When you shop, be sure what you buy is a friend of the Earth

October 04, 1991|By Michelle Singletary | Michelle Singletary,Evening Sun Staff

When you're shopping, it isn't easy being green.

The lament of Kermit the Frog has become the watchword of environmentalists who say the Earth is too cluttered with products that don't decompose and can't be recycled or reused.

"Green" is the marketing buzzword for the 1990s as companies struggle with ways to make, sell and advertise products that are safe for the environment, or at least friendly.

But for consumers, buying a product as simple as apple juice to take to school or work provokes a bewildering variety of choices.

I went to the grocery store with green in mind. As a novice, I armed myself with information about what's good and bad for the environment from Consumer Reports, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others of the green persuasion.

First, I talked to Elizabeth L. Rich, director of Environmental Shopping for the Pennsylvania Resources Council, a non-profit group specializing in recycling and waste reduction.

Rich said consumers should remember the Big R's when shopping for the environment: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reject and React.


"Buy only what you need and buy products with the least amount of packaging," Rich explained in a nutshell.

For example, the eight-ounce, foil-lined cardboard juice pack popular among children is a no-no, Rich said.

Then she ticked off a list of other items on the green hit list. %% Don't buy individually wrapped microwave popcorn, she said. And, the new packaging for single portions of food is excessive ** and wasteful.

As I took notes, I looked around my desk and saw an multitude of sins.

Sitting in front of me was an empty box of Mott's apple juice. And I was all ready to nuke a bag of plastic-wrapped microwave popcorn.

I confessed.

TTC "You shouldn't feel guilty," Rich consoled me. "But you should do the best you can to buy environmentally sound products."

Back to my mission, picking up apple juice. There are at least six packaging options. My choices:

A. Apple juice in a carton.

B. Frozen apple juice in a can.

C. Apple juice in a glass bottle.

D. Apple juice in three eight-ounce juice packs.

E. Apple juice in six five-ounce cans.

F. Apple juice in a plastic jug.

G. An apple -- period.

The greenest way to get your apple juice is to to buy a fresh, untreated apple and drink water from a reusable container.

You get the fiber and other goodies from the apple itself. The core is biodegradable, if you chuck it into the compost heap.

0$ You don't get the sugar hit from

concentrated juice. And the water is good for you, too.

But, if you really have to have the juice, "C" is the best answer.

The glass bottle can be recycled.

Rich suggests you buy a Thermos to put the juice in, and it's ready to go.

Although the little five-ounce aluminum cans be recycled, they're not cost-effective, and the plastic ring that holds them together is an environmental nightmare. Just ask the birds that get their beaks caught in them.

The frozen juice can will probably end up in a landfill. So will the juice packs.

Since there are few places that can recycle plastic, the jug is doubtful. Unless, of course, you cut off the top, use it as a funnel around the house and use the bottom half as a planter or container.

But after you accumulate several dozen plastic containers, the incremental value of the jug decreases, Rich said.

The best answers often depend on the availability of recycling centers in your community and your willingness to re-use the container, Rich said.

"You have to ask yourself, where is this packaging going when I'm done?" she said.


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