offset \ˈȯf-ˌset\ noun

a force or influence that makes an opposing force ineffective or less effective

Shopping, growing and waste management

It is said that it is impossible to teach an old dog new tricks. Inertia creeps in and people are often reluctant to embrace new modes of doing things, even when it would actually simplify our lives and we would personally benefit from such changes. Bringing ethics into the equation is like to create obstacles in our day-to-day lives and things become less automatic. We like to think ourselves ethical, but how to conciliate that with how little effort we put into getting those ethics to affect our decisions.

Being an ethical consumer does not have to be a continuous slog through rules and checklists. Just being more mindful of what products and what manufacturers we patron goes a long way. It increases our level of control over our spending habits, our health and how we affect the environment. Making choices that are selfishly good for us, for instance, supporting organic food, often enough equals making more ethical choices.

Take shopping for example. Going out every day for necessities is logistically demanding and time consuming and taking your car to purchase a few items is not cost-effective, not to mention that it is not environmentally friendly. Online grocery shopping can amend this and most of the big grocery stores have implemented these services. Even if you go shopping weekly or monthly, the time and hassle you might save yourself this way may just be worth it.

How it works is that you create an online shopping cart once, save it and then modify it, if necessary, for future purchases. The initial order can be time consuming but subsequent orders are made that much faster. The services differ in quality and the price of delivery varies, but most have these basic features integrated and are reasonably affordable, if not even free in certain conditions.

It is not much different from shopping live, you still inspect groups of products to compare prices, check the discounts and wrangle your budget, but it is made more convenient by providing different filters, calculating your cost on the go and letting you skip the queue at the register. The stores will usually offer to deliver your order within a couple of days so they can economize by grouping the deliveries, but they will also offer to deliver yours the same day (for an increased price, of course) or simply prepare and box it for you to stop by and pick it up. Instead of ten people getting stuck in traffic driving to a store, a single store van can deliver ten orders in bulk and not get stuck since there are ten cars less on the road. Resources and nerves saved all around.

We tend to shop like this for heavy items so we don't have to carry things (not having a car means that it's difficult to taxi around with a box of squashes) and we often purchase items with long shelf life and a lot of them (flour and oil come to mind) so we don't have to shop like this frequently, but usually on a monthly basis. It also pays off with a free delivery over a certain overall total price.

Even though we've never had problems with the quality of our shopping items, you may prefer not to buy your produce sight unseen and take a walk to that local marketplace (walking is healthy, so say we all) for fresh bread, vegetables and fruit. Bring a textile bag with you, don't buy or take a plastic one on the spot. This way you won't be choking any sea animals once it inevitably ends up in one of the gyre islands and as most plastics are not biodegradable this is a cause of a host of issues.

If you enjoy a bread-heavy diet, consider buying a bread-baking appliance. Couple of years ago I bought one for my parents and they are satisfied with both the quality of bread and the savings. The cost and convenience can be calculated and offset against purchasing bread every day.

Depending on your location and available space, you can also grow some things at home, although this is an extensive topic for which there are many available resources online. The starting point is, of course, to see whether you have reasonable conditions for this.

  • Do you have room for an actual garden, a balcony or just a window?
  • Where do you live and where is the light coming from?
  • Which side of the world is your window or balcony facing?
  • What are the temperatures and the climate?
  • What about shade?

We used to grow herbs in our previous apartment on the balcony and we always had something fresh to use in the kitchen. These were either items expensive to buy frequently or simply better fresh. Getting some flower pots (or improvising them), soil and seeds is easy enough and you can even use the organic waste that your household produces (like potato peels) to make compost and feed your plants.

Even without access to a south-facing balcony (good for Solanum genus) or a garden, you can rely on artificial lightning, which can be cheap. A friend grew tomatoes in her room. Conditions permitting, in the dark and damp places mushrooms can be grown. There are interesting, but more importantly, functional solutions out there, such as vertical planting on the windows.

I still have some plans with growing again once the opportunity arises. There are networks of farmers grouping together who are using technology to grow together. Concepts like guerrilla gardening and gardening software come to mind.

The three R's say to reduce, reuse and recycle. Landfill mining actually arose as a branch of business in the world. Currently there is more aluminium in some landfills than in the bauxite, the ore which aluminium comes from. We should be better than that. Ideally, we should not even create all of that garbage in the first place. The simple waste management hierarchy, that suggests what to do with products, works both on the household and state-level:

do not create waste at all and repair things
if you cannot avoid it, at least create the smallest amount of waste possible
reuse (remember the textile bags from this article) or re-purpose the products (you can even create a new textile bag from an old t-shirt)
recycle the materials, there is a finite amount of resources on the planet
energy recovery
this option is for materials that cannot be recycled but are mostly burned to create a certain amount of energy for the power plants
the least favourable option where the materials cannot be burned but need to be disposed (radioactive waste)