It happens all the time: choose item A, cheap and in plastic, item B, more expensive but in glass or paper, OR, go to a shop where it can be bought in bulk and take my own bag or container? Life is full of these kind of decisions.
Things one might consider are
Price : For some people this is the only criteria they can afford to consider. For me: I look at price and when I can't tell the difference in other ways I choose cheap. Cheap, however, often (but not always) means: lower quality or poor work conditions for those involved in its production.
Packaging : Plastic has become a big concern in recent years and rightly so. In 1995 I visited someone in Seattle who washed and re-used plastic bags. Back then I thought that was going too far but now I do it myself.
These days I wash more plastic containers that are used to collect dry foods such as flour, grains, seeds, sugar etc. The weight of the container is taken off and some places give a discount for bringing your own container.
Some plastic-looking packaging is now compostable or (bio)degradable. No doubt these are an improvement, but composting this kind of material is not easy.
Distance travelled : Overseas vs NZ or eg. Auckland vs Whanganui. Buying local helps your local economy. Money spent on local products is more likely to come back to you in one way or another.
Organic or not : Buying organic is not just good for your health, it is also good for the planet, the environment, the animals and those who work on organic farms. Ideally look for certification. However, this can be too expensive for small farms, so if you are too strict about this you might miss out on some good food.
Animal products : I have been vegetarian for 40 years and mostly-vegan for most of those. Not because I live in a city and know nothing about farming (an argument often thrown at us), but because I was brought up on a dairy farm and witnessed the suffering of animals first-hand.
We now know that most animal farming is also bad for the planet, so eating less meat and dairy is a good thing to do.
One exception in NZ is wild meat. Deer, pigs, goats, hares and rabbits are damaging our native bush so catch some for your freezer and you'll be doing the NZ environment a favour.
• Conservation Comment: Please don't vilify farmers; we're on your side
• Conservation comment: How we can halt climate change
• Conservation Comment: Population politics?
• Premium - Conservation Comment: Action not discretionary
Clothing and things : Be proud to buy second-hand! Amazing bargains can be had by checking out op shops and by buying at some you are even supporting good causes.
Silk (compostable) dental floss in small glass vials with metal lids was a great recent find. These can be bought locally, but not the refills. I have bought a great number of refills online, which even fit some of the conventional floss containers. If you want some get in touch.
Being perfect in all of this is impossible. You can try to set yourself some rules, but sticking to them religiously makes life too hard. Some of my rules for buying are:
1. Only buy Fairtrade bananas and chocolate
2. Don't buy processed food
3. Buy organic where possible
4. Limit the consumption of items that cannot be bought organically
5. Support local
6. Carry a spoon/fork/container for takeaway meals and reusable cup for coffee/tea/juice
7. Take containers to fill up from bulk containers
8. Save and re-use plastic bags for things like tramping trips
9. Only vegan and the odd egg from our chooks
Most days I break at least one of these rules! I find that this is a good balance and that I live a full and satisfying life.
•Lyneke was the green sheep in a conservative farming family. She is administrator for the Coastal Restoration Trust of NZ, a weed expert, botanist and runs the Whanganui Bicycle Users Group. email@example.com