Years ago I had a conversation with a friend that has always stuck with me. We were talking about where we shop and of course Walmart came up. Par for the course, I said that I didn’t shop at WalMart because I was trying to be more ethical in my consumption. He said that it was his favorite place to shop because of the low prices. We listened to each other and at the end of the day agreed to disagree.
So This Is The New Year
At the time I was living in Ann Arbor, MI. Ann Arbor is a very friendly place for those who want to take part in more ethical consumption. In fact, the conversation had arisen from a conversation about New Year’s Resolutions. That particular year my husband and I had committed to eliminating shopping at chains and only buying local. To be fair: this was VERY easy. We had Arbor Farms market, where it was simple to buy local, fresh produce and other things right from people within our own community. Ann Arbor also has an incredible farmers’ market (seriously, if you are near there or ever passing through I recommend strolling through and treating yourself) and lots of good farm stands in the country surrounding downtown. Add to that the very green attitude (no Walmarts allowed in Ann Arbor!) and ethical consumption is easy.
My friend, however, thought this was crazy. It’s so much more EXPENSIVE, he balked. And it is. Sort of. Some of it depends on what you choose to buy. I shopped specials but I also had plenty of disposable income I could devote toward eating more ethically. You can’t enjoy things like OREOS. Well, you can. But you can also enjoy the deliciousness of a Zingerman’s brownie. And I’ll take one of those any day. You sometimes have to drive to more than one store, which is a time suck. You may not be able to find exactly what you’re looking for. Yes. Yes. All of these things are truthful. To a point. But there are also some exceptional counterpoints.
If you want to be more green the best way is to make small changes. It’s kind of like getting 10,000 steps a day. If you’re sedentary, it’s going to be hard to hit that number every day from here on out. But if you do it gradually? Well, then it’s totally doable. Same with a greener, more ethical lifestyle. Every Tuesday I’ll share a way you can incorporate ethical practices into your daily life, tips for getting started and sustaining them, and why it matters. I’ll also share some practices that are touted as green but aren’t.
Ditch the bags
When you go to the grocery store these days, you see the sign. Did you bring your reusable bag? This is one of the simplest ways to start a greener life. At least once you get into the habit.
How to get into the Reuseable Bag Groove
It took me FOREVER to get into a good system with reusable bags but I am finally there and I could not be happier. What works for me may not work for you. The key is to experiment and when something works, make it a habit. When you fall off the horse, get back on as quickly as possible.
My system is simple. I keep my bags in the car. As soon as I’m done unpacking groceries I fold up smaller, dry bags and put them in the largest one. I hang this on the inside knob of the front door of my apartment and the next time I go to my car, I bring it with me and hang it over the back of the drivers’ seat. Bam! I always have it for my next trip.
When carrying produce I have switched to a mesh bag (it’s for washing lingerie but no one can tell). If you don’t have a mesh bag, you don’t have to go buy one (more on this in a few). Just let the bag sit open on the counter to dry before folding it up and placing it with the others. Otherwise you’re gonna get some fermentation going on in that bag. And not the good kind.
Why Reusable Bags are the Right Choice for the Earth
Plastic is a terrible thing. It never actually breaks down but instead, if left in the sun for enough years, becomes microscopic particles that leach into our water and soil. And are drunk by animals we eat. Also, it often says on bags “recyclable” but studies find that in the US only 2% of bags are actually recycled. Finally, about 10,000 creatures (turtles, birds, fish) die slow deaths every year because these bags find their way into the water. Animals think they are jellyfish or other edible items and end up with severe blockages. They then starve to death.
Don’t be Fooled – Red Herring #1
I love blue avocado bags. They are stylish and sturdy and a phenomenally organized system. But while the bags are great for the environment, they are made in China meaning there is a whole separate ethical issue of bad labor practices. If you look around, there are bags everywhere. Free bags. Know a teacher? Just ask. Go to a conference? Grab one. You don’t have to buy a “reusable grocery bag” to have a reuseable grocery bag. Just see what kinds of bags you have. My bags consist of:
- mesh lingerie bag for produce
- reusable tote from Price Chopper (I no longer live in the land of independent grocery stores)
- wine bloggers conference (2015) bag
- an old boho chic tote from Target I’ve had since 2007
- a blue avocado tote from when I thought having a nice set of bags would help (and before I discovered they were made in China)
Don’t be Fooled – Red Herring #2
You don’t need those plastic bags to pick up your dog’s poop. There are bags that fit into holders that clip onto leashes (the greatest thing to happen to this two dog household). Never find yourself bagless again! Also, you can find bags that degrade safely in a landfill. Just make sure you know what to look for.
Try It Out
This week, look around the house (and your car) to see if you have a few reusable bags. Pop them in the car and try to use them when shopping. And it doesn’t have to just be for grocery shopping! Once you get into the habit you may find you need another bag or two and can pick some up.