From the Wall Street Journal, “A Consumer’s Guide to Growing Green,” Nov. 12, 2007.
The WSJ is only available with a subscription, but here is an excerpt I really liked:

We’ve become such a throw-away society. How do you fight it?

The EPA says solid waste, per person, has nearly doubled to 4.4 pounds a day from 2.7 pounds in the past 35 years — filling up landfill sites and wasting materials that could be reused to save natural resources and energy.

Although recycling is important, it isn’t as effective as reducing the use of materials from the get-go. One way to do this is to buy goods in concentrated, dry or bulk form to reduce transportation and packaging costs. Favor refillable or reusable items. Pick flexible packaging materials instead of rigid packaging, since flexible packaging typically takes less energy to make and transport. Pick goods with the highest ratio of product weight to packaging weight, when possible. Example: tuna in a foil pouch rather than in metal cans.


These options are getting easier to find. Matt Hale, director of the EPA’s office of solid waste, says retailers are pushing for improvements in packaging to cut transportation and materials costs, as well as to use materials that can be readily recycled — and thus cut costs again.

In broader terms, Jeffrey Harris, of the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of business, environmental and government interests, thinks more people should ask, “How much do we need to live a quality lifestyle?” He thinks that question inevitably leads to others, such as, “Do we really need oversized cars and oversized houses?”

He believes people’s focus needs to move beyond energy efficiency, even if conservation is necessary. “The focus has to be on consumption,” he says, “because the atmosphere doesn’t care about efficiency, it responds to the volume of greenhouse gases put into it.”