Sustainable Consumer Choices

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By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

In the May issue article, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” we noted the vast power of consumers to make choices that have positive results on our environment, and the wallet. We also discussed the problem of non-recyclable, throwaway “stuff,” especially one-use items.

In this issue, we offer choices that consumers can make on a regular basis to help curtail a lot of the problems with trash and non-recyclables. We begin with the easy choices.

Since restaurants have only been open for takeout the last few months, we looked at how takeout food packaging can be more sustainable. Takeout container choices are the usual Styrofoam container that is non-recyclable, even though it has the recycle symbol on the bottom. The better alternative is the takeout container from McAlister’s Deli that is made of 100% compostable cardboard-like material. Plus the container is delivered in a paper bag, which is also reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

If you buy mushrooms at the grocery store, your choices are a plastic container or a cardboard recyclable or compostable container. The latter is the better choice.

Nearly all milk products come in plastic containers. However, Sprouts (and some other groceries) offer a viable alternative: milk in a returnable bottle. It’s from JD Country Milk produced in Russellville, Kentucky.

Bottled water is a highly inefficient and expensive way to obtain drinking water, adding to the enormous problem of single use plastic beverage containers. Many are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and come with a high risk of toxicity. According to Sierra Club data, Americans use around 50 billion single-serve plastic water bottles a year, and with a recycling rate of about 29% for PET beverage bottles means that most end up in landfills (or as trash on the highway or in the ocean). Synthetic chemicals like phthalates and antimony used in the manufacture of plastic have been known to leach into water the longer it sits in the plastic bottle.

Bottled water is in reality packaged tap water, but can cost more than 2,000 times more per gallon than tap water. The Business Insider says that bottled water comes in two varieties: purified tap water and spring water. Here are their findings of the sources of bottled water: Dasani, purified local water supply; Nestlé Pure life: purified well or municipal water; Aquafina, purified water from public water sources; Poland Spring, natural springs in Maine; Smartwater, purified water from municipal water systems; Deer Park, springs across the US, one of which is Sweetwater falls, TN; Ozarka, springs in Texas; Crystal Geyser, springs across the US, including the Cherokee National Forest, TN, Ouachita Mountains, AR, and Blue Ridge Mountains, SC. [source:]

Here in west Tennessee and north Mississippi, and other states over the Mississippi Embayment Aquifer system, ground water is the source of municipal supplies and private wells, and boasts one of the cleanest sources of drinking water in the country. The Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER), originally the Ground Water Institute, at the University of Memphis has been studying the ground water in the area for many decades, as has the U.S. Geological Survey. The raw water pumped from the aquifer generally meets or exceeds EPA requirements. [See USGS document:, as well as Memphis Light, Gas & Water Water Quality Reports and CAESER].

Some folks object to the required chlorine and fluoride added to municipal water, so the solution to that would be a home water filter.  The less polluting and less expensive alternative is to carry your own reusable bottle filled with fresh (or filtered) water from your tap.

Strawberries were in season in May, with area markets offering plenty of the juicy berries. Choices were: strawberries shipped in from California (or elsewhere) in plastic containers or locally grown strawberries (like those at Jones Orchard in Millington, TN or the Agricenter in Cordova, TN) available in reusable baskets – fresher berries and no waste. Henry Jones, owner of Jones Orchard, was enthusiastic about this year's berries. “Our plants are healthy, and if the plants are healthy, you have good-tasting fruit,” he said.

Finally, I saved a lot of money on gasoline by reducing my driving. I filled up my tank on April 30, 2020 just before making my May issue deliveries. I spent $11.62 for 9.386 gallons at $1.249/gallon. By May 25, I was down to ¼ tank and decided to fill up again before the prices rose any further. This time I paid $1.579/gallon for 11.403 gallons; total $18.01. I reduced auto air pollution, too!

These are just a few of the sustainable choices that consumers can make. Now – here’s YOUR HOMEWORK assignment: Pay close attention to what you buy and send us YOUR suggestions for sustainable purchases. We’ll include them in our July issue.

Thank you for your involvement!

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