Friday, April 11, 2008

Recycling and Purchasing Responsibly in a Consumer Culture

The harsh reality of a lack of concern for the environment becomes apparent to me whenever I fish recyclables out of the trash. Landfill bans have lessened this experience somewhat, but initiatives, such as every public waste-receptacle having separate compartments for biodegradable, non-biodegradable, and recyclable would have a greater impact (I can't tell you the number of times I've had to hunt for a place to put my recyclables; that is, in every place except Cebu airport, which has these). Furthermore, a recent article has shown that Canadians print an average of 30 pages a day at their offices and discard of 40 percent of these immediately after printing; only a third felt guilty for this behaviour, while three-quarters were concerned about their impact on the environment, though apparently not concerned enough to use print preview and double check the number of pages selected.

Putting the waste in the proper receptacle and reducing paper (reading on the screen is much less strenuous with today's monitors and programs that manage files for easy retrieval, e.g., Endnote, RA Document Organizer, IdeaTracker, and others) requires little thought, especially if you've toured a landfill or a developing nation to see what the consequences are. Recycling has also become easier with the addition of a number of items, such as tin foil, to the recyclables list (I'll soon be posting another entry on recycling in Victoria, including how to dismantle non-recyclable items, so their parts can be). Nevertheless, much waste is generated by consumerism; if you don't wish to petition companies or research how much waste they produce, you can vote with your dollar, i.e., purchase items in bulk and with less packaging. Manufacturers also save money with less packaging or providing digital products in downloadable form and the amount of green house gases produced is greatly reduced due to resultant increase in transport efficiency (more items can fit in a container). I can't believe Thrifty Foods advertised items as "flown in" to emphasize their freshness, but which really betrayed the emissions generated.

You can also, with some research and care, choose products that have less impact on the environment. A number of classifications, such as Organic and FSC, provide a guiding hand. Of course, the environmental impact becomes more acute with the purchase of larger items, such as furnaces and cars; heat pumps and hybrids, in general, are the best option (ten years, the period it takes to recoup the additional costs goes by really fast). Many websites rate the energy efficiency of cars and other items, but beware because none of these ratings are standard like EnerGuide. Nevertheless, researching every day items can be tedious (it took me ages to find the Fuchs Ekotec toothbrush with a replaceable head); that is pre-Zumer.

Zumer is a new website, which is now in beta and offered by invitation (click the link to request a membership by email, from then on it's pretty much straight forward), that simplifies this process. Upon registering you fill out a questionnaire with four categories: EcoFriendly (I love the question of paper products with the option "I only use a bidet"), Social Justice, Product Advocate, and Corporate Watchdog. Then you search or browse for products, which are ranked according to these preferences. You can then click on each item to find out details about the product and the corporation that produced it. This feature is very helpful. Zumer covers a wide array of items from laptops to handbags and has a number of categories that are not active yet, so once the final version is launched it will be fairly comprehensive. The same goes for the inclusion of lesser known brands (often more environmentally responsible). This site is easy to use and I recommend it; look out for its official launch in the near future.

Once you get this process of making informed choices down it becomes effortless. Of course corporate responsibility and environmental impact can only form so many of your choices, but on the whole organic and socially conscious products are produced with greater care and taste better. Hopefully corporations will pay attention to Zumer and your choices and change their practises accordingly. See Walmartification, Creation Care, and Biblical Environmentalism for more on the environment.

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