5 Steps for Sustainable Shopping
Self proclaimed organic, eco, green or sustainable products are more common that ever before, but buying sustainable products can be tricky, as the concept is more often than not used as a marketing tool for driving up sales by making us believe we are taking a right choice.
For example, products made from recycled polyester are not really sustainable, although many times labeled as such. Sure, much better than virgin polyester, but have you ever wondered where all that plastic goes once the product ends its lifetime? Or when we wash a piece of clothing made of recycled polyester (or virgin polyester) where all do the micro plastics end up? You guessed it: the ocean and our bodies – recycled polyester is not really a sustainable choice as it is a non-renewable material and quite hazardous when it breaks down.
Another fallacious but seemingly powerfull marketing gimmick is to advertise a product as “organic” without further certifications or information: for instance, clothing marketed as “organic cotton” without any type of external certification can most likely contain a large amount of synthetic fibers, dangerous chemicals and also be the product of unfair or child labour. And that is not a sustainable product.
5 Steps for truly Sustainable Choices
To determine if something you want to buy is more sustainable than not, just by asking five simple questions:
Sustainability, simply put, is the ability of humans to coexist with nature and to act in a way that does not compromise the ability of present and future generations to meet their essential needs.
As our society has been progressively parting from nature and our widespread “consumeristic needs” seem rather futile the dividing line between sustainable and unsustainable can be a thin one.
Is it organic?
What is it made of? What materials are used? How will the product break down at the end of its lifecycle?
Choose products made with natural, toxic free and renewable materials – avoid hazardous stuff as polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, PVC or phtalates and materials that are advertised as with non natural properties (stain proof or wrinkle-free for instance).
Products made from natural materials (for example, wood, cardboard, cotton, hemp, steel) have the ability to return to nature, to break down easily or even to compost into soil. On the other hand, for example, materials made with petroleum, in whatever of its many forms (plastic, acrylic paint, polyurethane, styrofoam, PVC, ect) are not able to degrade easily taking many many years to break down and return to nature.
Is it safe?
Are the materials used toxic free?
Many common products are not safe to wear or to use because they contain hazardous or toxic substances that can negatively impact our health on the short or the long run (specially in the case of children). Unfortunatelly we are surrounded with many products that can be harmfull – for instance, clothing, mattresses, cookware or furniture – by containing toxic chemicals (such formaldehyde, flame retardants, heavy metals, teflon) that can leach into our bodies.
Choose products which bear a safety certification or that are demonstrably safe.
Is it a fair deal?
Who made the product? In which conditions?
Nowadays it is generally very hard to know who made our stuff – and if there is no information about the item’s provenance it is very likey that the people involved in its making are not treated fairly.
Search for products that are Fair Trade certificated and for brands that are demonstrably committed to sustainable practices.
Is it durable?
How well built is it? How will the product age?
As a rule of thumb most of our modern stuff breaks down or gets obsolete very quickly and the general practice is simply to replace it with a new and more sofiscated version. But most of it should just last a life time while many other products should be mendable or easily fixed. Search for objects that have some sort of guarantee or that are known for its built quality.
Is it part of a sustainable lifestyle?
Is it a product of consumerism? Is it useful?
If something is plain useless or just a part of a fast trend then it very likely it is not sustainable – the latest hype tech or fashion thing is a red flag in our books. Strive for a simple lifestyle, a minimalist way that reduces consumption, work time and possessions.