What do you think of when you hear the words "green economy?" I think of solar panels, electric cars, and recycling.

Part of the Green Economy takes into account the entire cost of a product, including its environmental impacts. But we could also expand that concept to include the way in which products are "purchased" and used.

The lasting effects of the recession have made many people rethink their purchasing habits. Many shoppers are now using alternative methods for getting the things they need or want. And many of those methods are not your typical "cash-for-goods-and-services" exchange.

Back in the 1990s Craigslist was started as an event posting service, but rapidly transformed into a web-based platform for buying, selling, bartering and giving away items that might otherwise be discarded. Craigslist now hosts jobs listings and other services, as well as an array of products to purchase or trade. From the success of Craigslist came Freecycle, in 2003. This website has approximately 9,150,400 members globally and is dedicated to reducing "waste" by providing a forum to donate items to those who need or want them. There also are bartering sites now like Swap.com that specialize in exchanging all types of products, everything from cars to books.

According to some, the millennial generation, in their 20s and early 30s, is more into sharing than owning. Why buy something outright when you can share it? This concept first became popular right here in the Bay Area. While it may have started with companies like "Zip Car" and "CarShare," it has progressed into vacation swaps and work space sharing.

According to Lisa Gansky, author of 2010s "The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing," "We're in a moment in which access to goods, services, and talent is going to triumph over the ownership of them."

A new website Gansky has been working with is www.yerdle.com, its mission to make it as easy to share things with friends as it is to shop online, and aims to be a viable alternative to big retailers like Amazon.com and Walmart.

So what does all this have to do with the environment? People bartering, sharing and buying used goods means less waste -- less waste of resources for manufacturing things that remain mostly idle and unused for a good portion of their life-cycles.

Consider the amount of natural resources and environmental consequences involved in manufacturing a car, a boat or an office building. Now think about how much time is actually spent utilizing those items. Add that to the outcomes (waste, for one) when those same items have become obsolete or unusable; and you can see how alternative economic models such as sharing can help improve the environment and our quality of life, too. We would need a fraction of the resources and have a fraction of the waste.

A sharing and bartering economy may be difficult for some of us to grab onto, but who knows, this alternative economy may just be the wave of the future that helps us to decrease our environmental footprint.

For more information on the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority waste reduction and recycling programs, visit www.wastediversion.org. If you have a question, comment or idea about current or future solid waste programs, please email them to lois@wastediversion.org.