Buying to be Sustainable?

Sustainability is hard but it is catching on as a concept. I recently got Instagram which has a lot of great sustainability people on it sharing their stories. By its very nature Instagram is a visual, sometimes superficial place to show off what you are doing and what you have.

There is a trend of people switching to “sustainable” items and buying “zero waste” products. I don’t have a problem with someone buying a bamboo toothbrush in order to save plastic. The problem comes when people throw away their plastic toothbrush and replace it when they could have carried on using it.  Many of the zero waste products that are being pushed so much are not responsibly made either, there are lots made abroad and shipped around the world and many with very loose claims relating to sustainability. Words like “eco-friendly” and “natural” are usually in the title but lacking any explanation. Many of these items have far higher carbon footprints than conventional alternatives.

There are a lot of great items you can buy, keep cups and reusable bottles are fantastic but there is nothing wrong with reusing items you already own (or even not buying takeaway coffee). I have had a plastic bottle at home for several years, once it breaks in some way then maybe I will replace it with a better one but I’m not going to replace it with something “sustainable” until I need too. Nor should we try to guilt people into thinking they should. This I think is the issue, it is fashionable to have these items and eco opportunists are trying to guilt people into buying eco-friendly items when the most eco-friendly thing you could do would be to not buy anything. Unless a product is actively harmful, you should use it up before buying something else.

Products like this are the problem, a folding, reusable straw in a plastic case. A metal straw must have originally been the result of a mine, a smelting process and a mould. Then we have the plastic and silicon that takes oil, heat and chemicals. Then it is shipped somewhere to a warehouse (in plastic no doubt) and then sent on to the customer as an “environmentally friendly” item. It’s advert also boasts, “Say no to plastic pollution” when the case for it is literally made of plastic.  Does anyone need a straw at all really? There may be some cases but for the most part you don’t and so buying one to be “sustainable” is ridiculous.  One of the other listings for that straw has a review stating: “Help make a difference for the environment.” Not only have people been persuaded to buy these, but they have also been tricked into thinking they are making things better


How did we live before collapsable straws in plastic cases? Absolutely fine that’s how.


Absolutely you should replace depleted items with more sustainable alternatives but buying extra things to be sustainable is flawed. Even a genuine “eco-friendly” product will have a carbon footprint that makes it far worse than not buying it at all. Items like the well regarded “Who Gives a Crap” toilet paper is shipped from China, as is the bamboo used in rival Cheeky Panda and all the other bamboo products on the market.

Admittedly bamboo absorbs more carbon than trees and grows super fast which makes it a good material. As amazing as it is however, the emissions from it’s trip around the world are significant. There is always a debate about locally made products versus sustainable foreign ones and it is an impossible debate to answer in most cases as you need to consider how much “hidden packaging” they have. Usually, I opt for the UK made option but it is always tricky and there is no hard and fast rule. I’m not saying that shipping from China makes an item more damaging, just that the shipping impact also needs to be considered during purchasing.

The only sure-fire way to minimise our impact is to use what we have, reuse what is left and buy sustainably the next time around. Don’t let the industry trick you into thinking that buying something additional or unnecessary is the answer.

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