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Shopping and Industry Practices on Autopilot

23 May. 2011 Posted by Hannah Mich in consumers, products, shopping, manufacturing, environmental health
consumers, products, shopping, manufacturing, environmental health

We know we can go to the grocery store or department store and pick up a frozen pizza and blue jeans, respectively. And now days we can walk into Walmart and purchase both of these items. But do you really know where all these products come from and what is really in them?

Now, you may look on the tag of those jeans and see that they are made in Thailand, China or India; or that your pizza was made in Chicago or Detroit. There is still this disconnection between us and our daily lives and our products and food, which needs to be mended.

When we purchase food or products, we often do not think about the labor, manufacturing process or transportation. At least not on a regular basis. Instead we think, do I want it or need it and is the initial cost worth it. The hidden costs, which are not visible on the price tag include poor working conditions, low wages, pollution and impaired human health. We need to start educating ourselves about the intimate details of these products and let companies know that we want that information to be more accessible or transparent. We also want it to be in a consumer friendly format. This needs to be of high priority for us- the consumers.

One way some companies are trying to track their environmental impact is with a Life Cycle Assessment. This process evaluates raw materials used to make a product, the manufacturing process, transportation and the life of the product after you purchase it. This allows the company to make changes based on efficiency and waste. We need more companies to invest in this type of assessment as well as use the information to make changes.

Some changes made after a life cycle assessment include updating heating and cooling systems; reducing packing material; using alternative raw materials and switching to fuel-efficient vehicles. Switching to organic cotton and using vegetable based dyes are great examples. These types of changes help reduce hazardous waste and chemicals and ultimately lead to a better quality product for us. Why would we not want a company to perform a life cycle assessment and update old manufacturing processes?

Having detailed information about products allows us as consumers to take into account the initial cost along with the long-term costs of products. However, this knowledge is only power if we choose to use it regularly in our shopping excursions. This cannot be like a yo-yo diet, one-week “on” one-week “off”. We cannot shop in a zombie like state, blindly picking up items and brands. This means constantly updating ourselves on product information and making changes when necessary. With purposeful consumer decisions, we can shift entire markets because businesses go where the demand and money goes.

Call To Action: 

Research companies and products
Make a detailed grocery list
Think quality over quantity

Difficulty: 
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References: 

http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/lcaccess/
EPA: Life Cycle Assessment

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