This post originally appeared at Rebel Angel.
While I didn’t make any specific goals or resolutions for this year, as 2018 has continued on, I’ve realised that there’s one thing that’s becoming increasingly more important to me: making ethical and sustainable decisions about my purchases.
As I’ve got older, I’ve been lucky enough to have a stable job and lifestyle which has allowed me to have more of a disposable income. As a result, I feel that I’ve got more power in my purchasing decisions. I don’t have to buy the cheapest thing on the shelf – I can afford to spend more to support a smaller business or to buy a product that’s had more thought put into the packaging or production process.
I know I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of fully supporting ethical and sustainable practices. The change for me has been gradual, but I’ve realised that I’m making these sort of decisions in more areas of my life as time goes on. The changes aren’t huge but I feel like if I can make them where I can, I can at least make a tiny impact on the way things are.
In the past, I’ve definitely been a slave to fast fashion. I gathered clothes like they were going out of fashion – I guess they kind of were! – and shopped almost exclusively at Primark because they were cheap but on trend. I would accept any items of clothing brands were willing to send me to feature on the blog. As a result, my wardrobe was constantly expanding. Not only did I not have enough room for everything, but the things I owned got worn so little, and I was supporting the growth of clothes being produced just to be got rid of.
I’m not going to claim that I don’t still purchase fast fashion. I still own and buy items from Primark or supermarkets because they’re easy to get hold of and cheap. But I’m taking more time over those purchases nowadays. Instead of buying on a whim, I’m trying to buy when I need or really want something. I wait to buy until I’ve decided that I really do want the item and I’m wearing clothes until they’re no longer wearable rather than when they’re out of fashion. For example, I’ve had the same pair of winter boots for 4 years and plan to get some more next year as they’re starting to get damaged now – I wear these pretty much every day. The same with my outfits – I’m rewearing the same 3 pairs of jeans on rotation, so I don’t really need any more. When they get holes (as 2 previous pairs have), they’re transferred to my sewing room to be used as fabric elsewhere.
Over the past year, I’ve got rid of probably 50% of my wardrobe, maybe more. All of these have gone to charity thanks to what I learned when I visited Oxfam – any clothes that aren’t sold in their stores to support charity are either sent to places where they’re needed around the world. Even damaged pieces of fabric are used as mattress stuffing so they’re not wasted or sent to landfill.
The clothes I do purchase now, I’m trying to buy from businesses that have ethical or sustainable practices. I like to know that workers are being treated fairly, that the materials are being sourced ethically, and if possible, they’re made locally. I don’t really blog about fashion all that much nowadays because I don’t have the opportunity but also because I’m rewearing clothes. But I feel like I have a responsibility to make it known the brands that can help this. Some fashion brands I’m now trying to support with my purchases where I can are:
As a little subheading under fashion, I need to talk about lingerie! My disposable income which would previously have been spent on clothing is now going pretty much solely on lingerie. Fortunately, lingerie is a place where there are a lot of independent designers who hand make garments and who make efforts to source their materials sustainably and use factories where workers are treated well and given fair pay. We’ve previously highlighted some ethical British lingerie companies at Big Cup Little Cup, but this year, we’re planning to feature even more of these from all around the world – I have a pretty big list!
I’m trying to support these rather than high street stores by purchasing from them where I can. Often this means making a more expensive purchase, so instead of buying 3 or 4 sets really cheap during sales, I’m trying to buy less frequently, but pay more.
Even though I live in fairly rural North Yorkshire where we don’t have a vast array of independent stores, we are lucky enough to have a range of local producers for things like meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. As a busy “millennial”, it can be a little tricky trying to balance food shopping – finances and time weigh against us wanting to shop locally. It’s so much easier just to do a Tesco order or pop out to Aldi, but we’ve recently been trying to visit our local fruit and veg shops as well as butchers when we can. Sadly, we can’t do this all the time, but (ironically, as the supermarket saying goes) every little helps!
Even outside of food shopping, buying independently is a fantastic way to support smaller designers and retailers. Unfortunately, as I touched on above, they can be more pricey, meaning that we often wait until sales or for a discount code to buy items we want. My decision this year is to try to buy more items at full price. Why? Because your purchases help to make future decisions for a brand. For example, a company might take the plunge to creating 28 band bras (it’s my area of expertise!) – this is a costly leap for them as it means new patterns, new grading, new designs and more. But if those designs don’t sell at full price, instead only selling when they go on sale, they don’t make money off them. And if they don’t make money off them, what’s the point in the brand selling them? Use your money like a vote – if a brand sells something you like, buy it at full price to show that you want that item. The point is that by supporting these businesses, they can continue to run and to grow.
It’s also worth noting that just because a brand is local to you, it doesn’t mean it’s not using ethical or sustainable business practices. Playful Promises wrote a brilliant article about this here.
