5 tips to becoming a sustainable shopper

27 February 2014
5 tips to becoming a sustainable shopper

Making the change to a greener and conscious way of living has been one of the best decisions of my life. But it's not easy. Altering any part of your life is hard for different reasons. What keeps me going is knowing the good that comes from living a more sustainable and considered life.

Using less plastic and living by zero-waste principles (reducing, reusing, repairing, choosing second hand) helps to fight climate change since I'm not encouraging the continual mining, processing, and manufacturing practices that needs energy (hello, coal and gas!), impacts biodiversity, disrupts communities and their cultural practices, all to make stuff we are encouraged to buy, throw out, and replace. 

There are 40 million people working in modern slavery with fashion being one of the main instigators of this practice. The fast fashion industry has so many billionaires its baffling people with this much money don't provide safe, clean working spaces, or pay the garment workers an actual liveable wage. I don't want these people getting my money to fuel their continued exploitation on people and planet. To me living zero-waste is more than reducing waste to landfill, it's looking at the whole process. Fast fashion, fast interior items, fast electronics, they treat worker as the same expendable item as their products and not a living breathing person with family, friends, hopes and dreams. Sustainability has to include looking after planet and people so become a sustainable shopper means thinking about these two equally. 

So what to do? We can advocate in two ways; speaking up and voting with our money. Speaking up includes writing to companies, supporting advocacy work like antislavery.org.au and ejfoundation.org, and sharing knowledge with your family and friends. 

Voting with your dollar doesn't mean spending money either. It can be just as powerful not spending money and perhaps if you are able to donating to organisations that want to end modern slavery and habitat destruction. 

I have used the below five tips to help me become a sustainable shopper:

Do I really need this?

The three Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) have sisters called Refuse and Rethink. When I want to buy something I check in to see if I really truly need it. Often I will wait two weeks to help me decipher is a need something or want it. Often I find waiting reduces my need to impulse buy anything. I also like to ask questions to figure out if I am wanting this to impress someone, or because society, marketing etc are telling me I need to appear a certain way. I'll admit there have been many times I have wanted something because I felt pressure to buy it rather than need.

Borrowing and sharing is still shopping

It's time we redefine how we consume. Most of us would think of buying something new or even secondhand as the definition of consumption. Consumption should also include borrowing and sharing. I would like to see more outlets to borrow and share electronics, furniture, clothing, not just to help reduce the impact making new stuff has on people and planet, but because it can foster collaborative communities and diminish the obsession of being trendy. Borrowing an item for a period is another way to decide if you truly need it. 

Choose secondhand or refurbished

With the rise of quality secondhand shops, online sites alongside Ebay, Etsy, Gumtree, it is hard not to find what you are after. Secondhand is my second option if I can't borrow what I need. 

Another option is to look into refurbished products like furniture and electronics. Refurbishing is not main stream like secondhand but it's on the rise. By choosing items that have been repaired means you are investing in lost skills and local businesses too. 

Research companies and ask them questions if you need to buy new

There will be times when borrowing or choosing secondhand won't be an option. That's OK. Everyone's accessibility, location, and needs are so different. So ask the company questions like, can the item be repaired? How was it made? What will happen at the end of life? Are the workers paid properly and valued? There is a high chance the company (especially depending on the product) might not have any answers to these question and Finding a perfectly ethical and sustainable company might not exist for your product. Regardless it's still important to get into the habit of asking these questions. Doing so could push a company to make a change and be more transparent.

Keep a reminder in your wallet

I'm someone that needs visual aids to help remember and keep me on track, especially for big things like changing my shopping habits and mindset! You aren't just changing the way you shop you are also changing your mind. I scrawled a quote on the back of an old receipt to check each time I am out shopping. The quote I use is 'Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without'. It's an old quote that reminds me to think before I hand over my money. I imagine soon enoigh I won't need this remdiner as this way of shopping will be normal for me. 

We are always going to need stuff for different parts of our lives. With these five tips you'll be on your way to thinking and becoming a more sustainable shopper. 

G-Star RAW turn ocean plastic into denim

26 February 2014
This time last year, a story about jeans being fashioned out of recycled plastic would not have excited me as it does today.

I would have glazed over the information feeling warm inside that the clothing was recycled and I would have moved on. Now I read the stories of innovation in the name of saving our environment and you will find me fist pumping the air. You see, I become REALLY excited knowing there are people finding ways to deal with plastics afterlife. I mentioned it here. These people rock my world and when I read about this neat idea, I had to share it.

Let me introduce you to The Vortex Project. This is a joint venture between Bionic Yarn, Parley for the Oceans and Sea Shepard.

The aim is to gather as much of the plastic that is in our oceans and littering our shorelines as possible and turn this into a product that we use everyday; jeans.

It is a simple and meaningful project. Here is how it works:

Plastic is collected by Sea Shepard from heavily polluted areas of our oceans. These plastics will then be given to Bionic Yarn to be integrated into fabric to be used to make jeans and fashion for G-Star Raw. The first collection Raw for the Oceans will feature eco-jeans made from Bionic Yarn fabric. Look out for it in stores and online beginning in August 2014.

