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TV's The Shopping Bags are wise to the three Rs

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Wallner and Matisic realize the greenest purchase can be to buy nothing

It isn't always easy to consider the three R's — reduce, reuse, recycle — especially when you shop for a living.

The Shopping Bags' Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic quit their jobs as Global TV reporters to follow their passion... to the mall, and to use their investigative skills to provide light-hearted lessons in how to shop.

But the self-confessed shopaholics also ended up learning much about self-restraint.

"No matter what you buy, whether you're trying to make an environmentally sound choice or not, you need to first ask, 'Do I really need this?' 'Can I afford this?' 'Do I have something like this already?'," says Matisic. " And, if so, 'How am I going to get rid of that other thing if I buy this?'"

It's a lot to ask in the seconds it takes for you to toss the latest trend in your shopping cart, but becoming a conscious consumer demands it.

In the 12 years since they launched The Shopping Bags, Wallner and Matisic have become savvy comparison shoppers who can distinguish deals from duds. But they also realize that new isn't always better, and the greenest purchase is to buy nothing.

Do you really need that thing?

"It's important to ask, 'What do I have that can do the same job as this?' in every category from technology and gardening gadgets to clothing and makeup," says Wallner.

Matisic agrees, using the example of an avid cook tempted by the idea of an avocado slicer. "A knife does the job and decreases drawer clutter," she says. The three R's of waste management are meant to be used in order of importance from reduce to reuse to recycle. And some people now include "repair," and "re-think."

Resist the marketing and reduce

Every product is reinvented regularly to keep manufacturers at the forefront and retailers selling what's new.

"It's about altering your thinking to outsmart the marketers," says Wallner. "You're aware that they're just trying to get you excited about faster electronics or newer colours. But think 'I'm not going to fall victim to that' — it becomes a game that you can win."

Consider whether you're really ready to say goodbye to the last version, and whether the newer version is going to do that much more for you.

"The latest iPad doesn't seem to be that much different than the last, so I question whether it's worth the money and the environmental waste," says Matisic.

Sometimes new is better

If your electronics are terrible energy-wasters, you'll save resources long-term by replacing them with energy-efficient models.

Wallner feels that consumers are now looking for the familiar ENERGY STAR® trademark affixed to energy-efficient devices.

Matisic adds: "All of my electronics are ENERGY STAR, even my 10-year-old appliances."

With electronics, extravagance can pay

Matisic says that since we're in a multi-use technology era — when a phone works as a computer, camera and stereo — in the long run, it makes practical and environmental sense to buy one multipurpose gadget.

But forgo a few versions until prices drop; a top-of-the-line computer will probably run software that comes out five years from now, and a good cell phone with a text keypad will see you through the text-messaging era.

Reusing is as important as it is unglamorous

Sometimes, it just takes a little creativity to reinvent an object.

"I use an egg carton as a jewelry box," says Wallner. "Each egg cup is perfect for holding small pieces and pairs of earrings. The bottom half is wrapped in satin and velvet."

Matisic chimes in: "I bought a new laundry hamper because my old one was no longer fit to be seen; I use the old one to store winter sweaters within a closet where no one sees it."

Can someone use this thing?

Before recycling electronics, try selling them on eBay, Craigslist, or sending a notice to your email contact list. Just make sure you're not just downcycling energy-sucking older devices.

Matisic also gives items away on Craigslist, donates them to schools, and even leaves them in the alley (since she lives in the city).

"Someone will pick it up there. If no one does, you know it was time to let it go. So take it to recycling."

The Shopping Bags extend the life of older electronics from home by using them at their office.

Is that battery really dead?

Matisic advises reusing batteries. Although you should try to buy rechargeable batteries, when you have non-rechargeable ones that are no longer functioning well in one type of technology, before recycling them, try them in a lower usage device such as the TV remote control.

Know where to recycle

"My really old, heavy TV just went to the recycling depot. Returnit.ca is a great resource for where to take them," says Matisic." (Visit return-it.ca/electronics for more information.)

Encorp Pacific, for example, recycles old electronics including TVs, computers and printers for free to help you reduce electricity consumption.

Think local when buying

Matisic feels proud about purchases from local manufacturers, not only because the reduced transportation can make them the greener choice, but because the quality is often better. Therefore they'll last longer.

Look for things that are not only well-made, but useful and beautiful enough to please you for a long time. And keep purging. Use The Shopping Bags' one-in-one-out rule: for every piece you buy, recycle or give away something old to keep cupboards and closets from getting overcrowded.

Look into a product's story

Wallner says that by finding out how an investment purchase was made, with what, and where, you become more connected to it so are more likely to take care of it, and then find it a good home when you are finished with it.

Consider the packaging

Packaging is a big factor in whether Wallner buys any type of product. This includes additional packaging when she takes it home.

"Say 'no' to the boutique's pretty bag and tissue paper wrapping," she says. "You don't need it."

If you like the advice in this story, check The Shopping Bags/The Grocery Bags website for more shopping tips and in-depth product reviews.