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Listen to the Labels

Walking through the aisles of Safeway, Trader Joe’s, or Costco for your weekly grocery shopping can be tedious. As busy college students and working professionals, we tend to make a quick stop for a handful of things we need for the week, and walk out without weighing our purchasing choices. We purchase items that may be labeled USDA Organic Certified, Post-Consumer Content, and Fair Trade among many others, but what do these labels actually mean? Knowing how to understand and read these kinds of labels will allow you as a consumer to make more conscious, sustainable purchasing decisions.

One way you can REDUCE your impact on pollution and environmental harm is by purchasing produce and meat that is labeled at USDA Certified Organic. This labeling shows that the food has been produced in a manner that does not involve genetic modification or the use of banned substances like certain pesticides. For example, a farmer of a USDA Certified organic farm could use natural pheromones to safely deter insects that would infest crops, rather than using pesticides that can cause further environmental harm beyond killing bugs.

Buying in bulk allows you to REUSE old containers for food storage, rather than collecting piles of unnecessary food packaging. Stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts have whole sections dedicated to purchasing things like pasta, beans, spices, and baking supplies at price-per-pound rate. Speaking from personal experience, my roommates love to keep the Talenti Gelato jars because they can easily be cleaned and used for the storage of dried foods. For the 21-and-older crowd out there, both our local Whole Foods and Taplands Bar sell growlers that can be refilled with craft beers, often at a cheaper price than a 6-pack of an equivalent beer!  

While picking up your morning coffee from Mission Bakery, you might have noticed the phrase “made with post-consumer content” printed on the cup; but have you ever asked yourself what that means?


post-consumer content

Post-Consumer content are materials like papers and plastics that have been RECYCLED and repurposed into products like food containers, polyester fibers, and even toilet paper! Though it is great these materials got a second round to be useful, they often cannot be re-recycled for another use and end up in the landfill (Hint: the campus hot coffee cups go in the landfill bin!). When shopping for your next big event, look for plates, cups, and silverware that are post-consumer products, or better yet, compostable or recyclable ones, rather than single-use styrofoam tableware.

Fair Trade products have become more prevalent in the market as consumers recognize the need to RESPECT the lives of the workers who produce many of the things we take for granted. Fair trade companies ensure that their workers are paid living wages, prohibit the use of child labor, and maintain safe work conditions among other standards. Fair trade products like coffee beans and chocolates might come at a higher cost to you as a consumer, however it’s worth the price knowing the people who worked to get these goods to you are treated justly.