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True Sustainability is Capitalism's Worst Nightmare

Everywhere I turn lately, there are adverts for sustainable products. Even big brands are cashing in on the trend. With consumerism the main culprit for our problems with waste and ocean plastics, I started wondering if I really did need to buy even more stuff in order to be kinder to the planet. The answer is: I didn't. Capitalism lied to me.

'Sustainable' and 'zero waste' are the hottest buzzwords of late. And if ever there were a trend I could get behind, it's this one. From David Attenborough bringing plastic waste to the forefront to Greta Thunberg's amazing climate strikes, and more recently the calling out of fast-fashion brands. It's no secret that humanity's addiction to consumer goods and high-carbon travel has spiraled out of control. 


Fruit in a produce bag


Beware of Greenwashing


Our high-consumption culture is a product of the capitalist world we live in. If everyone truly stopped buying things they didn't need and Marie Kondo-ing their homes to create space for even more stuff, how on earth would Jeff Bezos and co. make any money? So, as they are designed to do, huge companies are now bombarding us with adverts for "sustainably sourced", fair trade or zero waste products. 

Often these products are "greenwashed". The Cambridge Dictionary defines greenwashing as: "behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is". We've all seen some form of this or another in recent years.

What is true sustainability, at least from a consumer perspective? 


Corporations are commodifying frugality and low-impact consumption, something many people have done for years while being branded tightwads and hippies. and it's a slippery slope. Sustainability should be accessible to everyone, not just people who can afford fancy water bottles. It's a pitfall I've fallen victim to so many times recently, but watching the fantastic YouTube videos made by the fabulous Jh√°nneu, I realised I didn't need all this extra stuff to do my bit...

The most sustainable items are the ones that you already own. 

Clothing


How many items of clothing do you own that you just don't wear? Maybe it's because you're saving it for a special occasion, or you don't feel like anything else goes with it. Or was it super trendy a few years ago, but now not so much? 

I've recently set myself the challenge of picking out more of those long-forgotten pieces and thinking of new ways to wear them. The result is that I feel like I'm wearing a whole new outfit but in reality I've spent nothing and my carbon footprint has gotten lower by not purchasing new items or travelling to buy something second-hand. I even repaired something the other day. I know, revolutionary. 

I also downloaded a free iOS app called Save Your Wardrobe to help me document items as I wear them and put together new outfits. I absolutely love it. Give it a try for a week and see if you can fall back in love with something from your wardrobe! 

Food


You've probably heard before that in the UK we throw away 7.1 million tonnes of household food waste every year. This is bad for three reasons: 
1.This rotting food produces a huge amount of greenhouse gas which is released into the air.
2. Much of this food is still in the packaging, which goes to landfill and doesn't break down. 
3. We have a huge problem with food distribution. While we have a huge surplus of food that's going off before we eat it, people in the countries that produce it for us are poor and starving. That's a heavy discussion for another day, but this article is a great bit of further reading. 

We've all forgotten about something in the fridge for a week only to find it mouldy and soggy on closer inspection, it's easily done - but I've managed to avoid it for the most part by doing a meal plan for the week and adding all the things I need to a shopping list that I stick to. 

In an effort to reduce food miles I've also been growing some veg in the garden. It's not always cheap to get going depending on what you want to do, but you can turn tiny little 99p seed packets into loads of food with a little effort. Even a windowsill is enough space to get started. 

Another great option, if you have access, is a zero-waste store or farm shop. Take your containers in and fill them up whenever you run out of anything, so you don't create any packaging waste (bonus: it's quite fun to do).

Health and Beauty

From shampoo bars to tongue scrapers, there are thousands of 'zero waste' or natural solutions to personal maintenance out there to purchase. I've wasted so much money on things like washable cotton rounds to remove makeup, artisan soap, and trying to replace every plastic bottle in my bathroom cabinet with a glass one. Was this the most sustainable thing I could've done? Definitely not. I own plenty of flannel face clothes, and there's nothing wrong with working your way through the plastic-packaged products you already have and opting for something more eco-friendly next time.

And yet, our social feeds are chock full of people who've cleared out tonnes of half-used products to replace them with low-impact options. It totally defeats the point and creates tonnes more waste.

How can we avoid consumerist pitfalls and make the transition to low-impact, sustainable living? 

The most important thing to remember is that no one person is going to get through life without creating any waste or doing something detrimental to the environment. What's more helpful is to strive to make small improvements in some areas of our lives and try to get the most out of the items we already have at our disposal.

I have no doubt that we'll be bombarded with marketing over the next few years for the latest zero-waste products. While it's great news that brands and manufacturers are paying attention to trends, they're cashing in on them too. We must actively try to consume less, rather than allowing them to influence us into consuming more while thinking we've done a good deed. 

And that doesn't mean never buying anything ever again, either. We can't all go and live in caves and fend for ourselves for all eternity! It just means making sure your purchases are informed - do you know where it comes from and how it's made? - and considered - will you get good use from this item, or is it a faddy impulse purchase? 

Asking myself these questions over the last few months has totally changed my spending habits and I've been able to invest in fewer, higher quality items that will last. I think that's a benefit worth reaping. 




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