Getting more specific with my purchases, plastic has been a big thing on my mind lately. A couple of years ago, our recycling bins changed – we get one wheelie bin for general household waste and another for simply “recycling” – this includes plastic, paper, cardboard etc. (glass goes into a separate box). It was only when we got this new bin that I realised we were filling this one up SO quickly – way more quickly than our household waste. While that’s definitely a good thing that we’re making sure to recycle, it made me realise just how much unnecessary stuff was going into that recycling bin, much of it parcel packaging and food packaging – either cardboard or plastic. And plastic doesn’t break down easily.
I’d recently spotted environmental toothbrushes while, randomly, shopping for kitchens with my family so did a bit of research into them. I was shocked by the thought of how many toothbrushes are thrown away each year and how long it takes them to break down. I read one article that said something like, “Hey, remember your first toothbrush? So do we, it’s still out there!” The thought that every toothbrush I’ve ever thrown away being still in “usable” condition, and being so for thousands of years, is pretty scary.
So I’ve recently signed up to the Pearly White Club. It’s an eco-friendly toothbrush subscription company that send you toothbrushes made out of bamboo – a natural material that breaks down far more quickly than plastic. It’s a small step, but it’s these small steps that matter.
Low/no packaging cosmetics
Following on from my concerns about plastic and packaging, I started thinking about all the empty bottles I throw away every year. I’ve made the commitment to purchase cosmetics with less or no packaging this year. I’ve obviously still got lots that need using up, and I won’t be able to shun plastic packaged cosmetics completely, but again, it’s those small changes that can make a difference. Here are a few changes I’ve made:
- Naked shower gel from Lush – Snow Fairy is pretty much my (and half the rest of the world’s!) favourite scent ever, so I decided to buy their new Naked version of the shower gel in November. At first I thought it was a bit gimmicky – it’s just soap, right?! – but actually it seems to be a different formula than soap. It’s softer on the skin and seems to be lasting longer. No more bottles of shower gel from Lush for me!
- Bar soap instead of hand soap – in the same vein as above, we’ve always bought bottled hand soap, but we plan to try to use bars instead now. Although my mum did give me some amazing Bath & Bodyworks hand soap in bottles for Christmas, but I’m trying to use that carefully anyway because it’s so awesome and not easy to get hold of!
- Shampoo and conditioner bars – similar again, but did you know you can get shampoo and conditioner in bars rather than bottles? I got some a few years ago from Basin while in Disney and didn’t really think all that much of it, but when I thought more about the number of bottles I throw away, I reevaluated that idea. I’ve now got a couple of bars of each and am alternating it with my normal shampoo and conditioner. I feel like it doesn’t work quite as well as the normal, but even alternating means I’m not throwing away as much plastic.
I’ve found that cruelty free beauty brands are often ethically made too but may not always market themselves as such. Check out this list for a few examples of these.
Food & food waste
In terms of what we eat and what we throw away, we’ve always been fairly good at not throwing away too much food. Aside from trying to buy loose items of fruit and veg locally, there are a few more changes we’re making.
- I don’t drink a lot of tea, but we are trying to have more loose tea. Think about how many tea bags are thrown away daily! I have recently read that the Co-op are starting an initiative for eco-friendly tea bags though, so that’s something!
- We always reuse our leftovers, whether that’s as lunch the next day for me, creating a new recipe using the leftover meat or veg, or freezing it for future.
- I hate chucking food away, so we’re trying to take more notice of sell-by and use-by dates. Personally, I won’t eat meat beyond a use-by date, but fruit, veg and other things, we make sensible decisions about based on how they look, smell and taste. If we have food reaching the end of its date, we’ll try to use it up. For example, we’ve recently been making big soups and stews on weekends to finish off bits we have left in the fridge rather than throwing them away.
We’ve also been trying for a couple of years to eat more vegan and vegetarian. While I’d never go completely meat-free, I personally love veggie meals anyway, so this isn’t a huge change for us.
More changes I want to make
All of the above are decisions we’ve started to make already, but I have a few more I want to make more of an effort with:
- Reusable straws – I only heard of these recently but I love the idea! You can get glass or metallic straws that can be washed and reused. It seems so small, but like I keep saying, add all these small changes together!
- Even less plastic packaging – we’re limited with where we live to only having certain stores and supermarkets nearby. When we lived near Richmond, there was one of those shops where you could weigh out your goods like nuts, rice etc. We don’t have one of those near us now which is a massive shame as you don’t need to buy these goods in plastic packaging. Ideally, I’d love to be able buy much more food in this way, using reusable bags for them. Likewise, milk. I’ve recently found out you can buy it in some places in bags – amazing!! I’d be happy to do this to use less packaging, but it’s not something available to us right now – hopefully soon!
- Refillable products – like milk, I want to try more products that can be refilled rather than replaced. I recently came across Splosh which is home care products, for laundry, dishwashing etc. that come in pouches and can be poured into a reusable bottle.
Do you have any suggestions of other small changes and decisions I can make in 2018 to be more eco-friendly?