What I Buy
Where you spend your money matters. It is true that more damage is being done by big corporations and multinational companies. Their aim is to make a profit and for that they need customers. They need us to spend our money. What happens if we don’t? In this sense, making a purchase is similar to casting your vote. As a customer, you have a voice. As an individual, it is up to you to choose how you use it.
Consider the recommendations below in order to stay informed.
There are many benefits to shopping locally. Local Irish companies tend to be small businesses. They are run by people who produce their products themselves and are passionate about what they are doing. Because they are small, these companies have lower carbon footprint levels compared to bigger companies who mass produce. Your own carbon footprint will be lower since there will be no international shipping involved. Finally, by spending your money locally, you support the local economy and have more influence on where that money is allocated and for what purposes.
Shop at the Market
By choosing to get your fruit and veg at the market or a greengrocer instead of a supermarket that is part of a chain, you also support local economy. More of the produce that you buy at the market is organic and home grown. This means less chemicals are used in the farming process and shipping is reduced. These markets are often committed to reducing plastic packaging. Go to a food or a farmers market in your area and see that the products are of much better quality.
Most of us are aware that plastic is one of the many villains of climate change, one that arrived on the scene only in this century. Plastic can be useful in certain cases, especially in medical fields but its everyday use in our lives is not needed. It is made from fossil fuels and despite popular opinion, does not get recycled most of the time. In the rare cases that it is, it can only be done two or three times. Therefore, it is important that we do our best to reduce it.
Say No to Packaging
Unfortunately, plastics have a way of sneaking into other products in the form of packaging. When possible, ask for no packaging and bring your own reusable fruit and veg bags instead of using the plastic bags provided. Instead of buying soft drinks in plastic bottles, opt for metal cans. Beauty products and toiletries can be a big problem. When possible, choose soap or shampoo bars instead of liquids in plastic bottles. Small Irish companies usually use glass jars instead of plastics for skin products.
Use Zero Waste Shops
Zero Waste shops are becoming more popular around Ireland. Due to E.U. regulations, bigger supermarkets will soon also be required to provide refill stations for products which often use plastic packaging. How these shops work is instead of having products such as rice, cereals, pasta or nuts pre-packaged, you bring your own packaging or use paper bags provided to refill your supplies, thus reducing packaging and unnecessary waste.
Paper, Metal, Glass and Wood
Thankfully, there are many alternatives to plastic which you can buy. Paper, metal, glass and wood or timber are all natural resources which are not as damaging to the environment as plastic. Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely if disposed of carefully. Nowadays, you can buy many products made with these materials that were previously made using plastic. For example, plastic food containers can be swapped with glass, metal or even bamboo ones. Plastic straws can be replaced with metal ones. You can buy bamboo toothbrushes or a paper board game instead of a plastic toy for a child.
Reuse What you Can
By reusing items that are already in your possession, you reduce your waste. Remember, even when something is made out of natural, recyclable materials, it will still produce waste when discarded. With this in mind, it is a good idea to own items such as reusable cups or reusable cloth/cotton pads rather than disposable ones.
A lot of the time, when you believe you need a product, it is possible that you might have something that can serve the same purpose at your house. For example, instead of buying a pen holder, you can use an old jam jar. This offers you space to get creative and even have fun with you kids — see if you can build a doll house or a space station using cardboard boxes and used kitchen rolls.
Less is More
The most sustainable product is the one you don’t buy. Living in the age of consumerism has made us believe that we need to own much more than is necessary. Recently, a lot of us have practiced behaviours commonly known as ‘retail therapy’. Before buying something, ask yourself: do I really need this? Or: will this make me feel happier? Creativity, exercise or spending time with nature can boost your mood more than a shopping spree. Have a look at the Mind and Body section for more.
Know What you Buy
Doing a quick research can go a long way. If you are looking to buy a certain product, see if there is a more sustainable choice. Check what materials are used to make your desired product and where it is made. That awareness is key and with the help of the internet, this research does not have to take more than five minutes. Certain apps like evocco can help you with this.
Beware of Greenwashing
Green-washing is a marketing tactic which uses buzzwords such as eco-friendly, sustainable, organic, natural, in order to appeal to environmentally-conscious customers. It is becoming more common among big brands. This is why doing your research is key. An ethical company will share specific information about their source materials and labour. Something to remember is that in general, anything mass-produced is not in fact sustainable and eco-friendly. Fashion brands are most guilty of doing this.
Use Your Voice
Being a customer is similar to being a citizen and using your voice can also have an impact in this context. All companies do market research to find out what customers like and don’t like, what they buy and what they don’t buy. As such, when you like something, talk about it. When you don’t like it, talk about it. If you buy a local Irish brand, tag them on social media and let them and your followers know that their products are sustainable. When you decide to not shop at a particular company anymore, let them know why. Tell them on social media or via email that you do not support their practices. Companies and corporations are responsible for what is on the market, but it is the customers that are the market itself.
Producers of foods such as chocolate or coffee may also engage with greenwashing and other unethical practices which are harmful to our environment. Fairtrade products make sure that the farmers which begin the chain of production are paid fairly and that the production practices do not threaten local environments.
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