Does it even matter how and where you spend your money? I’d say it definitely does! “Every time you spend money, you cast a vote for the kind of world you want” says Anna Lappé, author and sustainable food advocate. So, if our consumerism actually is political, shouldn’t we try to put our spendings where it doesn’t damage the environment? Buy less, buy better. Here are a few things you can do to shop more sustainable in 2021.
Think Before You Buy
It sounds rather obvious and I am sure most of us might be convinced that we only buy what we really, really need. Do we though?
In 2018 88.6% of americans succumbed to the temptations of impulse shopping. “Retail therapy” and “treating yourself” are pretty common concepts when it comes to our consumer behavior. It does show that we definitely buy more than we really need.
In order to shop more sustainable we need to stop buying out of a mood. Before purchasing something, no matter how small or big your investment might be, take into consideration if you really need what’s in your cart. Aggressive marketing, advertisements, promo codes, social media etc are really good in clouding our vision there. While we’re convinced that we absolutely need this item (maybe even though we weren’t actually looking for it) we might have already forgotten about it the next day.
The easiest way to figure out how urgently you need to buy something, put it in your virtual (or imaginary) shopping cart and just leave it there for a few days. Do you still feel like buying it or are you doing just fine without it? Maybe you even forgot about that purchase entirely.
Buy Second Hand or Borrow
We are already seeing the consequences of excessive consumption. The so-called “Earth Overshoot Day” is a yearly reminder that our planet is stressed beyond capacity. We’ve taken more than it can renew. Circular consumption is an attempt to fix this problem. By using only what’s already there, we’re effectively reducing waste through reusing and recycling materials and items.
To support these circular solutions, before purchasing something new, just check if there’s a way to buy it second hand or maybe just borrow it. The market for vintage fashion, used books and even refurbed electronics is huge. It might take a little while longer to find what you’re looking for, but once you do, chances are you’re even saving some money by shopping preowned items.
A safe bet for some steals are the good old flea markets. They offer a huge variety of unique items and you never really know what you’ll discover. No matter if you’re looking for fashion, electronics or interiors, a wide choice of second hand items is waiting to be found online as well.
Avoid Single-Use Plastics
So, we’ve just talked about circular consumption. Single-use plastics are not a part of these circular solutions. To meet our goal to shop more sustainable in 2021, we definitely want to avoid using them. A pretty good and easy practice is to bring your own tote bag while shopping for example. Since many items are wrapped in single-use plastics though, you should check if there are package free alternatives available. The easiest way to avoid single-use plastics all together, is to shop in package free stores. Just bring your own cotton sacks or storage containers and you’re good to go on your zero-waste shopping trip.
If you’re shopping for clothes, it does make a lot of sense to check the materials first. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, acrylic and viscose, are huge culprits of environmental pollution. On the one hand these materials aren’t exactly biodegradable or if they are, like viscose/rayon, it takes a lot of time. On the other hand the production of synthetic fabrics is not exactly eco-friendly. as it requires huge amounts of water. This way of production is actually contributing to the pollution of our water systems by pumping back chemically contaminated water into the oceans, seas and rivers, causing serious danger to aquatic organisms.
Check The Labels/Certifications
Talking about fashion, you should keep in mind that the regular fast fashion industry in itself is not sustainable at all. Aside from the fact that the way clothes are produced hurts our eco-system, the industry promotes mass consumption and is seriously exploiting its workers by withholding them basic rights. So if you want to invest in a brand new garment, you should try to invest in a fair fashion piece. While the market is still dominated by brands that don’t really care about sustainability, the fashion industry is changing and there are many eco-conscious labels that deserve your dollars. Since fair fashion is in vogue, keep an eye out for certifications that are more than just greenwashing.
For a pretty intense and eye-opening look into the fashion industry I recommend watching The True Cost.
You can also have a look at my conscious shopping guide to Los Angeles.
Shop Local & Support Small Businesses
I know we’ve done it all. It is super comfortable and probably the easiest way to spend your money, but if you want to shop more sustainably, don’t rely on the big A and other global players. It is no secret that they care for profit more than they care for the planet or their own workers. More importantly they damage local businesses, that are way more likely to be invested in the well-being of your community and its future though. By supporting small businesses instead, you are supporting your local community. If you’re giving your money to locally owned businesses, you’re helping to build a local economy that is strong and creates jobs for you and your neighbors.
Let’s not forget the environmental impact of supporting your locals. Buying food from your local farmer, or purchasing locally produced goods reduces your carbon footprint. Not only do the goods get to you without a huge journey around the globe. Shopping locally also means that you’ll get there easily – on foot, by riding your bike or taking public transportation.
Changing our consumer habits into a more sustainable lifestyle is definitely a process that takes some time and adjustment. Nobody is perfect and so nobody should feel ashamed for the decision they make. Being aware of the fact that it does make an impact where we spend our money is a good start. From here we can try and do our best for a more sustainable future.