Image from Raw for the Oceans
"Plastic is choking our oceans and precious marine wildlife at an unprecedented rate. Straws, single-use bags, six-pack rings, drink lids and more are ensnaring marine animals or blocking their digestive systems, killing these magnificent creatures. It’s time humanity takes responsibility for our actions and cleans up the mess we’ve made. We hope this is the first of many meaningful collaborations to come.”
I completely agree Captain Paul Watson.

First and foremost I support buying second hand clothes. When I cannot find that second hand item I turn to garments that have been made under sustainable and ethical conditions. New clothing will always be made. Recycling plastic and turning into an item that most people have in their closet shows the never ending creativity capacity we have as humans to turn waste into a functioning object of use.

Can you see yourself wearing jeans made out of recycled plastic fibers?

Sustainable Valentine's day ideas

13 February 2014
Sustainable Valentine's day ideas
Photo by Death to Stock Photos
Valentines is tomorrow. I had penned a post about sustainable gifts to give loved ones. But something did not feel right. It felt limited. If anything the world needs less stuff and more love. 

On Valentines day, I make an effort to smile bigger smiles, give random people a compliment, organise a dinner with friends, and make phone calls to loved ones.

Here is my list of sustainable ways to show love on the 14th February, and beyond.

♥ Help an elderly person like your grandparents or neighbour with the grocery shopping 
 Grab a friend and pick up rubbish in your neighbourhood 
 Cook a meal for a friend that has been a bit stressed or busy lately 
 Go through your contacts and pick three people you have not spoken to in a while. Send them a message, email or call them to say hello 
 Write a love letter to yourself listing your achievements in your life so far 
 Volunteer your time at a shelter 
 Walk a busy friend's dog 
 Get a massage 
 Host a clothes swap party 
 Give a random person a compliment 
 If there is a home on your street with a beautiful garden that makes you happy, drop a note in their mailbox telling them how much you appreciate their garden 
 Adopt an animal 
 Donate to your favorite charity 
 Volunteer at your local hospital, school or library for story time 
 Plant a tree 
 Support that friend/partner/parent/sibling and go with them to that free dance class they have wanted to try 
 Smile at everyone you see

You can even do some of these with your loved one. Throw out your net of love wide this year. 

Hey, Mr Postman: talking about plastic in the mail

6 February 2014
When my bank began offering my statements in electronic format, I hit the yes button immediately and have since received no statements except during tax time.

Electronic delivery is so much easier and saves me having to file and put away those forms. Plus less trees are cut down. It is a win.

Since going electronic I rarely receive mail apart from postcards, wedding invites or the useless bulk of letter box drops spruiking the latest deals. My life is filed away in databases on my laptop. So I had never paid attention to the plastic and waste that can come in through the mailbox at our house until I received a magazine from my health fund. There it was, sticking its body out of the mailbox, wrapped in glistening plastic.

plastic in the mail

I could not identify the plastic and had no idea if it was recyclable. I remembered that the REDcycle program at Coles allowed newspaper wrapping to be dropped off. I emailed the company asking if the plastic casing could be recycled. Turns out it can be recycled, so off it went into the REDcycle bins at Coles.

I didn't want to have to do this each time a magazine from my health fund was dropped off into our mailbox in the future. It was unnecessary and also a waste of time and energy to dispose of correctly. I contacted the company with the following note:
To whom it may concern, 
 I am writing to you with regard to a recent magazine that was mailed to my house. I do not wish to receive any postal mail from your company and would prefer all correspondence to remain digital. I am trying my hardest to live a life with less plastic consumption and find the catalogues plastic casing unnecessary. My address is xxxxxxxx. My membership number is xxxxxxx.
Kind regards,
The company was quick to respond (which I knew would be from previous correspondence) and were more than happy to oblige. I continued the conversation by letting them know that if they continue to send magazines to their members in plastic casing then they should encourage users to drop the plastic off at the REDcycle bins at Coles. They said it would be considered.

Truthfully I have never tracked any other mail that comes into the house. As I mentioned before, I rarely receive anything unless it is from friends or letter box drops. So when bills come for the builder I collect them from the mailbox and pass onto him. I can go down stairs right now and see our latest gas bill with its plastic window face sitting on his desk. It is something neither of us had thought of and from habit, probably placed into our yellow recycling bin in the past (luckily these envelops types are accepted!)

Recycling for us is the second step when we use anything. Our first step is to REFUSE. The quarterly gas, electricity, water and internet bill, can and should, be addressed. So what are we going to do?
  • Contact the companies like I did with my health care fund and request for our bills to be sent digital if possible. If they cannot or refuse to, then we will continue to recycle as we do now or reuse the envelopes. 
  • Reuse the envelopes for new letters. 
  • Remove the plastic window from the envelopes if applicable, recycle plastic and use the envelope paper for shopping lists and general notes. I am big on list writing. 
What about the rest of the mail, like supermarket catalogues, that does not come in plastic casing or with plastic window facing? It is in no way sustainable to have a constant stream of unwanted catalogues each week telling me about deals. We never look at these and they take up the bulk of our recycling each week. We are putting up a “no junk mail” sign to curb the constant sale pitches.

If you think companies will not listen to you. Think again. Don't be afraid to speak up. Put aside half an hour of your week, sit down and contact the companies. I am going to give it a go and persuade the lovely utilities companies to save some paper and plastic, and send my bills via my inbox rather than the postbox.

If you like reading catalogues but do not want to sacrifice an acre of woodland, check out www.cataloguecentral.com.au
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