Have you hit Peak Stuff?

August 31, 2016

Simple questions to ask before you buy anything

Earlier this year, an executive of IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, made headlines when he said, “If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit Peak Stuff.”  (I’m wondering if that could be true for me: the basement storage room is full and the garage is cluttered…)

If you’ve hit Peak Stuff, here are 10 quick questions* you can ask yourself the next time you’re tempted to buy something:

  1. Can I find it used?
  2. Will it last a long time?
  3. Is it reusable or at least recyclable?
  4. What are the item and its packaging made from?
  5. How do I dispose of it?
  6. Is it toxic?
  7. What conditions do the workers who made it work under?
  8. How much will it cost to operate and maintain it?
  9. Will my buying it contribute to a better world?
  10. Will it really improve my life?

Consciously evaluating purchases can help us avoid Peak Stuff in our lives.  It’s good for our well-being, our wallets and the planet!

*From the Better World Handbook.

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Buy your milk in bags

Milk is a staple of virtually every household, but what type of milk packaging is the most eco-friendly? All three types of milk packaging – jugs, cartons and bags – are recyclable. But unfortunately not all are accepted by all recycling programs.

As well, recycling isn’t a perfect solution: collecting and transporting recyclables costs time, money and fuel – especially when the end destination of those recyclables is half a world away.  Where I live, jugs and cartons are recycled, but in China.  Yep – sorted, baled, stuffed into a container and shipped thousands of kilometres.

So what’s a consumer’s greenest option for milk packaging?

  1. Check with your local solid waste authority to see what’s accepted for recycling, and then choose accordingly. In spite of its shortcomings, recycling is still better than trashing.
  2. Choose the biggest size available; one big jug or carton uses less material than two or more small ones.
  3. If all three types of packaging are recycled where you live, choose plastic bags:
  • they are lighter (less material and less weight to transport)
  • both the outer and inner bags are the same soft plastic as grocery bags so they can be mixed in with them (but inner bags must be well rinsed of residual milk)
  • they may be recycled locally (as they are here in NB) as opposed to being shipped to China; and
  • soft plastics (#4 LDPE) are one of those rare materials that can be perfectly recycled: that is, reprocessed back into the very same types of products over and over again.

Close your fridge door as quickly as possible

Particularly in this season of warmth, it’s worth being reminded of a common sense tip: you can save money and energy by opening your refrigerator as infrequently as possible, opening the door only as widely as necessary and closing it as quickly as possible.

To help remember, imagine your fridge as being full of water.  It comes gushing out each time you open the door.  The more frequently, the wider and the longer you open the door, the more water that ends up on your floor.

Cold air in your fridge is like that water: it’s heavier than warm air, so it comes tumbling out each time the fridge door opens.  And the more cold air that escapes, the more your fridge needs to work to replace it.  That costs energy and money.

So the next time you open your fridge, imagine that it’s full of water and act accordingly.  Your fridge will thank you by using less energy!