How green is your shopping basket?

We’ve often talked about our shopping tactics here on the frugal life blog – whether we stick slavishly to a pre-prepared list, shop online to save money and cut the temptation of buying things we don’t need, or fill up on food beforehand to prevent hunger-fuelled buying. But how high up on your shopping list is saving the planet?

The World Wildlife Fund and packaging company Tetra Pak have clubbed together on an exciting new green initiative, which I thought you’d be interested to hear about. They are running a competition called ‘Your Renewable Idea’ to find suggestions which will encourage people to buy goods manufactured from renewable sources.

The ideas can be big or small but must be aimed at changing people’s lifestyles and habits. You can submit your idea via the website and vote there for your favourite suggestion. Up to £25,000 is up for grabs to make the winning proposal a reality. Plus Tetra Pak will donate 10p for each vote and £1 for each renewable suggestion posted on the site. The funds will go to supporting rare species conservation projects, such as one aimed at protecting the Persian leopard.

Interestingly, alongside the competition, Tetra Pak commissioned research into people’s shopping habits, which is quite illuminating. Although 82 per cent of UK adults believe their individual actions can make a difference to the environment, a product’s green credentials still come way down on the list of purchase criteria during the weekly shop. According to the research, quality, value and special offers are the three main reasons we purchase a product, while environmental credentials only come in at number 4. I suppose that, considering our current economic troubles, it’s encouraging that environmental issues make it onto the shopping list at all. But I guess we’ve still got some way to go – as do the supermarkets and producers in making it easier for us to buy greener products and ones with less packaging.

What do you think? I try to buy environmentally friendly products when I can, but items like Ecover washing up liquid, for example, can be pricy, so I admit to plumping for store brand liquids now and again when I’m not feeling that flush. However, I did recently stumble across a cheap eco-friendly surface cleaner in my supermarket which made a nice change. Greener doesn’t always seem to mean affordable and perhaps if these products were cheaper, more people would buy them. Do you find eco-friendly products are as effective as their conventional peers?

There are already a number of interesting ideas popping up on the site. Neil Warren suggests that supermarket loyalty card schemes merge into one, funding an organisation which would promote eco-awareness among shoppers. Nick Madsen proposes an idea for a sustainability rating system for products. Then, when shoppers purchase them, they would receive points in a social networking application which would allow them to compete with friends in a ‘sustainable shopping’ competition. R Shore suggests a ban on all supermarket BOGOFF promotions (called ‘bogoff to BOGOFF’ which is quite catchy) replacing them with ‘half price’ promotions instead, while Karen Cannard favours tear-off school vouchers on renewable products to encourage families to change their shopping habits. What would you suggest?


What are your criteria when you do the weekly shop? Do you consider a product’s environmental credentials or is value for money more important? Got any renewable ideas of your own? Leave a message and let me know.

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7 Responses to How green is your shopping basket?

  1. Penny says:

    It is hard to shop on a bduget and be green (and fair trade) I\’m making balances al the time. But I have stopped buying surface cleaners altogether – I use a spray bottle of vinegar and water. It works really well, and i know that nothing is going onto my surfaces that I couldn\’t harmlessly ingest. Nothing that will harm the environment. Grease? It cuts right through. And no awful chemical smell, just a faint vinegary one that soon fades. For the floor, washing and harder surface stains I use washing soda. (plus ecover fabric conditiner witht the towels and delicates) Works a treat!

