Eight ways to shop greener
I shop, therefore I am. It’s the central tenet of capitalism, but as consumers we can also use it to make a real positive impact with our shopping choices. Demand influences supply and small changes can have big consequences, so here are eight ways to shop greener and smarter…and make a difference.
Look at the packaging
Packaging is a hot topic, and although many companies are now working on minimising or redesigning it for their products, the best option is to buy things without extra layers in the first place. Start by looking at products you buy regularly and considering alternatives such as switching to better packaged or non-packaged products (and letting companies know why on social media). Food packaging is one of the biggest waste culprits – buy from greengrocers or order farm deliveries with no plastic, take your own containers to the butchers or the meat and cheese counters at supermarkets or think about refilling: A trend which has been boosted recently by Waitrose and Marks & Spencer who became the first major retailers to introduce refill initiatives in stores last year.
Go big or go home
Convenience has given us the ‘single-serving’ one of the most package-intensive types of food product. Strike single servings of anything from your shopping list, from cheese to snack packs, and then think bigger. Anything you normally buy – such as yoghurts or crisps for example – will have bigger packets or pots that purchase-for-purchase will use less packaging for the same product experience. Decanting your own smaller portions from these is a small, but key way to reduce waste.
Take a bag
The introduction of the 5p charge for plastic bags resulted in UK marine litter levels dropping by 50 per cent and removed over 9m bags from circulation in two years. So it’s worth reiterating that taking your own bag is one of the easiest ways to shop greener. The truth is, we’re all capable of arriving at the checkout and remembering we’ve forgotten our ‘bag for life’; ingrained habits take time to reverse. So give your plastic protest a fighting chance and throw shopping bags in jacket pockets and all the bags you might use. Better still hang a reusable bag on your front door to remind you before you leave the house.
The convenience of online shopping has contributed to a packaging explosion that shows no signs of abating: British retail alone uses 59bn pieces of plastic each year to fulfil online deliveries. If you want to buy something and you can walk to the shops to do so then that is the greenest option by far. But if you have to order things online then try to wait until you have a few products to buy and request items are all shipped together or look for retailers using bag-free or fully recyclable options in their packaging.
Buy natural fibres
Avoid buying materials such as nylon and polyester made from petroleum and materials treated with toxic chemicals such as viscose, which are non-biodegradable and shed microfibres into the environment when washed.Instead, invest in natural fibres and fabrics for your clothes such as linen, wool, hemp and organic cotton, all of which use less water in production, last longer if you care for them and are fully biodegradable at the end of their life. New sustainable textiles are also a growing trend – look out for options such as Piñatex, made from pineapples and Tencel made from responsibly-sourced wood that can be combined with natural fibres.
Buying pre-loved things is an easy, and cost-effective, way to consume with lower impact, particularly with regard to recycling clothes. The textile industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters and the throwaway mentality of fast fashion one of its major problems. Shopping secondhand is a more sustainable way to top up your wardrobe – putting fewer clothes into landfills, cutting pollution and pesticide use (20 per cent of pesticides worldwide are used on cotton crops) and consuming less resources – a single pair of jeans, for example, takes 1800 gallons of water to make. Charity shops are a great place to start, but if you want a more focused way to see what is out there then ebay and online shops by organisations such as Oxfam have taken secondhand clothing buying to the next level.
Buy better quality
Spend a little more in the short-term to buy quality items that last longer and have ethical roots and you’ll not only save money in the long-run, but you’ll be contributing to a more sustainable supply chain. The glut of cheap, mass-produced products on the market comes at a big environmental and socioeconomic price in terms of resources, landfill and labour. Far better to buy something with an ethical provenance that benefits local businesses, or one or two well-made toys than a slew of plastic that will break within weeks of using. Invest in an armchair crafted by an independent furniture maker that will last a lifetime rather than a flatpack with a lifespan of three years. Make choices that have a positive impact beyond its immediate affordability. You’ll end up making fewer, higher quality purchases.
Question your shopping habits
Awareness is key when it comes to consumption and many of us are so used to buying things that we rarely stop to ask ourselves if we really actually need them. Buying less is ultimately the greenest shopping move you can make, and making our purchases count is part of a sustainable plan. When you try an item of clothing on in a changing room for example, make a cost-benefit analysis to avoid ‘unconscious’ shopping – ask yourself the reason you’re buying it, what it’s made of and how often you will actually wear it. If you can feel good about the answers to these questions then buy it. Otherwise, put it back. The same goes with presents for people (do they actually want it, will they make use of it or are you just desperate to go home), kids toys (do they have a similar toy already? Do they need it?) and homeware (will it just sit on a shelf? Why do I need it?). Challenging ourselves to only consume what we really need or will truly value is a profound psychological shift that is crucial for sustainable shopping.