Green Your Errands

By Sharon Naylor

March 25, 2011 5 min read

An endless list of errands is more than just a drain on your free time; it's a drain on the environment. If you're like most people, every week, you find yourself grocery shopping, running to the bank, picking up the kids from their various practices, etc. But did you ever stop to think about how every trip strains the environment by releasing harmful emissions from your car -- not to mention the strains on your weekly budget?

Given all of the harm caused by your running errands, there's no reason not to green your errands. Here are the top ways to do so:

--Rethink your errand plan. Sit down and make a list of all the errands you've run this week -- three trips to the supermarket, a trip to the pharmacy, a trip to the library, a trip to the vet, another trip to the pharmacy, picking up the kids. If you're like most people, you're operating without an efficient plan, just going out and getting what you need when a need arises. Living this way can make you feel overwhelmed, at the mercy of endless to-do lists. Dedicate yourself to creating a new, organized errand plan.

"I looked at my receipts and couldn't believe I was at the supermarket four times that week," says Joanne Blake. "So I created a master grocery list of all the staples I need -- milk, bread, cat food -- and planned out our meals better so that I could grocery shop once and freeze meats and stews. Now I'm not forced to run to the market at 7 a.m. because we're out of something." Another option is saving all errands for one evening during the week or one weekend morning.

--Stop off on the way home. An offshoot of rethinking your errand plan is stopping off at stores on your way home from work to pick up the items on your to-get list. Popping into stores along your normal path eliminates extra travel, which is great for the planet and for your time.

--Run errands with friends. The eco-living bloggers at recently suggested joining up with friends to run errands together, stopping at the library, pizza parlor and other destinations you all have to get to anyway. Carpooling saves the environment, saves your gas budget and makes errands a social time with good friends.

--Walk or bike your errands. We're so used to driving everywhere that it doesn't occur to us that many stores can be reached on foot or via bicycle. College students and city dwellers master the art of running errands without a car, getting exercise along the way. In good weather and in a safe area -- avoiding dangerous roadways -- you may be able to avoid car use and get your errands done while fitting in a great workout you didn't have time for before you started this new greener errand lifestyle.

--Call ahead. Ever go to a store, only to find out the item you needed was out of stock? Avoid the wasted time and energy of a fruitless errand by calling ahead. If it is just one item you're after, call the store and ask the clerk whether the item is in stock. Usually, that information is available on the clerk's computer, so he doesn't even have to get up to look. Finding out that the store's out of your over-the-counter allergy medication saves you a trip, and you can get that item on your way home from work at another store tomorrow.

--Load up on reusable bags. "I used to think that paper bags were better than plastic bags," says Sophie Uliano, author of "Gorgeously Green." "But I've now changed my mind. They're both horrible for the environment. Plastic bags are made from petroleum derivatives, so the manufacturing process is unsustainable and extremely polluting. Plastic bags thrown in your recycling bins often become a menace at the recycling plant, where they clog and break machinery." If you do have plastic bags to recycle, see whether your local supermarket has bins. As for paper bags, some communities actually ship them overseas to be recycled there, under far less stringent environmental laws. The best solution is to purchase eco-friendly and pretty tote bags. Many stores now give you money back for shopping with reusable totes, a savings on your budget.

Adjusting your errand plan will take some work. You may find yourself unable to shop for food just once a week until you get the hang of it. But it's a worthwhile endeavor -- for the benefit of the planet, your budget, your energy level and your time.

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