In my last blog post, I confessed to shopping in Primark and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. I am deeply troubled that even someone as environmentally enlightened – insert smug smiley here – and passionate about global issues as myself, would knowingly succumb to the lure of £3 tops (five of them, to be precise) and novelty pyjamas.
I am guilty of being impatient and judgemental with people who don’t make the effort to shop ethically, but now I have come full circle and can no longer point my chubby finger. I have now become them. I am buying things I know I shouldn’t and getting very angry about it. Yet this anger I feel is not changing my behaviour, because I don’t feel I have a choice. Or rather, the choice is: buy trash or buy nothing. And often I opt for the latter.
It’s disgusting that so many inadequate product options are even available to us today. How are harsh chemical cleaning agents or (non-biodegradable) disposable nappies or wetwipes even legal? How is plastic packaging on fruit and veg still allowed? If something has not been fairly traded, how can it even have a place on the shop shelf? Buying ethically should not be a quirky pastime or a passing fad, it should be the norm – the minimum acceptable standard.
I know that terrible things go on to give us the things we want at the prices we need. I know you know, too. It’s grubby, it’s despicable. So why do we do it even though we know?
- We know that when shop in Primark, Sports Direct, or in fact any high street retail chain, we are subscribing to underpaid or child labour, exploitation and inhumane working conditions.
- We know that supermarkets deceive us, promote unhealthy eating with their pricing, and food waste buy encouraging us to buy more than we need. That they tie farmers into impossible contracts then push for lower prices, meaning they are selling at no profit or being forced out of business as the supermarkets resort to importing produce that can be grown in the UK.
- We know that when we buy coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, bananas, non-European wine, if it does not bear the Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance logo, or make a similar claim, that farmers have been underpaid and workers likely exploited.
- We know that most biscuits, breads, crackers, ice cream and make up now contain palm oil as a cheap fat alternative, and the production of it demands deforestation and many animals – such as orangutans – losing their habitats.
- We know that when we buy conveniently packaged fruit or vegetables, the containers, nets, bags, packets will probably end up floating somewhere in the sea, possibly choking a bird, suffocating a turtle, or eaten by a fish which we will then serve for Friday supper.
- We know that when we buy non-organic fruit and veg out of season (strawberries or asparagus in December), special measures have been put in place to make sure they grow. They may have been genetically modified, will have been sprayed multiple times with pesticides that kill bees and cause cancer; they will have been grown on an enormous monoculture, destroying crop diversity and wildlife habitats; and then shipped thousands of miles across the world to reach you.
- We know when we buy supermarket value meat, it is the shrink-wrapped end product of industrial farming methods, where animals have lived the majority of their short lives indoors, on concrete floors, pumped full of toxic antibiotic-hormone cocktails, stepping over dead carcasses, wading through each other’s faeces, probably thrown across the warehouse floor by an underpaid employee and then slaughtered while experiencing terror.
- We know that seas have been over-fished and when we buy the latest ocean catch, it has either been trawled – leaving thousands of perfectly edible (but non-compliant with retail regulations) discarded dead fish – or come from a fish farm, swimming in circles its entire life, to be pumped full of… See above. There’s an unavoidable theme here.
- We know that when we forget our bags for life and go for a 5p one, that bag will outlive us. Even if it claims to be biodegradable, it will never truly breakdown unless it’s made from vegetable starches and fully compostable, and probably litter landfill forever.
- We know that plastic toys are made from oil; that drilling, fracking and mining for oil destroys communities, natural habitats and is finite; that they are usually mass-produced in China in huge factories with poor working conditions and a shameful carbon footprint.
- We know shopping on the Internet deprives local businesses and our bargain hunting means people and resources have to be exploited. We know Amazon avoids paying tax and treats its workers unfairly on zero hours contracts, grafting like robots and dismissing them if they can’t keep up.
- We know that foreign holidays are bad. The flights create alarming levels of CO2 emissions, tourist hubs have eradicated most signs of real life and pushed out the locals, many of whom are being exploited for cheap labour in hotels or selling market tat (alongside their souls) and we should be supporting our local industries, staycationing in a damp caravan along a windy British coast.
- We know when we buy highly perfumed non-organic cosmetics containing parabens, phthalates and SLS, they will absorb into our bloodstream, pollute the sea and infiltrate our water supplies. We know about microbeads. We know our plastic toothbrushes will go straight to landfill, along with sanitary towels and nappies. And tampons will end up in the sea with whatever else you flush down your toilet.
We know all of this, but we don’t want to talk about it. These are widely reported issues that have faced us for years. They are not secrets; the information is everywhere. We see it on Panorama, then carry on with our every day lives, apparently oblivious to the impact of our actions on the rest of the world.
The truth is, it’s inconvenient to care. It requires change and change requires effort. To make all of these changes you would have to spend every waking moment trying to search for reliable, affordable and ethical alternatives. And who has that kind of time in 2016? Getting selfies on Instagram and photos of your dinner on Facebook is commitment enough, right?
But seriously, we lead busy lives; we work, we workout, we take care of children and perhaps relatives, we read emails, and we need to sleep. I have been that person that doesn’t do any of the things I’ve listed above. It cost me a fortune in time and money. Now that I have two children and no full-time job, many are just luxuries I can’t afford.
Sometimes, though, it’s because I’m just plain lazy. I am tired; I can’t be bothered and it shouldn’t have to be down to me to pick up the pieces of an economic structure I did not create. Sadly, though, it’s this kind of apathy and sense of entitlement that has led us to this point. When I found myself justifying why I still use Amazon on a Facebook thread, I knew I wasn’t trying hard enough.