We all know we face a global crisis in landfills and in our oceans, and that by switching to greener alternatives, we can do something to stop things from getting even worse.
So first of all, let’s say a big hurrah! Because wanting to start shopping more sustainably is a great start.
Name any goal or major behaviour change you can think of. Running a marathon. Losing weight. Achieving a business target.
Every single one of them has a greater chance of success if they are taken one step at a time, broken down into small, achievable chunks.
This is because a big goal is psychologically daunting, and it’s completely human to feel overwhelmed, fail at the first hurdle, and then give up.
Becoming a more sustainable shopper is no different.
It’s not about watching a documentary about the state of our oceans, then vowing to start a new life as an Eco Warrior the next day, throwing everything you own in the bin.
For a start, that would be wasteful. It would also be expensive. And if you don’t really know what to change, where to find it, or what a sustainable product even is, you’ll struggle to do it.
So our message is to start small.
Think couch to 5K, rather than overnight Gold Medallist!
Let’s start at the beginning
So, what do we even mean by being more sustainable? Well, environmental sustainability means avoiding the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. And it also means adopting behaviours that are able to be maintained long term. So, if we take plastics for example, which may take thousands of years to degrade, throwing them into landfill at the rate we have been doing is unsustainable.
Another way of thinking about it is not doing things now that will take opportunities away from future generations because we’ve used up all the resources, damaged the earth, or brought about harmful climate change.
So ‘sustainable’ relates to behaviours, but also ingredients and materials. Some ingredients and materials cause deforestation, and this is bad because this is a depletion of natural resources, and it, in turn, damages nature, wildlife, and our climate.
When you switch to a genuinely sustainable alternative, often it means forests are proactively being replanted, or the material itself regrows and replenishes. For example, bamboo is a naturally sustainable material because it regrows so fast.
Much of the focus on changing shopping habits is focused on plastics, and it’s easy to see why when you consider these alarming facts;
- Globally, 380 million tons of plastic is produced every year. (Source: Plastic Oceans).
- 91% of this plastic is not recycled. (Source: National Geographic).
- Millions of animals across nearly 700 species are killed or affected by plastic, through entanglement, strangulation, or blocking their digestive systems.
- 80 billion plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles thrown out globally each year.
- Only 50% of bathroom waste gets recycled, compared to 90% of waste in the kitchen.
It’s clear that one of the easiest but most important sustainable switches we can make involves removing as many single use plastics from our lives as possible.
Let’s take a walk
Just like a couch to 5K, why not start with a little walk, but around your home, pen and paper in hand. To make it easy, start with the smallest room in the house – the bathroom. Fling open the cabinet and make a note of all the single-use and disposable plastics you can see, from handsoaps and shower gels, through to toothbrushes and make up wipes.
Eek! We are willing to bet most of what you see is encased in plastic, with much of it ending up in the general waste in a matter or days or weeks.
There may be some other less obvious plastic surprises in there too, such as sanitary products and nappies – all of which contain way more plastic than you may think.
Keep walking and head to the kitchen.
Check the cupboard under the sink. Is it a plastic jungle of sprays and liquids? Can you spot a seemingly innocent pack of scourers, which are actually made of plastic and release microplastics down the plughole into the ocean?
Now the food cupboard and fridge. Squeezy bottles? Plastic bottled milk and other drinks? Cling wrap that makes an appearance a few times a day?
Right here, there are opportunities to start switching, slowly, easily, but surely.
Let’s talk alternatives
So we’ve identified that there are lots of items in the home that could be switched to a greener, more sustainable alternative and you may be full of enthusiasm and rearing to go.
But hold your horses! It won’t do the environment (or your wallet) any good to ditch the lot overnight. Use up what you’ve got first, and then replace each item with an eco-friendlier product next time.
One of the common myths is that going green means finding lots of extra cash. Ok, some items may cost a little more. But many don’t, and others will be more of an investment because you won’t have to buy so often.
So let’s start with an item that we know for a fact will be better for the environment AND save money.
