We all have to buy things. I, personally, really enjoy buying things of good quality that will last for many years. But when we start our sustainability journey, many products need to be replaced with something more durable and environmentally friendly than the previous. For example, investing in a steel straw to replace plastic ones.
Yes, there are some things we need to purchase to be able to reduce our trash, but not nearly as many items as a large portion of sustainability lifestyle YouTubers/bloggers would have us believe in order to make money through Amazon affiliate sales.
Not all are pushing products. There are plenty who are talking about free swaps. But many who are well-known are spending more articles and videos selling you something rather than teaching you how to reduce your waste. Sponsorships are trumping authentic content.
It’s somewhat understandable, everyone needs to make money. But, making money as an Amazon affiliate isn’t a good profession.
Here’s the thing: Amazon can give you access to plenty of products to help you start your sustainability journey. It is estimated that 56% of household in the U.S. have a Prime membership. Many people also have the impression that Amazon is run by a bunch of small businesses- much like Ebay or Etsy. However, that simply isn’t the case anymore.
Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay are being flooded with big business accounts selling cheaply made goods. And Amazon more than any as they now over 1,500 different private-label products. It really is just an online version of Wal-Mart. In addition, Amazon takes advantage of migrant workers, older workers, and people who don’t have many other employment opportunities, as well as the Chinese workers who make most of their products.
One thing that you might say is maybe a little bit evil is Amazon’s treatment of geriatric migrant workers. Some would say, well, Amazons’ being benevolent, because these are people that don’t have retirement savings, they’ve lost their jobs, they don’t have any options, so this is an option that Amazon is offering to people. But the work is hard, and strenuous, and sometimes the days are 10 or 12 hours, and older bodies can’t necessarily handle that very well. So some would say, boy, they’re really exploiting a gap in our society—that we’re not taking care of older workers, and they’re losing their jobs through downsizing and age discrimination, and Amazon is being somewhat evil in an opportunistic way in taking advantage of them.
Are we evil if we use Amazon? I don’t know if we’re evil, but we certainly may be inattentive.
–David Larson, Senior Fellow, Dispute Resolution Institute and Professor, Mitchell-Hamline School of Law
The thing is, sustainable living is a wonderful and exiting thing. At the beginning, many of us are willing to pay replace all of our plastic with steel and glass just to get something that we are told is “eco-friendly.” But swearing off plastic only to buy a bloggers recommended “Zero-Waste kit” on Amazon is not the best way to improve our habits.
I want to talk about the ways we can look past the product-pushing of many Zero-Waste influencers, and get to the heart of using sustainable products with less cost.
Be skeptical of the products
I wish I had listened to me intuition when a few Zero-Waste influencers were promoting LUSH shampoo bars. Yes, they are a very low-waste option, but the ingredients are questionable and not in the realm of things that I consider eco-friendly. Sodium Laureth Sulfate is a pretty consistent ingredient, and it has been found to be moderately toxic to aquatic life in it’s raw form. It also can cause skin irritation- of which I experienced when using their shampoo.
Previously, I had been using a shampoo with a base of rosemary extract, and entirely biodegradable ingredients. I am now using it again, as I realized that it was better to use a product that was entirely biodegradable instead of just “zero-waste.” Sometimes the more sustainable option still has a little bit of (hopefully recyclable) packaging. And the fact is, even though Zero-Waste is usually about recycling less, reusable materials are a good thing since the rate of consumption in First World countries is still so high and materials are still needed.
Make do with what you have
There is absolutely no need to buy a stainless steel waterbottle for that Zero-Waste instagram aesthetic. The plastic one you have is probably perfectly good. In fact, if you are worried about the toxins from plastic ending up in your water, only put cold beverages in it. Warmth weakens the plastic and the molecules move more.
Ask a packrat friend if they have it
For me, this person is my mom. Sorry, Mom. Just kidding, my mom is actually making great strides toward minimalism 🙂 But, she still owns quite a bit. She notifies me whenever she is putting together a bag for DAV donations, and I look through it first. This practice has given me extra containers, towels, dishes, and food.
Back in middle school, thankfully my friends were from lower-class income families like I was…so we all passed clothing to each other when we were bored of something. We didn’t get many new clothes ever, so we took good care of our cotton blouses and always gave eachother a chance to borrow them or keep them indefinitely. Friends of mine who had an exceptionally large wardrobe kept me stocked with clothing for several seasons at a time. It is a great thing to share things with neighbors and friends, and a swap-meet is always a good idea 🙂
Purchase local charity-run secondhand store, or an individual on Etsy or Ebay
A bread box to store homemade bread
plastic or glass containers to replace sandwich bags
old washclothes to use as a replacement of dish sponges….all of this and more can be found at a secondhand store
Secondhand stores are my first choice for pretty much everything. In them, I acquired all of my baking dishes, most of my furniture (besides the dumpster-dived stuff), almost all my clothing for the last 3 years, and even my “new” sewing machine 😀 Once I have scoured my local secondhand stores to no avail, I turn to Ebay for a gently used item. Ebay has yielded:
-vintage leather+cashmere gloves
-a manual vacuum cleaner
-many orthopedic shoes for me, and workboots and running shoes for Gabe
-secondhand yarn and sewing supplies, and much more
Some items to use instead of the usual (seemingly required) brand new Zero-Waste products
required: bamboo utensils
my version: an extra fork and spoon from DAV or a Light My Fire brand titanium fork/spoon combination.
required: cloth produce bags
my version: basket that you already have or an old pillowcase
required: stainless steel lunch container
my version: plastic container that you already have
required: steel or glass straw
my version: no straw, ever, or ask if the cafe has a paper straw
required: safety razor
my version: Okay so I haven’t dealt with the shaving aspect of my trash yet, but I’m looking for something better than a safety razor. Sugar waxing (fair-trade and bulk, of course) is something I plan to try this year. It’s cheap, too.
required: menstrual cup
my version: I’m looking into sea sponge tampons, and currently using Thinx period panties.
required: deodorant bar
my version: 1:1 ratio of starch and baking soda powder. cheaper, and can be made quickly anytime you run out.
required: stainless steel waterbottle
my version: a plastic waterbottle that you probably already have. or, a washed spaghetti sauce jar or pickle jar.
required: bamboo bristle dish brush
my version: crocheted cotton scrubbies- ideally, with secondhand or organic yarn
required: refillable fountain pen
my version: pencils and pens from secondhand stores
What items have you used instead of purchasing the newer Zero-Waste version? 🙂