The Ecotricity ethical guide to shopping

29 November 2018

The impact of consumer culture has reached crisis point for our planet, as it struggles to keep up with the demands of our growing population. Thousands of tonnes of waste material are dumped into our oceans and landfills ever year, and working conditions in developing countries continue to suffer under the expectation of cheap, fast labour.

But thankfully, the call for ethical produce is getting louder and manufacturers are paying attention. Here’s how you can start shopping more ethically. 

Hit the charity shops

In the UK alone, more than 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ends up in landfills every year. Before you think about buying new, see if you can find what you’re looking for in your local charity shop. It can be a source of hidden treasures, particularly if you’re looking for clothes, toys, books or music.

By paying a visit to your local charity shop, you know your money is going to a good cause and you’re limiting your carbon footprint by re-using something that’s already gone through the manufacturing process.

Buy from ethical clothing stores

Instead of heading straight to known high street brands, familiarise yourself with some ethical clothing brands that are doing great work for the planet. Here are the key things you should look out for:

  • 100% organic cotton uses less water than non-organic, and it’s free of pesticides and fertilisers which makes it better for the planet. It’s also biodegradable, so it doesn’t need to go into landfills. Look out for brands that are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the Soil Association, or Oeko-Tex.
  • Sustainable fabrics like bamboo, hemp, Tencel, and recycled denim are better for the environment because they use less resources than other textiles. Some ethical clothing stores even make clothes from recycled plastic, or wood pulp.
  • Ethical employers provide their workers with a safe working environment and fair pay – look for brands that are World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) accredited. Check the supply chain of clothing stores, and go for a brand that are transparent in their approach to sourcing and manufacturing their product.

You may have to spend a bit more up front, but your new ethical clothing will last much longer than cheap fast fashion items. You can still make ethical clothing choices on a budget – you just need to do a little bit of research.

Check eBay for second hand items from known ethical clothing retailers. The Ethical Consumer website also has a list of UK high street brands, scoring each out of 20 – try to pick the highest rated brand you can afford.

Shop for Fairtrade food

The Fairtrade symbol guarantees better prices, working conditions, sustainability, and terms of trade for farmers and workers in developing countries.

Fairtrade standards extend to environmental protection, including energy and carbon emissions, soil and water quality, and biodiversity protection. They also promote training for farmers for switching to environmentally friendly practices, along with supporting long-term sustainability.

There are a range of products that can be certified by the Fairtrade Foundation, including:

  • Food
  • Sweets and chocolate
  • Coffee and tea
  • Flowers
  • Herbs and spices
  • Wine
  • Beauty products
  • Cotton

There are more than 4,500 Fairtrade products available from UK shops – you can find out more about them on the Fairtrade website.

Should you boycott palm oil?

Palm oil is a versatile and widely used product, found in nearly 50% of all supermarket items. It has a much higher yield than soya, sunflower and rapeseed oil, and some of the world’s poorest areas rely on the farming of palm oil for their livelihoods.

But palm oil is a huge contributor to deforestation in areas like Indonesia and Malaysia, as vast expanses of rainforest are cleared to make room for palm plantations. This removal of hundreds of acres of rainforest is a huge threat to biodiversity and species survival, with the orangutan now on the critically endangered list.

Some groups call for a total boycott, but that doesn’t address the wider issues contributing to climate change and species extinction. Buying products that use sustainably sourced palm oil is a good start – and here are some other ways you can combat climate change.

Buy products that are certified vegan

The Vegan Society have recognised thousands of everyday items as being free from animal products. From makeup and cosmetics, to shoes and accessories, and even vegan gas and electricity – it’s never been easier to find vegan friendly products.

You can also support animal welfare and reduce your personal carbon emissions by avoiding products containing fur or leather. Over a million animals are killed every year for their fur, and leather products have a huge carbon footprint, so the most ethical thing to do is to stay clear.

Check for the Leaping Bunny

Cruelty free cosmetics have been much easier to track down in recent years, with thousands of products becoming certified with the Leaping Bunny symbol.

If you’re shopping for toiletries, make up, or household goods, check for the Cruelty Free Leaping Bunny symbol – it’s the only way you can be absolutely sure that it hasn’t been tested on animals.

Make your own wrapping paper

When it comes to gifts, don't buy rolls of wrapping paper you’ll throw away after they’ve been used. Invest in some reusable knot wraps made from recycled or sustainable materials instead.

If you’re particularly crafty, you could try making your own wrapping paper. Most plastic Christmas wrapping paper isn’t recyclable, so buy some plain brown paper and use stencils or stamps to create a unique design for your family and friends.

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