Eco-Smart Shopping

Bellows Falls Community Bike Project

The Bellows Falls Community Bike Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is “…to provide community access to reclaimed bicycles and bike repair skills, encouraging safe bicycling as a means of affordable transportation, self sufficiency, and overall wellness. We are always seeking volunteers!”

Buying local and used are both characteristics of “eco-shopping.” 

Things You Should Never Buy Again

1. Farm raised salmon
Several studies, including one performed by researchers at Indiana University, have found that PCB’s and other environmental toxins are present at higher levels in farm raised salmon than wild salmon.

Pregnant women, women of child-bearing ages, and children should be very careful when choosing fish due to high levels of environmental toxins including mercury found in many fish. Check out our Safe Seafood Tip Sheet to see what the environmental and health risks posed by different fish.

2. Rayon
Developed and manufactured by DuPont as the world’s first synthetic fiber, it is made by from liquefied wood pulp. Unfortunately, turning wood into rayon is wasteful and dirty, because lots of water and chemicals are needed to extract usable fibers from trees. Only about a third of the pulp obtained from a tree will end up in finished rayon thread. The resulting fabrics usually require dry cleaning, which is an environmental concern as well as an added expense and inconvenience.

Much of the our rayon sold comes from developing countries, such as Indonesia, where environmental and labor laws are weak and poorly enforced. There is mounting evidence that rayon clothing manufacturing contributes to significant forest destruction and pollution in other countries.

3. Beauty/Body Care with Phthalates and Parabens
Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals linked to birth defects that are used in many cosmetic products, from nail polish to deodorant. Parabens are preservatives used in many cosmetics that have been linked to breast cancer though more research is needed. Phthalates are not listed on product labels and can only be detected in laboratory tests. To be safe, choose products from companies that have signed on to the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

4. Cling Wrap
Many people don’t realize that cling wrap may be made with PVC. #3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) leaches toxins when heated or microwaved and it is an environmental problem throughout its lifecycle.

5. High VOC Paints and Finishes
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs can cause health problems from dizziness to lung and kidney damage and are infamous for polluting both indoor and outdoor air. VOCs are found in products including paints as well as finishes used for wood, such a stains or varnishes. There are now a wide array of low or no-VOC paints on the market. Look for paints certified by Green Seal (

Source:  Co-op America

10 More Things You Should Never Buy

1. Styrofoam cups
Styrofoam is forever. It’s not biodegradable.
Alternative: Buy recyclable and compostable paper cups.
Best option: Invest in some reusable mugs that you can take with you.  

2. Paper towels
Paper towels waste forest resources, landfill space, and your money.
Alternative: When you do buy paper towels, look for recycled, non-bleached products. 
Best option: Use dishtowels for drying and rags to clean up spills, then wash and reuse.

3. Bleached coffee filters
Dioxins, chemicals formed during the chlorine bleaching process, contaminate groundwater and air and are linked to cancer in humans and animals.
Alternative: Look for unbleached paper filters.
Best Option: Use reusable filters such as washable cloth filters or make coffee in a percolator which does use filters.

4. Overpackaged foods and other products
Excess packaging wastes resources and costs you much more. Around thirty-three percent of trash in the average American household comes from packaging.
Alternative: Buy products with minimal or reusable packaging.
Best Option: Buy in bulk and use your own containers when shopping.

5. Teak and mahogany
Every year, 27 million acres of tropical rainforest (an area the size of Ohio) are destroyed. Rainforests cover 6% of Earth’s surface and are home to over half of the world’s wild plant, animal, and insect species. The Amazon rainforest produces 40 percent of the world’s oxygen.
Alternative: Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.
Best Option: Reuse wood, and buy furniture and other products made from used or salvaged wood.

6. Chemical pesticides and herbicides
American households use 80 million pounds of pesticides each year. The EPA found at least one pesticide in almost every water and fish sample from streams and in more than one-half of shallow wells sampled in agricultural and urban areas. These chemicals pose threats to animals and people, especially children.
Alternative: Buy organic pest controllers such as diatomaceous earth.
Best Option: Plant native plants and practice integrated pest management. Plant flowers and herbs that act as natural pesticides.

