The Power of We the Consumers
by Catherine Milos
Hopeless, overwhelmed, part of a minority. You have probably felt like this at one point or another when looking for anything from holistic services to organic food and clothes. It can be difficult to make choices that are healthy, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. It can feel like we are getting nowhere when political agendas shift away from our health and environment and stores offer few or expensive options.
As a consumer, you hold a great deal of power on an individual level that can bring about change. Look at large department stores like the Superstores in the province, they now have a “natural” section. That is our power! We, who value natural, holistic, organic, sustainable products, created a demand large enough to convince a big business to supply these types of products. And they aren’t the only businesses doing this now. Let us keep the momentum of our power as consumers going.
Become “smart” consumers. Research and compile your own list of non-carcinogenic (free from cancer-causing agents), organic, sustainable, biodegradable brand names and products and find stores and shops near you that sell them. Stick to those brand names and make sure you read the labels—I can not stress that enough. Some companies try to pass their products off as “natural” or “organic” because they have one healthy ingredient. I would recommend staying away from anything that doesn’t have a third party organic/fair trade certification on the package.
Shop local: small local businesses, local produce and meat, locally made. The more people who do this, the more shops can mark prices down if there is a high demand. Also, local small businesses will often engage with their customers on a personal basis. Ask the owner or manager if they can carry a brand or product if you don’t see it on their shelves. Chances are they will be able to order it in for you. Big department stores don’t often make such accommodations or have a great customer service.
Look for 80% to 100% recycled and recyclable products like toilet paper, paper towels, housing insulation, dishes, home décor, synthetic motor oil, and the list goes on. If you can’t find a recycled product, look for a product with sustainable/
biodegradable/less packaging or something that is reusable instead of disposable. Washable filters for vacuums, vehicles, coffee makers, air purifiers, all sorts of appliances, make better options and can save you money in the long run.
Ask your workplace to use office supplies that are made from recycled products: pens, pencils, paper products, plastic products, even metal products are now offered by many office supply companies. If your work doesn’t already have a recycling program, suggest one for paper, bottles, cans, and plastic. Why not even suggest a vermicompost? There are a lot of workplaces that use some or all of these methods.
Focus on food. Recently my husband and I have cut out/minimized how many canned products we purchase. Canned products tend to contain more chemicals. We purchase products in glass containers if we can. Purchase ONLY organic produce. This isn’t as difficult as you might think. Places like Body Fuel Organics in Regina have produce bins at discounted prices that you can customize and pick up or have delivered on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. If you need to shop at a big-name store, choose stores that have wider selections of organic produce and local meat. Make sure you wash all of your produce in a sustainable, non-carcinogenic, SLS-free soap with warm water and cook all your meat thoroughly.
Don’t forget about our pets! Choose pet products the same way you choose everything else. Choose recycled products for pet bowls and toys made from cotton, for example. Make sure food is free from meat by-products, corn, wheat, yeast, and soy, as these products are fillers that can make our pets sick, obese, and addicted to their foods. Again, read the labels! These foods may cost a little more, but your pets will actually eat less because they get the nutrients they need without those unhealthy fillers.
Reuse, reduce waste, and recycle. Research options in your community on what you can recycle locally (you’d be amazed what can be recycled). Look into composting. We have a vermicompost that requires very little maintenance—it is so much fun and we can use the left over nutrient-rich soil for potting plants or adding to the garden. Purchase clothing from consignment stores, repair torn clothing, or do clothing exchanges with friends and family. Get creative! There are lots of crafty options out there to decorate, clothe, and gift that you can do with reused household items. Ask friends and family if they are comfortable with the idea of giving and receiving re-gifted items or donations to charities instead of gift-giving for holidays and other occasions. I have a great group of friends and some family members who love this money-saving-world-bettering idea.
There are lots of options out there. Just start with one area in your life (I recommend groceries/food) and once you get in the habit of becoming a savvy healthy consumer, it will snowball through your life. Go and exercise your consumer power and help make this world a better place!
Catherine Milos, BA, is a writer from Regina who lives with her three rescue cats and husband. She is an environmentalist, feminist, intuitive practitioner, and believes in “walking the [peaceful] walk” when it comes to activism.