Ask Eartha: Who’s the most eco-friendly consumer in the galaxy? |

Ask Eartha: Who’s the most eco-friendly consumer in the galaxy?

Eartha Steward
Special to the Daily

Dear Eartha,

A friend and I were having a friendly discussion regarding which of us is the most eco-friendly, and we were hoping you could help us decide what makes a really good eco-conscious consumer.

— Denise, Silverthorne

Well Denise, I consider myself an eco-conscious consumer, but, after reading your question, I decided to challenge myself to compete for the completely fictional title of “Best Eco-Consumer in the Galaxy!!!” To do so, I started with what I thought was a simple guideline: For one month, anything I purchase must be in recycled packaging or be able to be recycled here in Summit County. (For a list of what the county can recycle, visit the High Country Conservation Center’s website and click on “Drop Off Recycling.”)

With all the package recycling I was doing, the kitchen trash can stayed empty most of the month. I reduced how much produce I was buying and instead purchased just what I needed so my compost bin also stayed emptier than usual.

There were also logistical parameters: I work full time, live around 10,800 feet, so can’t easily grow veggies — but, I do compost (albeit very slowly) and 99 percent of my shopping would be in the local grocery store (When I started my campaign, none of the farmer’s stands were open).

Right then, I grabbed my reusable shopping bags to go grocery shopping after work and — I failed miserably! As soon as I stepped in the grocery store and looked around at the crowd, I’m embarrassed to say that my mind went into survival mode. I didn’t think before I bought at all! Instead, I bought what was easy and got out fast!

“OK, next time will be better,” I told myself. And, the next time was better. I scheduled my shopping for a time when the grocery store wasn’t as crowded and took my time studying the packaging of everything I wanted to buy. Gosh darn it! My favorite balsamic vinegar wasn’t in a recycled/recyclable container. Ugh. I found another brand that was and decided I’d try that — after all, it’s always fun to try something new, right?

Next, on to salad greens. I found myself longingly walking by the pre-washed, pre-packaged mixed salad greens. Mentally, I shook off the desire for convenience and found some nice lettuce that wasn’t packaged, and I didn’t even put it in one of those produce plastic bags available in the grocery store. I just gently placed it in my cart. It would have to be washed and dried (I don’t have a salad spinner — would it be more or less eco-friendly to purchase one? Discuss …) so, that means using paper towels, which isn’t very eco-friendly. But, I rationalized, I’d compost the paper towels, which evens out using them in the first place.

This went on with every single item I picked up — for over an hour. Thankfully, I had been smart enough to eat before going shopping, so I wasn’t getting hungry and desperate as I wandered around reading labels. Geez! Being über eco-conscious was time consuming! And, definitely not easy!

However, there were pluses. I mentioned my goal to a friend who lives at a lower elevation, and she kindly shared home-grown baby spinach, which was absolutely delicious. With all the package recycling I was doing, the kitchen trash can stayed empty most of the month. I reduced how much produce I was buying and instead purchased just what I needed, so my compost bin also stayed emptier than usual. I discovered new products, like tubeless toilet paper. And, as a surprise bonus, the check-out woman at the grocery store complimented me on not using little plastic bags for all my produce. And, here I thought no one was noticing my efforts.

In the end, though, I did not earn the title of “Best Eco-Consumer in the Galaxy!!!” because I did purchase some items that weren’t in recycled packaging. In my defense, a few necessary items simply don’t come in recycled packaging. Think toilet paper, pet food, cookies (They are a necessity). And, some items I ended up buying because I didn’t have the extra time to devote to handling it in an eco-friendly way. Yes, this means I’ve fallen back into buying the pre-washed, pre-packaged, salad green mixes. They really are a time saver when you are rushing out the door for work!

Anyway, the biggest thing I learned is that being an eco-conscious consumer/human being is all about understanding your options and making the best decisions for your life. If we each take time to think before we buy, we are likely to make different decisions. And that, my friend, is how we can all win the title of “Best Eco-Consumer in Our Own Homes!!!”

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization. Submit questions to Eartha at

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