Buying something new, we consider the price, value, color and other factors which will make our final decision. Responsible shopping asks us to look deeper than that. Have you thought what are you supporting when you shop? Big corporations or small businesses? Are you aware of ethical shopping?
In the age of mass consumption and plastic pollution, we come to the point when more of us care about where our money goes. We start to care who made the stuff in our house, who made the food and if it was done right. This responsible shopping guide will give you tips on what you should pay attention for in order to shop more ethically and lower your impact on the environment.
Ethical shopping – how to become a responsible consumer?
What is the definition of ethical shopping? In another terms responsible shopping or sustainable shopping – all these come to one point which is basically spending the money right. A responsible customer makes wise decisions, considering the human cost, quality and low-environmental impact. As all sustainable travel and life practices, also responsible shopping comes to doing a research before buying and rethinking choices while looking for more eco-friendly alternatives.
Rethink your choices and reduce consumption
First of all, ask yourself these questions: do I really need to buy that? Can I make something I already have work in this space? Should I wait a year and save some money, so I can buy something high quality that will really last?
We got used to consumerism lifestyle and it’s pretty hard to realise how little we actually need. When I went for the meditation retreat in Thailand, I stayed in the Buddhist Monastery in the forest. I was observing the monks owning nothing, simply being. They tried to live with no attachments, even shave their heads to don’t “own” hair. After staying there I realised how little I actually need to live, the rest is simply luxury.
I am not trying to say that you should become a monk and own only a razor to shave your head, but to try to limit your shopping to the things you really need. Buying only what’s necessary will not only save money but also help the environment as water and energy are used to produce all goods. Maybe instead of buying, you can reuse old, make new by yourself or buy used item? Second hand shops offer not only clothes but also furniture or tools. Maybe instead of buying new, you can exchange something or borrow from your neighbours? Be conscious on what you are throwing away. Instead, see if you can reuse or exchange the item, sell on the local website or simply give to someone who needs it.
Local shopping is a key, as wherever you are, you get to support family businesses, their economy, which often rely on local customers. Moreover, by shopping locally you reduce carbon footprint, because all the product had to travel less or not at all. There are more reasons for buying locally, like having better quality of products and healthier food, but I already developed this topic in the previous post, so if you want to know why it’s extremely important, jump to shopping locally.
Check the source
As a global citizens, we should be aware of worker’s rights and the sustainability of where the things we consume originate. Learn from whom you buy. If that is a local farmer or import from China; a small company or a big corporation which not necessarily works ethically. Small merchants most likely generate less pollution and care about quality. We can make a big difference by selecting, whom we give our money. I bet most of the people would rather choose to support poor family than corporation, but all that it needs is a bit of a research of the market in your area, country and knowledge who is the good and the bad guy.
When you are finally sure that you really need the item and know that you buy it from a small, local enterprise or a farmer, consider if the product is eco-friendly. When possible choose organic fruits and vegetables, eco-friendly cosmetics and used or reusable products. Nowadays, we have so many opportunities to choose responsibly from all the goods offered. Organic or eco stores becoming more accessible and popular.
Avoid buying plastic at all. Whenever possible look for alternatives from wood, paper, glass or aluminium which are efficiently recycled. For taking care of your house and garden choose products which will not harm the environment and save the bees.
Pay attention to the package
Less packaging = less waste. Of course, not everything we can get without package, but we can try to avoid it as much as possible, especially if it’s plastic. Focus to choose materials which are eco-friendly or recyclable. Keep in mind that glass or aluminium can be reprocessed many times while plastic gets used faster and sooner or later it will end up on the landfill or ocean. Plastic may take ages to decompose leaving charmful chemicals. Not to mention the fact, that only 9% of all plastic is recycled. These leave me with the thought that recycling plastic simply is not enough. Reducing to minimum and avoiding using it, is the only way to go.
Buy cruelty free
Consider animals. Try to limit your meat consumption as it’s one of the main reasons our planet is dying. Livestock farming takes a vast amount of water and land for rising animals and forage. Not to mention massive meat production is not ethical and not really healthy to consume.
Think about animals also when shopping cosmetics. Labels with a vegan and cruelty free signs are these companies which care to protect the animals and don’t harm during the production process. Cosmetics apart from being vegan or organic often have sign that they are not tasted on animals. When buying accessories or shoes pay attention, if they are leather or synthetic. Leather processing is very toxic, not only for the environment, but also for the workers (often children) being exposed to toxic hazards.
Take your own containers and bags
Changing everyday habits into more eco-friendly is easy, when we realise how much we can change with simple switches. Before, I was going shopping just with a wallet and coming back with bags full of goods but also with a lot of waste. Nowadays, I go shopping with my own cotton bags for fruits and vegetables, boxes for cheese and big reusable bag for all groceries.
If you ever take away food, try to have your own box, otherwise you may harm yourself and the environment. Plastic or styrofoam in contact with hot food may transfer some chemicals into it. What’s more, styrofoam is really hard to recycle, so most of it will stay on the landfill for centuries.
If you are a coffee drinker, get yourself reusable cup or mug and bring it along with you, instead of taking coffee away in a one time use cup.
