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Reducing your Impact with Product Substitution

By Kate

Kate LinEditor’s note: When we started Environmental Consumer, we swore we’d never do a top ten tips list or anything like it. In the course of developing a new initiative, this information came together as a natural set of items to work on. We’re going to be digging much deeper soon, but we hope this helps in the meantime.

The first step for every environmental consumer is to make the easy swaps in your everyday shopping habits. These swaps, or substitutions, make the transition to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle easier by lowering your impact per item you buy. You’re likely already doing a lot of this substituting if you’ve changed your lightbulbs or your cleaning materials. These are good things, but we want to help you identify substitutions and make the process of substituting a more environmentally friendly product for another product an easy, low-barrier habit.

Where to Start

Product substitution is relatively easy and something most of us are tuned into when two similar products have different prices – now we’re working with two products with different environmental benefits and costs. General themes to look for are environmentally preferable companies instead of conventional brands, reducing waste by getting products with less packaging, and sourcing as locally as possible. Here is a list of 6 things to get you started!

  1. To make product substitution easier, switching up your go-to grocery store can do the trick! Conscious retailers like food co-ops do most of the hard work for you by sourcing environmentally preferable products. Find a food co-op near you! If you don’t have a co-op nearby, the act of going to a different grocery store is often good enough because it will get you into a new context easily re-evaluate your choices outside of your current habits. We’ll be going through more strategies like this in the near future.
  2. When possible, buy in bulk. This doesn’t mean buying many packages at once – some stores (like co-ops and Whole Foods) sell products in bins so that you can buy just the amount you need and reduce wasteful packaging.  This is good for things like grains, beans, nuts, granola, and more! Oftentimes, this route is actually cheaper than buying the same product in conventional packaging. Plus, by bringing your own reusable containers, you can seal them for freshness.
  3. When possible, buy produce that is organic. Check the list of the top 12 foods that have the most pesticide residue, which you may want to consider substituting out first for the greatest impact on your health and environment.
  4. Kick your bottled water habit, and treat yourself with a good quality reusable bottle instead. Look for one that is BPA-free and spill-proof, and from there let your inner creativity come out and find one that fits your style and needs! You’ll be minimizing water waste and energy use as well as reducing your solid waste in one swoop!
  5. Swap your household cleaning products for non-toxic, environmentally preferable alternatives. Diluted vinegar solution in a spray bottle does wonders for eliminating odors and cleaning spills!
  6. For paper products (printer paper, binder paper, paper towels, napkins, etc.), go for choices using recycled content. It saves more than 40% of energy sources, uses less water, and the amount of chemicals to re-process recycled paper is significantly less compared with virgin trees. Even better, where available buy postconsumer recycled content – recycled waste that has already been used in a product and which more commonly ends up in landfills.

Use these as your starting point and keep your eye out for effective substitutions. Try going to a different grocery store once and see if it helped you make more switches when you return to your normal store. When you’ve given a few of these a try, please let us know how they worked for you and what helped the most. If you need any help getting started, or have any questions about a substitute, send a question to our helpdesk from any page on our site.

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