7. Conventional household cleaners 
Household products can contain hazardous ingredients such as organic solvents and petroleum-based chemicals that can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor environment, positing a particular danger for children. The average American household has three to ten of hazardous matter in the home.
Alternative: Look for nontoxic, vegetable-based, biodegradeable cleaners. 
Best Option: Try making your own green cleaner using vinegar, water, and castile soap. 

8. Higher octane gas than you need
Only one car in ten manufactured since 1982 requires high-octane gasoline. High-octane gas releases more hazardous pollutants into the air, and may be bad for your car.
Alternative: Buy the lowest-octane gas your car requires as listed in your owner’s manual
Best option: Make your next car purchase a hybrid.  Or ditch the car and take public transportation, ride a bike, or walk.

9. Toys made with PVC plastic
70% of PVC is used in construction, but it is also found in everyday plastics, including some children’s toys. Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Also, additives, such as lead and cadmium, are sometimes added to PVC to keep it from breaking down; these additives can be particularly dangerous in children’s toys. PVC is also the least recycled plastic.
Alternative: Avoid plastics that are labeled as “PVC” or “#3.” Look for #1 and #2 plastics, which are easier to recycle and don’t produce as many toxins. Use sustainable construction materials.
Best option: Take action to tell manufacturers to stop using PVC plastics, especially in children’s toys.

10. Plastic forks and spoons
Disposable plastic utensils are not biodegradeable and not recyclable in most areas.
Alternative: Use compostable food service items. Companies such as Biocorp make cutlery from plant materials such as corn starch and cellulose.
Best option: Carry your own utensils and food containers.

Source:  Co-op America

Reusable Bags

For shopping and bringing home produce, use reusable rather than plastic bags.

Eliminate Unwanted Catalogs

Now you can clean out your mailbox and reduce the poundage you lug to the recycling center. Catalog Choice is a free service that lets you decline paper catalogs you no longer wish to receive.  Reduce the amount of unsolicited mail…while helping to preserve the environment. Catalog Choice is free and it’s easy to use.

Dry Cleaning Alternatives

Reduce the chemicals in your clothes and against your skin…for those items that absolutely must be dry cleaned, try these green alternatives.

Product Service Systems

“Buy more stuff” exhorts the TV, radio, press and billboard advertising. It’s a powerful force. Yet it can be countered with an alternative approach, that actually has definite self interest and gain. Want to save a truckload of money (and the environment) yet still have a lifestyle to which you have becomed accustomed? Just get your head around Product Service Systems (PSS). These take many forms and have a plethora of formal definitions. But in essence they are a means, by which we get what we want, without needing to own the product that provides that service. This is not as new or as strange as it might sound:

