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A greener planet begins under the kitchen sink

BigGreenPurse.com urges women to spend more on Earth-friendly products.

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Tara McBride, a mother of three in Lonelyville, N.Y., drives an extra 40 minutes round trip for organic meat and produce. "You can't buy it everywhere," she says. Nor are employees always well informed. "I can walk into a supermarket and ask a butcher, 'Can you get me some organic meat?' He'll say, 'We have some all-natural here.' That doesn't mean anything." She looks for "grass-fed," "no hormones," and "no growth stimulants."

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Time represents another challenge, MacEachern says. "Women are swamped. Often they don't have time for research."

Money can be an issue, too. MacEachern finds that women are willing to spend between 5 and 20 percent more for environmentally friendly products, but they need information. Karen Smith, a communications director in Boston, says, "There is a preconceived notion that if you go into a natural store, you are automatically going to lose money. If you check circulars and cut coupons, there are ways to save."

She rejects some products in traditional supermarkets. "I stand at the top of a cleaning aisle, which is a quarter of the length of a football field, and see large-size containers with chemicals, and plastic. I wonder, where was this produced? How is this going to be disposed of? And how is this going to hurt things?"

Many women object to packaging. "One thing I would love to see is reduced packaging," says Anne-Marie Kovacs of Henderson, Nev. "Most of it is plastic that's not recyclable.... It's atrocious."

The packaging industry is mindful of the problem. "There's a great deal of interest in the industry about making packaging more green, more environmentally friendly," says JoAnn Hines, founder of Women in Packaging. Wal-Mart, she notes, is demanding that its suppliers reduce packaging – or use packaging that can be recycled or disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

Even so, there are limits. "You cannot have a product without a package, and you have to get it from point A to point B, pristine, undamaged, in salable condition," Ms. Hines says. "Demanding that packaging be reduced could impact the quality and the shape it arrives at the store in."

Joy Sutherland, a public relations manager in Memphis, Tenn., buys products in containers her local recycling program accepts. These include glass, aluminum, paper, and certain plastics. She buys detergent in plastic jugs instead of cardboard, and eggs in plastic cartons instead of Styrofoam or cardboard. "The biggest obstacle is the fact that our local program doesn't accept things that [make up] a lot of my garbage, like cardboard containers."

Ask 'Where are the organic apples?'

MacEachern urges women to be more assertive. Noting that she shops at a variety of stores, from Safeway and Giant to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and farmers' markets, she says, "If I don't see what I want, I'll talk to the manager. I'm not shy about saying, 'If I don't see it here, I'll have to go someplace else.' They never say, 'Go, then; take your business elsewhere.' It's empowering to ask a produce manager, 'Where are those organic apples?' "

Women do not have a lock on green shopping, of course. Renee Miller, president of an advertising agency in Los Angeles, says that she and her husband have started paying attention to what goes into products – soaps, shampoos, conditioners. "Dyes and chemicals can be very harsh on the environment. We look for things that are more environmentally friendly."

Women and men also have another responsibility: teaching the next generation. Referring to her teenage son and daughter, MacEachern says, "We took them to see the Al Gore film. They recycle. And ... they learned to drive on a hybrid."

As MacEachern mobilizes "purse power," she sees reason for optimism. "Women are definitely ready to make a difference," she says. "They just want to be sure they're making the right difference."

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