With climate change and plastic pollution making headlines every day, many of us are eager to live a more planet-loving lifestyle, but simply don’t know where to start. Here are five questions you can ask yourself, to make every shop a conscious one.
1. What is it made from?
A quick scan of the ingredients label on any product can identify some common nasty toxins to avoid, such as Ammonia, Benzene, Chlorine, Dioxin, Formaldehyde, Mercury, Mineral Oil, Parabens, Petrochemicals, Phosphates, Phthalates, SLS, Synthetic Fragrance, Toluene and Triclosan (for a comprehensive list, check out our glossary of toxins you should avoid).
Unfortunately, not every product lists all its ingredients on the packaging – this in itself is a big red flag.
The general rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients and the greater transparency on ingredients labels, the better.
Materials to try and avoid include:
- All plastics: Even the ones that could possibly be recycled if we had the resources. When disposing of plastic containers, the Australasian Recycling Label on each plastic product tells you which bin each piece of packaging should go into – the identification codes of 1-7 can be put in your recycling bin. In the Northern Beaches, soft plastics need to be taken to a Redcycle deposit at your local Coles or Woolworths. If it’s a reusable plastic container such as a water bottle or lunch box, ensure its BPA-free, and next time you need to replace it, try something stainless steel.
- Synthetic fabrics: Look for clothes and homewares that don’t contain synthetic fabrics. When washed, tiny fibres come off the items, get washed into our waterways and become problematic, because they do not biodegrade and they can bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants, such as pesticides or flame retardants. Studies have shown health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibres, which then make their way up the food chain and into the fish and shellfish we consume.
2. Where was it made?
The further away a product was made or grown, the further it had to travel to get to you, which impacts on carbon emissions, as well as freshness and potentially manufacturing processes and worker rights. Is there an identical product made or grown in Australia, right next to the one you have in your hand that isn’t? It might cost a few cents more, but you’re supporting an Aussie business and leaving behind a smaller carbon footprint. For extra brownie points, shop with businesses based locally to where you live.
3. How is it packaged?
A few core offenders include bananas wrapped in plastic, avocados packaged in hard and soft plastic and lemons in netting. Sigh.
Look for loose or less-packaged options, or try the whole-food or zero-waste store across the road. It’s really fun and empowering to fill your BYO containers and bags with loose produce and groceries!
Soap bars have also made a comeback to replace a lot of the single-use, plastic packaging in personal care and cleaning products. Look for face bars, shampoo and conditioner bars, as well as laundry and dish washing blocks. These products are concentrated so they last a long time and you’re not paying for water, which is one of the main ingredients in most liquid alternatives.
4. Is it made to last?
Remember the “buy cheap, buy twice” motto? How long is this item or its packaging likely to last you? Can it be repaired if it breaks? Can it be refilled, up-cycled, used for a different purpose or disposed of with zero waste at the end of its life? A simple example here is using wax wraps as an alternative to cling wrap. When looked after properly, one wax wrap will last a year and can be composted at the end of its life, leaving no waste.
5. Does it bring you joy?
Not to get too Marie Kondo on you, but ask yourself why you’re buying something. Is it because it’s on sale? Or because your child is nagging you for it? Or because you need it in a hurry?
Ask yourself what value you put on an item and if it’s worth your hard-earned money and space in landfill one day.
The more we look for and demand sustainable products, the more companies will make them. The culture of producing items that need to be replaced in 2-3 years to help business revenue, at the cost of our financial freedom and planet, needs to end.
Every time you shop, you’re casting a vote with your wallet. Do your research and make small changes where you can.