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Earth Friendly: Arm yourself with knowledge, read labels

By By Kate Garcia
Aug. 15, 2013 at 3:15 a.m.

Kate Garcia

If you've ever perused our Facebook page, you might have noticed some posts that seem a little out of place.

Why would we post something like a recipe to mix your own natural mosquito repellant when it's easier to just go buy it? What does it have to do with air or recycling?

Those are great questions with a reasonably simple answer. Unless we are standing there mixing the product in the plant ourselves, we'll never know exactly what all goes into the products we buy. As consumers, it's important we try to make educated purchases and thanks to the Advocate, I did so last week.

See, there are three steps to environmentalism regarding waste: reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce the amount we use so we aren't left with wasted excess. Reuse what can be used more than once (like this water bottle I have been refilling for the past week). And what should always be the last option, recycle what can be processed into something new.

Why recycling last and not first?

Again, great question. Sometimes, things get recycled into other things that can actually harm the environment. Doing something helpful for the environment (recycling) can, if mishandled, actually be harmful unless we arm ourselves with the buying power of knowledge.

Eco-shopping is a great way to arm yourself with consumer knowledge. While eco-shopping, a consumer reads packaging for chemicals, buy products packaged with less material, buys more organically produced products and buys products packed in recycled packaging.

Trying to practice what I preach, I found myself in the skin care aisle the other day looking at a variety of exfoliating body washes. The story in the Advocate not too long ago shed light on a big issue that was too small to see without a little help from scientists.

You know those tiny beads that scrub your skin and make it feel oh-so-silky smooth? Those tiny beads can be plastic particles that wash down your sink and into the marine ecosystem where natural food chain practices take place, plankton eat the plastic micro particles, teeny fish eat the plankton, bigger fish eat the teeny fish, and we eat the bigger fish.

So, let's go back to the skin care aisle, where a consumer is faced with a wide variety of choices. It was in that aisle I exercised my eco-shopping skills after reading the article about micro plastic infesting the Great Lakes.

About 10 minutes later, I opted for an exfoliating body wash, which used sea salt instead of pumice stone particles or exfoliating "beads" (micro plastic). While pumice stone is a natural product, I chose the sea salt for the simple reason salt dissolves in water.

I already know what you might be thinking: It's more expensive to eco-shop and the products aren't really that great. However, I totally got that body wash for free with a coupon, and the "green" industry has come a long way since environmentally friendly products first appeared. This body scrub is great. Eco-shopping doesn't have to be a chore or more expensive. It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

Don't forget to read labels to reduce and reuse before recycling.

Kate Garcia is the programs coordinator for the city of Victoria, Environmental Services.

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