Today is Earth Day! - an international day of climate activism which, this year, is themed around the pressing issue of plastic pollution.
Plastic is hitting the headlines on a regular basis, and rightly so. For far too many years, we've been incredibly blase about using it and even more laid back about discarding it, usually after one use, and usually without regard to where it might end up. So to that extent, I absolutely positively welcome any campaign that focuses the attention on something that, it transpires, requires our immediate action. Thank you Earth Day for hammering the message home!
What has saddened me though, is the immediate greenwashing by a host of companies claiming to offer environmentally sustainable alternatives. 'Refuse the straw!' and instead buy a selection of stainless steel ones, together with a little cleaning brush; ditch cling film and replace it with beeswax wraps, today with a 20% discount "#EarthDay"; "This bamboo toothbrush makes saving the world easy!"
Nothing bought is without consequences. Sure metal is more recyclable than plastic, but it's often mined by exploited workers, leaving a toxic trail and shipped thousands of miles. Beeswax wraps (which are actually a doddle to make yourself anyway!) may be more 'eco' than clingfilm, but what happened to covering your food with a plate?! And bamboo toothbrushes? Well, I'll cover those sometime soon... But safe to say, for the moment, I very much doubt the raw materials are local!
It's easy to get sucked in to making an ethical or sustainable purchase. The marketing of eco-products is no less flashy than that of the mainstream and the companies that sell them are just as eager to capture your spending for their own profit. And it's a minefield: often there isn't a 'right' option, sometimes just the marginal best of the wrongs. Product information is just as hidden, just as undecipherable and uses just as much pseudo-science in an attempt to baffle you into conceding and handing over your bank details.
My advice, for what it's worth, is just to not-buy. The least damaging option is to do without, no matter what materials your prospective acquisition is made of. Do you have an alternative? Can you borrow or hire instead? Can you make your existing product last a little longer? (All this procrastination does accumulate you know, useful for us Putter-Offers!)
If you do have to buy, really delve into the detail. Find out what your purchase is made of and the passage of its manufacture. Think about how you'll use it, how often, and what you're going to do with it when you're done. Disposal is YOUR responsibility - there are few companies who give due thought to this aspect. Make them answer your questions! (Poor EcoEgg had a barrage of emails from me to deal with recently, but were only too obliging!) And sometimes, just sometimes, plastic will be the best option - the one that's longest lasting, easiest to clean, and perhaps even least damaging to dispose of.
Ethical Consumer (an oxymoron given the context of this post!) is a subscription based service that aims to make this whole process a little easier. It covers pretty much every product and service and collates information to score the various options. You can make adjustments if your personal focus is, for example, ethical or environmental, and there is a 30 day, money back guarantee if you don't like what it provides. If you're the kind of person who buys a lot, then it's probably something worth considering. If not, stick to your guns - and if you deviate, local and independent, and the best quality you can afford, are useful rules of thumb.
Earth Day 2018 is nearly over, but it's going to take every bit of effort we can muster every day if we're to avoid catastrophic climate change, and we can make a difference with even seemingly tiny actions. Leave the day behind with thoughts about positive changes - that might be ditching the single use plastic or something that feels a little more appropriate to you. Either way, it's always worth an international day of something to refocus the mind!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.