And that’s bar soap. Of course, at the Little Soap Company, we know a lot about this because it’s what we do. Many people have one, two, or three plastic bottles of handsoap around the home on the go at any one time. They will last a few weeks. Bar soap, on the other hand, uses 20 x less packaging and can last at least three times longer, months even, and our soaps contain mostly natural ingredients and fully sustainable plastic-free packaging (which is even printed with vegan ink).
A switch of one plastic bottled soap to a bar soap alone could reduce your plastic disposal by 12 or so bottles a year. That’s not to be sniffed at.
And there is bar soap available for shampooing yourself, pet shampoo for your furry friend, face soaps, and shaving bar soaps as well. Each one offering better value than their bottled alternatives.
There are lots of fantastic alternatives on offer for other products too. Here are just some of our favourite ideas;
Old disposable you
Bottle soaps, shower gels, etc
New sustainable you!
Bar soap versions
Metal razor with replaceable heads
Chewable mouthwash tablets
Cotton or bamboo cloths
Cloths, washable nappies
Old disposable you
Plastic squeezy bottles
Plastic milk cartons
Packaged fruit & veg
New sustainable you!
Vegan wax wraps
Go back to glass or tinned!
Reusable chilly bottle
Make your own or refill
Try using a milkman!
Loose fruit & veg
Let’s start thinking differently
Sometimes becoming more sustainable is a simple case of swapping a plastic product to a non-plastic one which is easy, once you know what’s out there and where to find it.
But other times, it may involve a change of habit, trying something new. A bigger change in behaviour and possibly more effort.
By this we mean refilling, reusing and shock horror – actually repairing! So many of us are chucking and replacing when something could be fixed or repurposed for something else. And this really will save money as well as the planet.
So next time you go to throw something away, even if it is in the recycling, think about whether it could be used for something else.
Classic examples are plastic ice cream cartons or juice bottles. Most families need a gazillion containers, so keeping different shaped pots and bottles can be great for storage, picnics, packed lunches, batch cooking.
There’s also shopping mindfully. Do you actually NEED what you are about to buy, or do you have several already and it’s just a bit of retail therapy? Can you hold off, use up, do something else with your money instead?
Let’s help you through the greenwashing
One of the hurdles of consumers becoming more sustainably savvy is the effort by too many brands to pull the wool over our eyes. This includes using green colours and nature images in their package design, liberally using the words ‘natural’, ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, and making false claims.
The fashion industry has come under particular fire for using words like sustainable on their fabrics, but at the same time hiding unethical and environmentally damaging processes in their manufacturing or supply chains.
Sadly, it’s down to all of us to spot the rogue from the genuine and a good way to do it is to check for official accreditations like B Corp, FSC, and the recycle symbol. You can also use apps like Impact Score App (formerly known as Giki) which check, review and rates brands’ eco-credentials.
From couch to Eco Warrior, let’s go!
Hopefully, you’ll now be better equipped to make some simple sustainable switches around the home. Once you start thinking in terms of avoiding single-use plastic, making greener choices will soon become second nature.
So here’s how to get going, summed up neatly in a ten-point plan.
- Start small, there’s no need to change everything overnight.
- Audit what you use day to day, and decide what you can and can’t do without, and are happy to change.
- Use our swap list as well as your own research to find greener options.
- Choose alternatives that offer great value because they last longer or only need to be refilled or part replaced rather than fully replaced.
- Think before you buy – do you need it? Can you repair or extend the life of what you have?
- Don’t throw – think. What can you repurpose?
- Look for official labels and accreditations, read up on your favourite brands for their reputation and commitment on ethics, environmental and sustainability.
- Enjoy your new products and try different things. You’re more likely to stick with a more eco-friendly lifestyle if you like what you buy
- Tell your friends and family about your new eco-friendly purchases. This will give support to authentic green brands and encourages the people you know to become more sustainable too.
- Follow our blog and social media channels for more advice and inspiration.
We just know you’re going to love your new sustainable lifestyle. And as we’ve shown, it really won’t have to cost the earth.