consider the deposit as part of the cost of the item! Biodegradable boxes of course would not be charged the deposit, because they will decompose, this is only for those items that need to be recycled through the traditional channels.

A final, more extreme step, would be to have a trash/recycling compliance inspector. This person's job would be to monitor trash and make sure citizens are complying with the recycling policies set in the place. Their wages would be paid through unreturned deposits on packaging and the fines they would surely impose on those not in compliance. Even if the state ends up having to supplement their salaries, it would be for a great cause. Go green folks!