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According to the University of California- Riverside Wellness page: There are many dimensions of health: physical, spiritual, emotional, occupational, social, intellectual, and environmental. The dimension of environmental wellness includes “trying to live in harmony with the Earth by understanding the impact of your interaction with nature and your personal environment, and taking action to protect the world around you.” Protecting yourself from environmental hazards and minimizing the negative impact of your behavior on the environment are also central elements.” For the sake of today’s blog we will focus on the environmental wellness question that everyone faces at the grocery: paper or plastic?

When products are manufactured, stored, and transported to stores pollution can occur from extraction of raw materials, burning of fossil fuels, and production of garbage. Taken collectively, packaged products create societal problems for today and for future generations such as the production of greenhouse gases, growing landfills, dependence on fossil fuels and pollution of natural resources. Therefore when shopping think of the environmental impact when making purchases. By reducing the amount of waste you produce, you save energy and reduce pollution.

According “Enviroshopping: Buy Smarter” from the University of Florida Extension, consumers should buy products that make the best use of energy, don’t pollute air and water, are reusable or recyclable, made from plentiful resources and recycled materials, and use minimal of materials in design and packaging. Although packaging serves many useful purposes such as product preservation, consumer education, and consumer convenience much packaging is still wasteful. Before purchasing a product consider the following points:

• Buying larger food and beverages in larger containers produces less waste since they require less packaging. Be sure not to buy volumes that you can use before food spoilage.
• Is the packaging made from recycled materials- sometimes it will say on the package. Recycled plastics cannot be used for packaging food for it has not been approved by the FDA.
• Buy products with packages that you can re-use before they enter the waste stream. For example, drawstring mesh citrus bags make excellent laundry bags!
• Buy fresh fruits and vegetables with less packaging.
• Go inside restaurants and avoid the drive-thru when possible. Most fast-food serving materials end up in landfills.
• Ask yourself if the packaging is really needed or is just used to make the product more attractive.
• Avoid products that use several layers of materials when one layer would suffice.
• Ask if the materials can be recycled? Many plastics cannot be recycled. Check with your sanitation department if you have questions.

What about paper or plastic at the check-out? It would be better if you did not have to ask yourself this question. Purchase and use recyclable bags when you can. Both paper and plastic can be recycled. Therefore, consider if you can reuse the bags before they enter the waste stream. For example, plastic bags have some advantages over paper for some uses such as handling wet or moist products.

Our economy, culture, quality of life, and politics are closely tied to the environment. Sustainable practices enable us to meet our current needs without compromising the next generation’s ability to satisfy their own needs. We can preserve our natural heritage and conserve natural resources for the future by living sustainably.

Resources:

Enviroshopping buy Smarter
Accessed at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/he790 on 6/19/2014

University of California-Riverside Wellness Program
Accessed at http://wellness.ucr.edu/seven_dimensions.html on 6/19/2014

Author: Dan Remley, MSPH, PhD
Reviewer: Susan Zies, MS

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