Buy Well, Buy Once: How to Make Planet-Friendly Purchases
Most of us are aware of the need to reduce waste. But while we may diligently sort, recycle and donate goods for reuse, these efforts only go so far. We need to make planet-friendly purchases because, with the continuing popularity for fast fashion, over-packaged products and cheap electronics, the issue of global waste remains problematic.
In fact, a 2021 report by the World Economic Forum found only 5-6% of generated plastic waste in the US was actually being recycled. In addition, research from the UK’s Department for Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) highlighted households create 26m tons of rubbish a year. Shockingly, this latter figure amounts to around 400kg per person or roughly seven times an average person’s body weight!
The majority of this waste goes straight into landfills which is clearly bad news for our planet. So, how do we tackle the problem more effectively? One of the best ways is to cut back on what we consume by making more sustainable, planet-friendly purchases. Yet choosing to become a more ethical shopper isn’t just about switching to a reusable coffee cup for your morning latte (although it’s certainly a good start). Creating lasting change can involve a dramatic shift in people’s mindset.
What is Sustainable Shopping?
Sustainable shopping refers to the environmental impact of the products we buy. This could involve the materials used to manufacture the product, the energy used to manufacture them or the carbon footprint of transporting them to shops. Making more planet-friendly purchases means thinking carefully before buying anything from a pint of milk to a new carpet.
“It’s all about asking yourself; is this product, shop, or brand doing things in a way that’s built to last, both environmentally and ethically?’ advises one sustainability expert. “Will I still feel good about this purchase in the future?”
How Can I Get Started?
Sometimes making planet-friendly purchases is easy – picking local, free-range, organic eggs over the battery-farmed variety, for instance. On other occasions it might involve researching the supply chain and history of a product, getting in touch with the manufacturer to ask about their practices and in some cases even boycotting a brand.
Luckily there is a growing movement, aimed at reducing consumer waste, helping to increase the availability and visibility of sustainable options. This includes initiatives such as packaging-free grocery stores that allow shoppers to refill their own jars and libraries of ‘things’ where you can borrow – instead of buying – everything from kitchen equipment to garden tools.
Start small by switching to a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water – a change that prevents an average of 156 plastic bottles from filling our oceans annually. From there you can begin looking at all the other ways to cut back on waste.
Where Can I Shop Sustainably?
Where there may be a real need to buy something, environmental campaigners usually recommend shopping secondhand. It’s a prime opportunity to be more individual in style too. An annual campaign run by Oxfam in the UK, ‘Second Hand September’, encourages people to only buy preloved items for 30 days. Once you get into the habit of purchasing this way it can become a year-round choice. Pick preloved toys, vintage clothing and secondhand books and you’ll help to keep existing items in circulation for longer thus reducing waste.
You can even shop for gently-used clothing items, or sell your own clothes you no long wear, on websites and apps like Poshmark, ThredUp, eBay, Vinted and more. This is a much better option than buying new clothes and more planet-friendly than throwing away clothes you’ve grown out of or don’t want to wear anymore.
If you do need to buy new, look for items in local stores to cut back on carbon emissions and seek out proven brands and stores committed to sustainability.
Tara Button founded the website ‘Buy Me Once’ to promote brands that score highly on sustainability and longevity. “Most of the environmental damage is done during manufacture and distribution, so it’s clear that buying one thing that could last ten years is better than buying something again and again each year,” she explains. “That’s nine times the manufacture and distribution that didn’t have to happen so a 90% saving on carbon emissions.”
Will Planet-friendly Shopping Cost Me More?
There is no getting around the fact planet-friendly shopping usually means a greater initial outlay. Choosing an endlessly-recyclable, natural cast iron pan undoubtedly costs more than buying one made of Teflon or another synthetic material.
This can make for difficult decisions, especially when we are seduced by the lure of what appears to be a better ‘bargain’. But more often than not cheaply-made items prove to be a false economy as they quickly need replacing. This is especially true of items that are going to get a lot of use, such as clothes and furniture.
Quality items can demand a higher price point, but similarly should offer greater longevity and reduce the need to replace so frequently. Here are some buying tips to help you spend wisely and be sustainable:
- Develop a ‘less is more approach’ to invigorate and liberate your wallet.
- Be more scrupulous with your wardrobe spends.
- Create a vintage capsule wardrobe.
- Focus on just one new key item when you next need to replace a coat or shoes.
- Buy in bulk when choosing furniture for your home and garden.
You can also choose home and outdoor furnishing made out of sustainable and durable materials, as one expert in garden design explains, “Paying a little more for quality eco-friendly materials usually saves you money in the long run.” Then, if you’re buying larger household items that are kinder to the environment, you can justify paying a higher price.
What Difference Does it Make?
The benefits of making planet-friendly purchases are multiple. By shopping sustainably you will help to reduce your carbon emissions, save natural resources, reduce waste sent to landfill, support your community – especially when you shop locally – and help create a market for new sustainable goods and materials. This, in turn, helps the green economy to grow and will create new jobs.
Thinking more carefully about what you consume can have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing too. Cutting back on single-use plastics helps to reduce emissions, leading to cleaner air and reduces our exposure to toxic chemicals entering the food chain.
Buying fewer, better-quality things also means less clutter and more time. Excess clutter in our homes is known to affect our mental health and can lead to increased levels of anxiety and reduced focus. Buying less gives us more time and encourages greater creativity, according to some campaigners, ultimately making us happier.
“Happiness we’ve bought, such as a new outfit or comfort food, is usually short-lived and doesn’t add to our lives in any meaningful way. Over consumption also puts more and more pressure on our environment, as everything we buy has to be disposed of eventually.
“By changing our attitude to money and consumer goods we can become more creative in our approach to life.”