  • A library is a classic PSS. You have access to endless books, journals, magazines, even music CDs, without laying claim to any of them. In fact, when you no longer need them, they are available to others.
  • A taxi, rickshaw, bus, train, ferry and tram are all forms of transport that allow you to travel, without resorting to the ownership of a car, motorbike or even bicycle. Even the very wealthy, who might have a fleet of cars, use public transport when they travel internationally. They catch a plane with the rest of us – basically a bus in the sky. You need not possess that plane, you only want the ability of move from A to B.
  • Cinema, Theatre, Ballet, the Circus, etc, provide you (and many others, simultaneously) with thrills, pathos, spectacle and delight, yet you only own the experience not the infrastructure. Compare this to a medieval King, commissioning dancers and jesters, to perform for his enjoyment alone. Imagine the scale of resources required for each of us to be entertained like a King!
  • A laundromat has washing machines and dryers more efficient than the ones in most homes. You could use a Laundromat for about 5 years before it would cost you as much owning your own washing machine. 
  • Parks, Botanic Gardens, Zoos, Harbours, Beaches, Lakes and other public commons are resources you share with ‘the multitudes’ though they still bring you well-being. 
  • Hire or rental companies offer you everything under the sun. You only need pay for the time you use it. When you don’t need it, someone else covers the cost of that item, because they’re now using it. Why pay for a lawn mower that spends 167 hours per week in the garage, and 1 hour being used. Wouldn’t you rather pay for just the hour of use? 
  • Or better yet pay nothing! You have the lawn mower, Bob next door has a circular saw and Nancy across the road has a sewing machine and Jim three doors down has the trailer. And you each share for the small time you really need the use, rather than work all hours the clock sends so you can afford stuff that sits idle most of its life, gathering dust.
  • Xexox doesn’t sell photocopiers, they lease them. They provide you with the service of photocopying. If something goes wrong with the copier (or more like when! Even with a Xerox) they still own it so they fix it for you. Just as the landlord has to fix the plumbing on a rental property. 
  • Many people would like to move to the world espoused by Messrs. McDonough and Braungart and articulated in their book C2C, whereby all the products on the planet are of materials that can either be recycled into new products or composted into a medium for growing more. But this is not going to be achieved by the end of the month, or even by the end of the year. So we need a bridge to cross the chasm between the current and future. Lots of bright minds are seeing Product Service Systems as an important support for that bridge. PSS are not the bridge itself but they will sure help us get to the other side.

The big trick with PSS is using innovative thinking to obtain the classic Win-Win-Win:
Win – you get the end result you need
Win – the provider of the service makes money
Win – the environment is not under any extra pressure.
{Article excerpt from “Treehugger.”}


Green Mountain Diapers sells cloth diapers and other natural fiber items for babies.

Household Paper Products

The National Defense Resources Council has developed a list of at-home tissue products that can be printed out, folded up and taken to the store to help you make savvy, green shopping choices.

Visit for a copy.  You’ll just need to print out page 6.

Low Toxicity Cleaners

Green Computers

Excerpted from a 12/31/06 article by Barry Rehfeld in the New York Times:

The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or Epeat, is an
electronics rating system available free online at
This system, now five months old, is funded by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and is meant primarily for bulk buyers. But it is
useful for individuals, too. Electronics – only computers now, with more
products to follow – can achieve ratings of gold, silver or bronze.

Ratings are done largely on the honor system, subject to reviews by the
Green Electronics Council, a nonprofit group in Portland, Oregon, that
maintains the list. Manufacturers score their products against a set of
environmental standards, including levels of hazardous substances,
energy efficiency and ease of recycling. There are 23 requirements just
to win a bronze. More than 300 types of desktops, laptops and monitors
have received at least a bronze, and most also have a silver rating,
which means that they also meet at least half of 28 optional standards.
None of the computers have made it to gold, which means that they would
meet all the required standards as well as three-quarters of the
optional ones.

An NEC monitor made from a corn-based plastic has the top score: 42,
just two points shy of the gold standard. Dell, Apple Computer,
Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo all have at least one desktop and laptop that
qualify for silver. Epeat-rated computers are likely to save buyers
money on their electric bills. The EPA estimates that 600,000 megawatts
of energy, as well as 13 million pounds of hazardous waste, will be
saved over the next five years by the purchase of Epeat-rated computers.

Consumers seeking new environmentally-sound computers may also want to
consider keeping their existing ones just a while longer, said Diganta
Das, a research scientist at the Center for Advanced Life Cycle
Engineering at the University of Maryland. There will be a much broader
selection of greener computers and other electronics by 2008 because all
manufacturers are under pressure to make their products meet
hazardous-substance standards that are as high or higher than those of
Epeat, he said.

The push is coming from new technology and government initiatives. The
most important political change came last July, when the European Union
issued its Restrictions on Hazardous Substances. This RoHS directive
essentially will require all manufacturers and retailers selling their
products in the European Union to greatly reduce the presence of six
hazards. There is nothing like those standards in the United States, but
the directive is nonetheless having an impact here. Wal-Mart Stores, for
example, said last spring that it would sell the first laptop compliant
with the European standards in the United States: a $700 Toshiba model.
Other computer makers are quickly following suit.