A month or so ago, I wrote a guest post at Fake Plastic Fish about how much money I save by trying to reduce my plastic waste. Some of the numbers really surprised me: $440 a year by using stainless steel bottles instead of buying bottled water; $260 a year by making my own yogurt instead of buying it every week; $125 a year by shopping the bulk bins instead of the canned foods aisle.
The article revolved around my savings at the grocery store, but I've saved money by avoiding plastic in other ways too - frequenting the thrift store, shopping on Craigslist, choosing not to buy at all...
Admittedly, there are times when avoiding plastic costs more. For example, I could run down to my local Walmart and pick up an insulated PVC lunchbag for my kindergartner for about $10. Or I could buy a stainless steel PlanetBox for $60. That's a big price difference, but when I feel like I'm investing in something that's going to last a long time, I'm generally willing to pay more.
But what about when the plastic-free item costs more but isn't necessarily better?
The other day I stopped by Trader Joe's on a quest for a specific item someone had told me about, and as I was swinging up and down the aisles, a price tag caught my eye: $1.39 for a pound of organic pasta. My internal price book started dinging: "Savings! Savings! Savings!" It wasn't a sale, just the everyday Trader Joe's price, but a whole $0.60 cheaper than the organic pasta at Whole Foods or Kroger. Except for one little detail...unlike every other cardboard box of pasta in the country, this pasta was packaged in a little plastic bag.
Being the over-organized, spreadsheet-lover that I am, I estimated how much I would save by switching to the plastic-wrapped Trader Joe's pasta, and the savings came out to a whopping $30 or $40 a year. That's all.
On the other hand, if I had a choice between buying a shirt for $60 or the same shirt on sale for $30, I would choose the savings, hands down, every time.
But is the $30 savings worth the extra plastic in my trash bin? Or phrased the opposite way, is it worth paying $30 a year just to save a measly amount of plastic?
The Trader Joe's pasta is just one example; I face this type of dilemma all the time. Should I buy vinegar in small glass jars, or save by buying the huge plastic jug? Should I buy my carrots naked, or save by buying 10 pounds of carrots in a plastic bag? (or potatoes, apples, and oranges?) Sometimes the plastic packaging wins, and sometimes it loses. Honestly, it mostly depends on my mood.
How do you make those decisions? Do you choose packaging or price? Even when the savings are very small?