Clothes, furniture, gifts, books, cars; anything you might conceivably desire or need to acquire. There’s a lot of shopping out there. So should we be shopping ethically and sustainably? And if so, why?
The more I think about this, the harder it is. But what does ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ even mean? Ethical usually refers to the treatment of producers; the growers, makers, factory workers, sellers and the community in which those people live. Sustainable usually refers to the environmental impact of production; the harm to the earth. But the two are interconnected and interdependent on each other.
Different people will have different criteria. Animal cruelty free, organic, handmade, made in the UK, fairly traded, natural, chemical free, independent and so on.
Not everything can have, or needs to fit all of these criteria, but the main problem is; how do we know?
Take leather goods. Leather is used in lots of things, clothes, baggage, furniture and boots, just to name some. Most people reasonably think that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, rather than having animals raised just to be slaughtered for their skins. Which by and large it is, so it’s ‘natural’ right? But the tanning process- which is what turns an animal skin into a useable fabric- involves tonnes and tonnes of highly toxic chemicals. And where does this lovely process take place? Well, not round here of course. That sort of dirty work is farmed out to some poor place. India for example, where poor people are exposed day after day to these chemicals, all of which run off from the processing plants into nearby water courses, onto land used to grow food. Just so some people overseas can buy some new boots.
So what’s the alternative? Have boots made from artificial fabrics, which are derived from the ever decreasing supply of petrochemicals? But that of course creates its own pollution and contaminations.
There are bespoke leather producers out there, who tan and prepare the leather in a less destructive way. But this of course costs more, and most consumers are mass consumers, and the price of an item is a major concern.
These same sort of chemical concerns apply to everything that’s massed produced, polluting the air and water and food of the immediate areas, as well as the billions and billions of tonnes of carbon produced every year during production and transportation.
And of course exploitation of the people that make our stuff. From Chinese factories making people work 18 hour days, with few breaks and no health and safety, to Ukrainian children being sent en-masse to pick cotton every year. From the raw materials being pulled or grown out of the ground, to a significant portion of that ending up in landfill a few years or even just months later, as waste products from the processing or as consumers move on to the next fad.
Nowadays even the luxury brands are competing in the ‘fast fashion’ world (which doesn’t just apply to clothing), and they don’t want loyal customers, they want lots of customers. Lots of customers mean lots of products, and less concern about the background of where and how that item was made.
As consumers it’s near to impossible to found out the provenance of our purchase. It made say ‘Made in China’ on the back, but how, and what from? Who by? And how did it get to our shop? So if we’re all pretty much stuck with our consumer goods being made of the cheap, far away, maybe we should look to other definitions of ethical?
Shopping in independent shops used to be the norm. There just weren’t big chains. Now the independent shops are the hardest to find. If you shop in an independent shop is it more ‘ethical’? Is it ‘unethical’ to shop in a huge chain store? And what if your huge local supermarket sold British made products, but your independent shop bought stuff from china?
Now that is a conundrum? Which is ‘more ethically sound’? Honestly I don’t know!
Perhaps the only way to shop ‘sustainably’ is to just not shop at all. Never, ever upgrade until you really, really have to.
Except of course, people want more stuff. We really do, even though we know we don’t need it.
Buying ‘pre-owned’ or ‘pre-loved’ (as second hand is now known) is a great option. There’s so much ‘stuff’ out there everyone has plenty to share. Online marketplaces like eBay, Amazon marketplace, ASOS marketplace, and Gumtree, are great for bargains. Freebie sites like Freecycle and Freegle offer swap services. And even the good old classified ads in your local paper, car boot sales and jumble sales can be great places to gather more things.
Perhaps shopping like this won’t save the planet, but it might mean one less thing going to landfill, or a little bit less carbon produced from the making and transport of a ‘new’ thing, or a little bit less contamination of some far away persons land.
Sustainable shopping is possible even on a budget. You don’t have to be well off to get your fast fashion fix or keep up with the fads. Bargains and beauty can be found second-hand, and once you start looking, you’ll wonder how you missed them before.
LadyLoafer has been reading ‘To Die For; Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? ‘ by Lucy Siegle.
Don’t do it!!