  2. Elaine says:

    It may sound a long way round of things, but I bought flasks to use at work, one with squash, and one with tea or coffee. It saves me buying take-out coffee\’s so less packaging, and less money spent too, plus I only boil the kettle maybe twice a day instead of every time I\’d like a cuppa. For the squash, I can get a huge 4L bottle of cordial, saving both money and plastic packaging on individual bottles of drinks

  3. Flo says:

    I like Penny’s point on the cleaning front. She has reduced her cleaning requirements by a large number in just using the two items she mentions which come in the green category, go further and produce less packaging. We don’t need a vast range of cleaning products – it’s so easy to be brainwashed into thinking that we do. You know that you can get larger sizes of Ecover if you shop online at say the ethical superstore which will bring down the prices for you. Or you can go for Faith in Nature directly online too. You aren’t adding road miles as the products would have been delivered to the supermarket depot from the wholesaler. Swings and roundabouts. If you are using washing soda for cleaning you can add some to cut down on your laundry powder and so save on softener. But it’s not just cleaning is it? Elaine has the right idea in buying in larger sizes too. This saves money and packaging. And she’s buying less in using her flasks. And therein lies the secret of good shopping – buying less. If you buy only what you need then you can maybe stretch the finances to be that bit more environmentally friendly. The art of being frugal and green lies in looking first at your waste and working backwards to your shopping habits. There’s lots of handy hints on dealing with waste before you get it here – . May not sound like being green but when you think about it …..

  4. Andrea says:

    Is it just me that smells a lot of greenwashing going on here? Tetra Pak packaging is one of the worst offenders when it comes to recycling. A typical juice box is made of three completely different materials: plastic, cardboard and metal (usually aluminium). There are few places that recycle the boxes, and even if they do, they usually just extract one component, the rest goes into waste.Compared with a "Tetra Brik" (as it is sometimes called), the very much hated PET bottle is a saint! At least the bottle can be easily recycled, and the same cannot be said about Tetra Pak. We already know that the materials used when producing Tetra Pak\’s packaging can or could come from recycled material. So not much research needed there! Of course the above mentioned research was into shoppers\’ habbits, not sustainability. Effectively Tetra Pak just paid for a survey that assured them, that when it comes to parting with money, buyers will still put "quality, value and special offers" first.The packaging already (often) boasts about keeping the contents fresh (quality) and the goods are usually cheaper than stuff sold in glass bottles (value and special offers). So what else can they do to promote the product? That\’s where the competition comes in, where the aim is not to improve Tetra Pak\’s manufacturing methods, but to "encourage people to buy goods manufactured from renewable sources". In other words, they are probably just after the best slogan! I might sound cynical, but I bet there is a spreadsheet somewhere as to why it is cheaper to run a competition than to hire some high flying marketing consultants. And with WWF on board, they even get some good rep on the way for a bit of tax free donation! Now that\’s what I call greenwashing at expert level!As you may have guessed, I will NOT be entering Tetra Pak\’s competition. Maybe if it was about how to manufacture their packaging using only ONE type of recyclable material, I would consider it. But until then… Thanks for reading my rant! 🙂

  5. piper says:

    Mmm….some great comments here. Thanks and please keep them coming! Elaine – you make a valid point. I often use vinegar & water to clean glass or surfaces and it\’s v. effective. Whenever I want to give the bath a really thorough clean I\’ve found that nothing works as well as bicarb and a little water. It\’s brilliant stuff and I think it\’s a shame we\’ve stopped using some of these traditional methods and filled our homes with expensive chemicals. As for greenwash – you are right to question their motives Andrea! I\’m all for being cynical although occasionally I dare to hope that somebody really does have genuine reasons for doing something like this! But I\’m sure that many of the people entering the competition are doing so for the right reasons and so if something good comes from their suggestions, then it\’s worth it. What do you think?

  6. piper says:

    BTW Andrea, you might find this Which report / response from Ecover which someone sent me the other day interesting.

  7. Penny says:

    More on the cleaning front – i steam cleaned the bathroom yesterday. OK, my steamer uses electricity, but my bath is now better-looking than it had been for a while, and it really dealt with the soap build-up on the tiles – even on the grout – and no chemicals. I like the flasks idea. I\’ve got a Natural Collection coffee mug – keeps it hot, nice silicone top, and no waste. And the coffee bar at my uni. gives me a discount on each cup!

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