10 Tips for More Ethical Shopping

1 – BUY SECOND HAND

Buying used goods rather than new wherever possible, reduces both the use of natural resources in their manufacture and transport, and also waste. Ebay, charity shops, car-boot sales etc are all great places to buy used items, and if you don’t like the sound of second hand, just call them vintage or antique.

2 – BUY RECYCLED / RECYCLABLE / REFILLABLE

Most of us like to think we’re ‘doing our bit’ for the environment by recycling, but the process isn’t complete until someone buys or uses the recycled material. This is what waste managers call ‘closing the loop’, the shift from a linear economy where resources are used and then discarded, to a circular one, where things are reused. Look for common recycled items like paper, toilet rolls, bin bags etc, or type in ‘recycled gifts’ for more creative recycled goods on the web.

3 – BUY THINGS THAT LAST / YOU CAN FIX

The idea of disposable goods is fairly new – before the age of globalised mass production things were designed for utility, aesthetics, durability and affordability, but now many items are designed for short-term convenience and cheapness. Our thresholds of what we consider worth our time and effort to fix have changed as a result – we still repair cars, but no longer shoes or most clothes. Buying more durable and repairable items both uses less resources over their lifecycle, and typically is considerably cheaper in the long run.

4 – BUY LOCAL

Buying locally produced goods avoids the impacts of long distance transport, and also helps support local jobs and communities, which in turn limits people’s need to travel for employment. There are often also advantages in fostering a sense of community and building relationships between producers and consumers. Distantly produced goods may also have non-obvious environmental or social impacts (such as sweatshop labour or pollution), that locally produced goods do not – as it would generally be more obvious if they did.

5 – BUY SEASONAL

Rich world supermarkets have lost much seasonal variation of food, with many fruits and vegetables being available all year year round, thanks to global production. Food imported from around the world not only has far higher energy footprints, but also tends to have significantly more packaging and preservative/pesticide content, to maintain freshness and appearance. Buy returning to a seasonally varied diet we can avoid these impacts, eat a more varied range of food, and also reconnect with natural cycles.

6 – BUY FAIRTRADE

Buying Fairtrade helps support communities of poor commodity producers, who are typically at a significant disadvantage to rich world merchants and consumers, who can usually dictate price to such an extent that many producers struggle to make any profit, or lift their communities out of abject poverty. Fairtrade originated in the 1980s as a way of giving rich world consumers the choice to pay a little more in order to support poor producers, improving living and working conditions, promoting better environmental standards and raising levels of social awareness.

7 – BUY ORGANIC OR HIGH WELFARE STANDARD FOOD

Organic certification of foods or other goods means a limited and restricted use of chemical products (like fertilizers and pesticides) during production, and in the case of livestock imposes high welfare standards and restricts the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and similar. It is also argued that organic foods and goods typically have lower energy inputs and are more beneficial ecologically, due to the way they are grown.

8 – BUY LOW TOXICS/LOW ADDITIVE

Obviously not all chemicals are harmful or damaging, and most products for sale in rich countries should have passed safety standards, but on a precautionary basis it still appears to be sensible to limit our exposure to unnecessary chemicals – such as air fresheners, scented cleaning products, harsh cosmetics and toiletries and volatile compounds in paints, fabrics and finishes. Even if you’re not especially concerned about any potential health impacts, the production of such chemical components require resources and energy, and can involve other hazardous processes and substances.

9 – BUY FROM ETHICAL COMPANIES

It’s a fact of life that some companies operate in a more ethical, environmental and socially responsible way than others. It’s relatively easy to check whether the company we’re buying clothes, laptops or chocolate from is also profiting from less acceptable practices like arms exports, labour exploitation, unethical marketing or corruption. Many companies produce CSR (corporate social responsibility) reporting, but it’s often more revealing to look at ethical comparison websites, or publications.

10 – BUY LESS

It’s not rocket science – stop spending money on junk. Just buy less.

Photo from Wan Chai, via Flickr

Comments

  1. A Fair Deal Locally says:

    As well as ebay and charity shops, parents can benefit from buying and selling at NCT Nearly New Sales (nct.org.uk).

    Ecological household products, such as Suma Ecoleaf and Ecover, can often be refilled from the shop they’re bought from.

    If something cannot be fixed, can it be recycled? Many charities take old mobile phones, ipods, laptops, ink cartridges etc for recycling which also raises them money (recyclingappeal.com).

    I love buying local and seasonal food but buying seasonal is problematic at the moment due to the poor weather. Supermarkets are importing broccoli from USA, onions from New Zealand, peas from Guatamala! May be if they imported less people would realise whats seasonal and whats not.

    Fairtrade is my mission!

    Buy British meat rather than imported meat. The UK has better standards than some other countries. Plus fewer miles.

    There are a number of organic toiletry companies making products using natural ingredients and no nasties like SLS, parabens, petrochemicals etc (greenpeople.co.uk, fairtradeskinproducts.com, faithinnature.co.uk). Good for you good for the environment!

    Not only buy from ethical companies, but also avoid those who are unethical

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