Try to buy a bigger pack of a product when possible, rather than getting few small packages.
Packing gifts can also create unnecessary waste. I often make my own gifts and pack them in reused materials. I always keep the bags, ribbons and papers from the gifts I get, to reuse them.
Buy fair trade
You might have heard about exotic products sold very expensive in the western world, when local farmers don’t receive fair payment. It especially depicts cacao, coffee and bananas. The World Fair Trade Organisation cares about social responsibility, empowers producers to provide safe working condition and a fair salary as well as maintaining sustainability model without exploitation. Responsible shopping of products with WFTO sign on the label makes you sure that the workers received a fair salary and worked under a proper conditions.
It’s worth to invest in high quality reusable items as they will last for a long time and automatically create less waste. Always avoid one time use product like plastic cutlery, water bottles or straws. It’s so easy to replace them with biodegradable substitutes. Nowaday, you can find pretty much everything that you are used to in an eco-friendly or reusable version. That is amazing!
Responsible shopping online
In the age of digitalisation, we can buy a product from other part of the world without traveling. Digital markets also divide into ethical and not ethical. For instance Etsy or Nest, are worldwide open markets where family businesses or individual atrisans can sell their handmade products on whatever price they wish.
When shopping responsibly, always consider your carbon footprint. Buying online from another continent or country will create a lot of CO2 emission during transport, especially if it includes the plane. On the other hand, when you shop online locally, you can lower impact when shopping online than traveling by your car, as supply trucks are like a public transport for delivery goods.
When buying online, ask for as less packaging as possible without damage of product and request no plastic packaging.
Ethical clothes shopping
It’s worth to be conscious that most of the clothes companies are not ethical and have a huge impact on the environment. Getting yourself cheap clothes, think that they were most likely made with use of cheap labor. Conventional cotton relies on pesticides and herbicides which are dangerously applied in underdeveloped countries like Uzbekistan. This had a huge influence in a drop of insects population and water pollution. The river Indus, once upon a time one of the biggest rivers in the world, because of extensive cotton production, now is just a stream.
Lots of big brands use workers from Bangladesh, which because of hard work loose their good health before 40 and have to retire. They also work for few cents and have to feed their kids which will take care of them when they will retire. Moreover, big clothes manufacturers are pouring tones of carbon into the atmosphere and use gallons of water. Not to mention the leather tanning process which is so toxic, that people working with it mostly die before 50.
Avoid toxic fabric which are basically plastic thread like polyester or acrylic. Even plants based fabrics like viscose or bamboo rayon require a toxic and polluting process and influence the disappearance of the rainforest.
To buy ethical clothes, do a research checking for ethical brands in your area. You will be surprised how many people care about the environment and their workers or run a family business. The textiles you should look for are plants based fabrics done from sustainably sourced pinaple (Pinatex – leather alternative) or eucalyptus trees. If you enjoy sport clothes with polyester, look for those made from recycled fishing nets or ocean plastic. Silk, hemp, linen, and wool are all natural textiles, which have low impact on the environment. As you see there are many options, we just need to look for them!
Reuse, reduse and recycle clothes
This mantra comes to our wardrobe as well. Instead of dumping your used clothes into the landfill, try to sell them, reuse or give away to someone else. Buying second-hand clothes is becoming trendy. Used clothes stores are the answer to consumerist society and they prevent from producing the next toxic fabrics. While most of my clothes are from second hand shops, I also love to buy hand made clothes when I travel. It’s a great way to support local manufacturers or small family businesses.
Responsible shopping when traveling
It’s even harder to shop ethically when traveling as you don’t know local producers and goods. However, it’s worth to do a research before shopping and consider all the tips above. What helps me to limit my waste is a cotton bag. It’s easy to wash and transforms from storing clothes/shoes to a shopping bag. As I am minimalist, I don’t take any container or a mug when I travel, so I simply avoid take-away food and drinks.
My favorite places to visit when I travel are the street markets. No matter the country, street bazaars are the best place to get fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers, support them and discover what that land has to offer. I love to see life of simple people, their crops and handcrafts. I love trying new exotic fruits and spices, and as a responsible traveler immerse with the culture and local custom. The great way to appreciate the culture is not only buying their local crafts but also learning some of them. Buy a workshop of cooking, playing local instrument, farming, herbal medicine, traditional dance, weaving or jewellery making. The options are numerous as each country has something special and unique to offer.
Traveling is a great chance to support local artists and producers. Stay away from plastic crap and choose something hand made by local artisans. Handmade souvenirs are meaningful due to the impact on artisans who crafted them. Apart from hand-made clothes from India, I got myself straw and bark bags from a tribe in Borneo and wooden carvings from Sulawesi. Traditional souvenirs are unique and help to preserve the culture of the region.
I am crazy about tea, so whenever I go I am seeking for local teas or herbs to bring home. I also like to search for natural medicines, as every country uses different plants. Getting local coffee, coconut oil or spices is also great idea.
Responsible shopping while traveling is extremely powerful. Buying locally we often help poor families directly and immerse with culture can preserve endangered traditions. Always pay attention who owns the business, and who made the product.
What are your tips on responsible shopping? Please share in the comments.
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.