Yet every product we purchase has a lifespan far exceeding the period we use it. From its manufacture, distribution and use through to its disposal, each product impacts the health of the environment in distinct ways. Until now, we just turned a relatively blind eye to it. But the concept of “product stewardship” is growing, with those in the product lifecycle – manufacturers, retailers, users and disposers – sharing responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products.

Product stewardship involves considering the environmental impacts of a good or service throughout its life cycle, with the aim to purchase products that use fewer natural resources and less energy, reduce the hazardous materials we emit into the environment, and reduce our waste.

Many consumers may ask: why bother? Isn’t it the role of the Government to enact legislation that protects human and environmental health? Isn’t it the role of industry to produce new “green” technologies? Can my purchasing habits really make a difference?

grocery-store.jpg The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Government and industry must be held accountable in responding to climate change; however, an integrated and collaborative approach between individuals, governments, businesses and civil society organisations is necessary in order to support wider cultural change and the development of national and international norms. After government and industry, consumers are the third front in the fight against climate change. Purchasing power is a formidable force. It is truly time for consumers to collectively change our consumption habits.

On a practical level, this means that when we shop we need to make the best choices for the environment and ourselves. Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Consider other options before purchasing. Do I really need it? If so, see if you can repair what you have first, or borrow, rent or buy second hand instead of purchasing new.
  • Consider what it’s made of. Is it made from hazardous materials (such as the heavy metals used in cell phones and other electronic equipment, the toxic chemicals in many cleaners, pesticides and batteries)? The best raw materials options are those with a certain percentage of content that is recycled, unbleached or, in the case of wooden products, made from sustainable managed timber.
  • Consider how it is packaged. Avoid disposable products (such as razors, cameras, batteries) and individual sizes. Instead, buy in bulk. Ask if you can return packaging such as bubble wrap or other shipping filler. Use a reusable bag instead of accepting a disposable one – if it’s a large item, just tape your receipt to the product and avoid a bag all together.
  • Consider how it got to you. Transporting products to Bermuda contributes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Try to buy locally when possible. Buying organic further reduces the environmental impact of the food you eat because it means that conventional pesticides and artificial fertilizers were not used when the crops were grown and that the foods were processed without food additives and chemical preservatives.
  • Consider how efficiently the product works. Look for the Energy Star logo on appliances, high-efficiency markings on products, and those that do not use a lot of energy, water or chemicals.
  • Recycle or dispose of it properly. Go to www.wastemanagement.gov.bm to review the Ministry of Works and Engineering’s instructions on which products require special disposal, such as CFL lightbulbs, batteries and paint cans.

In short, each time you open your wallet consider that your credit card is like a ballot that you are using to vote in favour of one product, one manufacturer or one industry over another. And your vote counts.

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