We all know that everything we do has a lasting impact on the environment. Making small changes in your daily life—like driving less and cutting back on waste—can help reduce your carbon footprint. You even have the power to reduce your imprint on the environment by rethinking the products you buy and how you use them. Ready to become an eco-conscious shopper?
Step One: Buy sensibly.
Each year, 40 percent  of the food manufactured in America is wasted, whether by producers, vendors, or consumers. Not only does garbage end up in our local landfills, it also wastes a massive amount of energy in the process. The best way to reduce food waste is to cut back on what you purchase. Buy only what you need and are able to consume before the products expire.
Before you head to the store, spend a few minutes making a list  of the items you need. Stick to the list and only buy items you intend to eat.
If you have left over fruits and veggies that are going to go bad, don’t throw them out. If you can’t eat them, can them, freeze them, juice them or throw them in the blender and make a smoothie.
Don’t over-buy fresh herbs. Grow your own! Herbs are pretty inexpensive, but they lose their freshness fast. Growing herbs at home will save you a few bucks at the store and you’ll have the amount you need without any of the waste.
Buying in bulk can save on packaging waste, just make sure the items you buy in bulk are going to last a long time. Things like dry rice and pasta will last through the apocalypse, but dairy products and other items that perish quickly aren’t the best options for bulk purchases.
Step Two: Go natural.
Eating animals (and animal products) is about as un-green as it gets. The process of producing animal products requires an enormous amount of energy. You can cut your impact on the environment by skipping meats and dairy products altogether. Make the produce isle your first stop at the grocery store. Fruits and vegetables have a much lower carbon footprint because they require less energy to produce than animal products.
Use the grocery store (or farmer’s market) as your source for veggies that require a really green thumb like; oranges, avocados, and bananas. For the staple items, like beans and leafy greens, consider starting a home garden and grow your own produce.
Don’t forget the grains. Not only are they an important part of your diet, but grains, like rice, require a lot less energy to produce than meat.
You can still indulge on your favorite “animal products” without the actual animal. Check out your grocer’s vegetarian section for meat and dairy substitutes like soy products.
Support your local food co-ops and farmer’s markets. Locally grown food cuts out the carbon footprint created by transportation. Not only these items good for the local economy, it also reduces the environmental impact. Greenopia and Eat Well are great resources for tracking down local options.
If you’re not ready to take the vegan plunge, start by cutting meat out of your diet one day a week. If every American cut back on one meat serving once a week, the environmental impact would be equivalent to removing twenty million cars from the road for an entire year. A little change goes a long way.
Step Three: Rethink your disposable products.
You can reduce your impact by paying greater attention to which household products you purchase. Start by paying attention to the toiletries you purchase. There are lots of organic options, but make sure you pay close attention to the labels. It’s not really organic unless it’s marked “USDA approved.”
It doesn’t matter how soft your toilet paper is, if it’s paper, it’s waste. But there’s good news. Companies like Seventh Generation make green shopping more accessible by creating products that are easy on the environment. Everything from toilet paper, made from 100 percent recycled paper, to biodegradable cleaning products and even baby wipes. Plus, Seventh Generation Products are easy to find. Search by zip code to find a retailer near you. The Green Store is another online retailer (or local if you live in Maine) that sells eco-friendly household products.
You can cut your grocery bill by creating homemade products. Making your own laundry detergent can reduce your impact and save you some serious money. Homemade soap costs as little as three cents a load and it actually smells really good.
Don’t throw away the packaging! Virtually all product packaging is recyclable. Some packaging is even reusable. An old shampoo bottle plus a little bit of mod podge and you can decoupage a sweet new vase.
Step Four: Don’t forget the bags.
Say no to both paper and plastic bags. They create a major hazard for wildlife and are really hard on the environment, so it’s best to avoid using them all together. Approximately two-thirds of the waste that ends up in our ocean is comprised of discarded grocery bags. Reusable bags will set you back a few bucks, but just think of it as an investment in the future. Plus, once you cut your grocery bill by growing some of your food items at home, you’ll have a little extra money to spend. Make it a habit to keep your reusable bags in a place where you’ll remember to take them to the store with you. If you’re forgetful, make it a point to put your reusables back in your car or on your bike, or keep them near your grocery list so you won’t leave home without them.
Step Five: Take advantage of technology.
Soon you won’t have to work so hard to build your greener shopping strategy. AUG is a new Smartphone app that will point green-seeking shoppers toward more informed eco-conscious purchases. The app would scan bar codes on food items to give the user information about the product like how and where it was produced. It’s not available quite yet, but the geniuses behind the app hope to release a beta version later this year.
In the meantime, iPhone users can check out similar apps like Local Harvest’s Locavore, which helps shopper find Farmer’s Markets and locally grown foods by season.
Keep in mind that small changes make a huge difference for the planet. Happy shopping.
By Sarah Nelson for Causecast