January is here, and for many of us, that means the holiday bills have arrived as well. Many people I know make the same resolution every year as they see the bills arrive. “Next year, I am going to buy less!”
And while the holiday spending is certainly something I am aware of, I am way more concerned about the spending we do the rest of the year, in terms of money, energy, raw materials, and a general concern about our environment as we keep buying and consuming in our seemingly endless quest for more “stuff”. So, some simple questions that I ask myself before I buy things. (Perhaps the questions will work for you as well.)
1. Why do I need this item? Is there something I can use instead? For low-use items, can I borrow one from a friend? Rent one? Buy one with others for shared use? (I know a group of people who live on a cul-de-sac who all jointly own a lawn mower. You move in, pay your $20, the mower is yours to use. When you move out, you get your $20 back.)
2. Is the item made from renewable resources?
3. What waste was produced in the creation of this item?
4. What waste will I create when I use this item? How much energy will it consume? How will I dispose of that waste and the item?
5. Do I know if the workers who produced this item were paid a fair wage? Can I find out? (And if the store person doesn’t know, they can find out for you and now two people know more about the item.)
6. Who profits from the sale of this item? Who suffers?
7. What are the less-obvious environmental costs of this item e.g. pollution, harm to communities etc.
8. Where were the raw materials grown or produced?
9. How far were they transported?
10. How much packaging does it have? How much of that packaging can be re-used or recycled? (When my niece was going through her “doll stage” I was always amazed that I could find two virtually identical dolls. One would be in a cardboard box with a bit of cellophane on the front. The other was in the same sort of box, but standing inside a Styrofoam stand, held in place with a gazillion tiny black twist ties!)
Do I ask myself these questions with every purchase I make? Nope. But, I always use a quick run-through of the questions with any major purchase. And once you get used to using the questions in those situations, they do tend to filter in to my consciousness for most of the purchases I make.
It’s like parallel parking a car. The first few times you do it, it takes a lot of thought and effort. After that, it becomes (almost) second nature.
Try it. See how it works for you. You may just be able to save money, and some resources, and be kind to the earth at the same time.
Blog post written by Mary Melnychuk