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. 
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