Thursday, March 15, 2007

Green choices - shopping and how we get there

[part 3 in a series]

Taking reusable tote bags to the store (any store, not just the grocery store) instead of taking home lots of plastic shopping bags also reduces oil consumption. Plastic bags are not accepted in most recycling programs. Too many of them end up as shredded garbage festooning trees and shrubs. The only practical way that many of us can recycle them is by giving them a second use as small household garbage bags or for scooping up after dogs. A reusable tote bag is fairly inexpensive. Many stores sell them for less than $10. They can be washed occasionally and used for many years. My oldest is about 15 years old and still going strong. Over that time, that one tote bag has taken the place of hundreds of plastic bags. I have several tote bags, so I have enough to handle most shopping trips.

Buying products with less packaging also reduces energy consumption. A product encased in a lot of plastic uses more oil than one in simple cardboard packaging. The plastic may or may not be recyclable.

We can choose to shop closer to home when possible, going on foot, by bike or by public transit (CTA, Metra, Pace) instead of driving. For heavier loads, I use a trailer with my bike.

If we don’t need to use a car on a daily basis, I-Go and Zipcar now have many locations in Chicago and nearby suburbs. These car share programs make cars available in increments of ½ hour, making them much more affordable than traditional full-day car rentals. I’ve used I-Go for several months now. In an average month, I get a car 3-4 times for a few hours at a time, at an average cost of $15-20 per trip. No parking tickets for a car that sits on the street most of the time. No additional maintenance costs. No worries about having to move the car for street cleaning.

Until all wards in the city have curbside recycling, the addition of local recycling centers makes real recycling (as opposed to the ridiculous blue bag program) more feasible for a higher percentage of city residents. Most of these locations have large dumpsters accepting plastics marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7, aluminum cans and foil, tin cans, glass bottles, newsprint and magazines, phone books, white paper, and cardboard. If one recycles as much of these items as possible, one can reduce the amount that goes into the trash can by 50% or more.

The net impact of these little choices (and many others) can make a big difference in one's personal and household energy consumption.

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