• Nina

Let's Talk: Sustainable Consumerism?

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

There’s been an explosive increase in sustainably-made, environmentally-friendly alternatives to products we use on a regular basis. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a wonderful thing to see; whether it’s a small business who’s committed to sustainable production all the way around, or a large company who’s invested in some eco-friendly items just to get on the bandwagon, every change is good, and I’m glad we’re headed in this direction.

Beautiful river hiking landscape

However, we’ve been living in a fast-fashion, cheaply-made market for a very long time, and we’re used to a fast-paced rate of consumption. You purchase a low-cost pair of sheets, they wear out after a few months-worth of washing, and then you buy another low-cost pair of sheets to replace them. You buy plastic sandwich bags at the grocery store, use and throw them all away, and buy a new pack after a few weeks. You purchase a pair of “suede” boots at Forever21, the bottom is completely worn out after one season, and you buy a new pair within a year’s time. Our society is accustomed to spending small amounts of money on a regular basis to replace low-quality items, which creates a large amount of waste, and in the long-run doesn’t save as much money as buying a slightly pricier alternative and not having to replace it for years, or ever. We are in a cycle of rapid consumerism: companies produce large amounts of poor-quality or single-use products, we buy them because the price is attractive, we run out or the item breaks down, and we buy another.

As we grow into this new age of higher-quality, fair-trade, sustainably-made products, there’s going to be a period of adjustment as our mindset changes. These products often cost more than the fast-paced, low-quality items that we’re used to buying

How do we navigate environmentally-friendly consumerism without spending more money?

Before you buy: Use What You Already Have

Maybe you keep seeing ads on Instagram for compostable toothbrushes, activewear made from recycled plastic, or a sustainably-made yoga mat, and you really want to make the switch. My advice: if what you have is currently working, don’t replace it. There’s no need to ditch your perfectly functional item for the “eco-friendly” version if it’s still working for you; you throwing away your old mat and buying a new one creates waste (waste that you were trying to avoid in the first place). I understand wanting to support a company that you believe in by purchasing their products, but if you don’t need to replace the item you have, don’t buy it just yet. It can be easy to get caught up in the sustainable-products trend, but don’t go shopping to replace the not-so-eco-friendly items you have at home until they actually need to be replaced. Save the planet while saving money; mindful living doesn't have to be expensive.

DO**** replace single-use plastics/items

Stop buying plastic Ziploc bags over and over again; instead, buy reusable baggies. You’ll start saving money after a few months of using the same bags instead of continuously buying disposable ones. These Greensto bags are microwave and dishwasher safe! One of my favorite items in my kitchen is my silicone baking sheet - nothing ever sticks to it so I don’t have to grease it, and now I never have to buy parchment paper or aluminum foil. Sure, a set of reusable items costs more than a package of single-use material, but you’ll save tens or hundreds of dollars over time because you won’t have to keep replacing

them every few weeks.

Buy non-perishable food-items in bulk

Buying in bulk means significantly less packaging wasted overtime, and as I’ve discussed before in my “healthy-eating on a budget” article, it saves you money. Buying oats in bulk at $0.30 a lb is way cheaper than buying a 16oz tub for $2.00 in the cereal aisle. Any non-perishable goods that you use on a regular basis such as spices, grains, beans, flour, nuts, etc. are going to be cheaper if you buy them in larger quantities, and have a relatively long shelf-life when stored properly. You’ll save money over time by purchasing goods at a lower price per oz., and you’ll save the planet by reducing your packaging waste.

Buy second-hand

And I don’t just mean clothing. There are lots of places (thrift and antique stores, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, etc.) where you can purchase almost anything second-hand. Home décor, furniture, electronics - you name it. If you’re looking for it, it’s out there. You can find gently-used or almost brand-new items for a fraction of their retail price, and reduce your footprint by avoiding direct purchases.

Don’t be afraid of a bigger price-tag for higher-quality items

Once again, it’s that concept of “spend a little more now, save a lot later.” Going for the cheapest option for products you use on a regular basis, such as kitchenware, bedding, clothing, and shoes will always end up costing you more in the long-run, because you’ll have to replace them far sooner than you would have if you’d spent a little more money for a higher-quality product. If you want to reduce waste and save money long-term, buying a well-constructed item from a small business that will last you a decade is the way to go.

Slow down

Fall out of the cycle. We’re so used to this seemingly endless pattern of rapid consumption. Take it easy; now that you’ve spent some money on a great product, leave it at that. You can relax and enjoy, and shop less often. Don’t deprive yourself, getting new stuff is innately fun, but be smart about it. Also, try upcycling! Create something beautiful out of something that was going to go to waste.

If you feel the urge to replace an item you already have with something different, find a new home for it first by selling or donating it. If you want to earn some money back to use towards the product you’re trying to get, sell your item on apps like OfferUp or Mercari (I’ve made back close to $500 in the last couple of years selling old items on Mercari). Selling or donating your goods instead of tossing them will prevent waste.

Watch out for “Greenwashing” ~ Make sure the money you spend goes to the right places

In order to keep up with the eco-conscious “fad,” several larger companies have created “environmentally friendly” product lines to grab consumer attention, without actually changing their business practices across the board. For example, the brand Love Beauty and Planet, which claims to be cruelty-free, fair-trade and uses 100% recycled packaging materials, is owned by Unilever, a company that is notorious for its environmentally destructive practices; their labor overall is not fair-trade, and most of their brands are not cruelty-free. H&M similarly has their Conscious clothing line, but overall their business practices are harmful fast-fashion. I love to see the awareness that comes from introducing new green products, but if you’re going to spend your money and try to support causes you care about, take care to make sure that that’s actually where your money is going.

Be careful if you’re thinking of purchasing a sustainable or eco-friendly subscription box; make sure that if you’re going to get one, the products in the box are actually products that are useful to you, and do some research on the company to see what they’re doing to give back and reduce their carbon footprint.

Buying eco-friendly, sustainable, vegan, fair-trade products doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be spending more money. You’ll probably be saving in the long-run by purchasing higher-quality products or crafting your own. Taking care of the planet we live on is another aspect of taking care of our own well-being. We are all connected to the Earth and everything that lives on it. Take care of yourself, the planet, and everything that we share it with by slowing down your consumer practices.

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly finds? Do you have any tips for reducing waste? Let’s talk in the comments!

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