Two years ago, I wrote a post on tiny changes I was making to try and live a more eco-friendly life. At the time, I was excited the sustainable journey I saw ahead of me. I was going to save the world! Me and my reusable bottle were ready to change lives.
I did all the usual things; I got myself a reusable bottle (or three. I had a habit of losing them.) I carried a tote bag everywhere; I ditched my makeup wipes in favour of reusable pads. I swapped as many cleaning products in my home to eco-friendly ones. I already recycled, and I don’t drive, so in my head I was the most environmentally conscious I could be. I practically absorbed excess carbon as I walked through town.
I was, of course, wrong. And although my intentions were good, my actions were very misguided.
Firstly, I’d often forget to bring my tote bag with me. No worries, though. To stay eco-friendly, I would refuse a plastic bag and just buy a new tote bag. Now I owned two, the chances of me losing it or forgetting it had halved, surely? Wrong, and also very wasteful.
Obviously if I was miles away from home and found myself in a shop without a tote bag I could be forgiven – but at the time I lived in town. If I went shopping and left my flat without my bag, it would take me all of five minutes to walk home and get it. The other option was to not buy that thing that day. Unless it was a post-work food shop I was doing at 11.30pm, I didn’t need the thing there and then, surely? I could have waited until the next day when I’d remembered my bag. But I didn’t, and I’ve ended up with a mountain of tote bags.
Secondly, I went through reusable bottles like no one’s business. The first one shattered when I dropped it. I lost the lid for the second. The one with the stars on tastes funny. The lip on the metal one was weird and grated on me if it touched my brace. Eventually I settled on a Brita bottle with a built-in filter, and that’s lasted me 8 months so far. I had a similar issue with reusable coffee cups – lids not staying on, lids not coming off, losing them, spillage from badly designed lids…..
Of course, I wasn’t to know before I bought these things, but it’s still a waste.
Finally, I was holding some strange belief that I had to have a fully clean slate. The 50p disposable cotton pads I’d bought in bulk from Primark got thrown away. The make-up a friend bought me that wasn’t cruelty-free got thrown away. I poured all my old cleaning products down the sink to make way for my Method bottles. If I used these things, I was complicit in killing the planet. With two years of hindsight, I cannot fathom why I did this. I cannot believe I threw away perfectly good things just to replace them. My attempts to save the planet were, initially, very wasteful.
I have learnt my lesson since, and my sustainability has improved a lot. I’ve realised that the way to save the world is to simply “consume less.” I don’t buy every single Harry Potter product that Primark release anymore. I will attempt to mend or tailor clothing before I replace it (I’m not good at it, but I try!) I don’t need new notebooks, and I don’t need any new shoes, and I certainly don’t need any new games! And while not everything I buy is eco-friendly, by reducing what I buy, I feel like I’m making a bigger difference.
Obviously, if there’s a choice between a sustainable item and a non-sustainable one, I’ll pick the sustainable one. If none of the things I want to buy are marked as sustainable, I’ll pick the one with the least packaging, or the easiest to recycle packaging. But if there’s another choice of ‘just don’t buy it’ then that’s option you pick. It sounds so obvious, but it’s a bit of a lifestyle change. When I started questioning every item I picked up off a shelf, I really became aware of what I wanted, and what I thought I wanted.
I’m sure most people are very reasonable with what they buy, but I wasn’t. I was very much an impulse buyer. I never bought things for the sake of spending money, but I didn’t think enough about what I was buying. I liked the glittery eyeshadow palette, and I wanted it – but I never went anywhere that merited glittery eyes. I loved the fairy lights that looked like lightbulbs, so I bought them – but I didn’t actually have anywhere to put them. Now I won’t deny myself anything, but I’ll make sure I need it and want it, and I’ll know where it will live, and I’ll know when it will get used before I buy it.
There are more steps I’d like to take – I’d like to stop using clingfilm and use the beeswax wraps instead. I’m toying with the idea of installing a water butt, but I don’t trust my dog not to eat through it. I’d like to buy more of my clothes second-hand (though I’m still iffy with second-hand shoes) but until then, I’m happy with the changes I’ve made.
The big responsibility lies with corporations, who mass produce and waste energy, but they’ll keep producing as long as people like me keep buying. And if just 100 people have the same thought, that’s 100 fewer sales being made, and 100 things that need replacing. Who knows if it’s enough to make a change, but I’d like to think it is.