Tag Archives: Organic

Keep calm and carry on consuming

In my last blog post, I confessed to shopping in primark-pyjamaPrimark 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.orangutan-with-baby
  • 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.monoculture.jpg
  • 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. TheThe bulldozer on a garbage dumpre’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.

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Why I’m shopping in Primark even though I hate myself for it

 

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People rescue a garment worker who was trapped under the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building (Reuters)

For many years I have boycotted the likes of Primark for their well-reported poor ethics, unacceptable working standards and cheap labour. I also detest the fast fashion trend that has emerged over the last decade; the throwaway lifestyle that is integral to popular culture and keeping “on trend”. Because there is a darker side to this level of wastefulness beyond the dirty workhouses and slavery.

Chemicals used in the clothing industry
What many people don’t consider is that most of the fabrics used in cheap clothing are made from plastic-derived fibres – that is, oil. Synthetic textiles such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, elastane (Spandex or Lycra), are energy intensive to produce and leave a legacy of non-biodegradable rags once you’ve finished with them.

There are also the chemicals used in clothing manufacture: highly toxic dyes, flame retardants, anti-crease solutions (Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen), endocrine disrupting anti-bacterial treatments (Triclosan), and Fluoropolymers as water repellents (Teflon).

All of these have an impact on our environment as well as our health; leaching into water supplies, polluting rivers and soil, potentially causing cancer, altering our hormones and reducing fertility.

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“Picture from Bangladesh shows purple river – depending on the colours used in dyeing operations in garment factories. Or rather, depending on the colours in fashion.” Photo: http://sahanasingh.com/

For all of the above reasons I have avoided buying new clothes for many years when possible. Most of our clobber is purchased in charity shops, on eBay or collected from Freecycle (though apparently washing doesn’t reduce the side effects of chemicals used in the clothes manufacturing process).

When I had children, this extended to buying organic bed sheets, mattresses, duvets, blankets and toys as I was so worried about what would contact their skin, absorb into their bloodstream or enter their new little lungs.

Pricing out the ordinary
Buying locally-sourced organic food, toiletries, clothes and furnishings is an expensive business, and unsustainable in itself, for us as a low-income family. These lifestyle choices have become a badge of the middle classes, yummy mummies or hipsters with a disposable income. They have left us financially uncomfortable eco-warriors with little more than a guilty conscience.

Not only is organic clothing out of the price range of “normal” people (£22 per baby sleepsuit is aspirational, to say the least), the adult ranges are usually ugly or transform you into an extra from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Just because I live my life by green principles and an ethical code, does not mean I want to present myself in rainbow pyjamas and hemp sandals, like some passive-aggressive New Age vegan fresh from a yoga retreat. And even when I was that guy, I didn’t choose to dress like that every day.

When I work out, I need reliable and durable active wear with comfortable, supportive footwear. If I’m popping to town, skinny jeans do the job and if I’m attending a business meeting then I need to dress appropriately to be taken seriously.

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All of this stuff can be found secondhand – I mean, “preloved” – but hunting it down is a very time-intensive process. I have spent many hours trawling through charity shops looking for a specific item or searching, bidding and waiting for postage from eBay.

My wardrobe is full of stuff I have accumulated since I was 14 years old. Yes, I still have tops and jeans that my best friend passed down to me in high school, vintage blouses and skirts I found in my mother’s wardrobe, shoes from my first retail job in 2000 and many charity shop gems since. But a couple of times a year I’ll have a good splurge in the sales to keep things current, and as lighter items of clothing wear out they need replacing.

Sometimes you just need what you need, when you need it. This is where Primark and the supermarket clothing brands have cornered the market.

Giving in to convenience
Sometimes you just need what you need, when you need it. And this is where Primark and the supermarket clothing brands have cornered the market. They churn them out pretty and cheap. They are actually employing decent designers and the styles are up-to-date, making it difficult to turn a blind eye to an oversized soft knit jumper or sequin Christmas party dress as winter approaches (and you had only popped in for bananas and milk).

Seasonal staples such as the black cardigan, blue jeans, top and vests have a shelf life and I have reached the point again where I need some basics. I need long-sleeved tops and the man needs t-shirts. Best bet for cute styles and basement prices: Primark.

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While I’m there I shall probably buy some vests, pants, socks and gloves for the children – because they’re cheap. And the fact is, whether I pay a premium for them in M&S, Debenhams, Selfridges, Boots or Mothercare, unless they are Fair Trade and organic, they have likely gone through the same manufacturing process and been sewn in similar factories. Check out this ethical consumer guide to see how your favourite high street brands rank.

I hate myself for giving in to the bullish capitalist consumer machine. I hate the industry more for allowing these standards to continue beyond awareness of all the consequences. I hate our government for prioritising business and economic growth over health and environmental welfare. That’s a lot of hate. Time for a cup of tea.

Giving up on principle
I’ve always preached about consumer pressure; supply meets demand; buyer power; collective responsibility. However the prices of everything are rising at such speed that it is difficult for a mum to feed a family from Iceland or Tesco, let alone Infinity or Whole Foods.

In our family, food comes first and that means something else has to give. If you want quality produce with high animal welfare standards, no GMOs, sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, margarine or palm oil, it comes at a price.

And that means, as I inspect clothing and food labels, I literally have to choose what I care about more: cancer-causing foods and toiletries, animals dying in the rainforest, polluted water supplies, child labour, the list goes on. In many instances, it’s a matter of life or death.

That is a big cross to bear as an individual, especially when it sometimes feels I am the only person trying so hard. Meanwhile the world falls apart around me and I come full circle, wondering what’s the fucking point?

We’re all doomed, and now we have a climate change denier as US president, it’s hard to find hope for the future. So, although I’ve almost talked myself out of it, I’ll probably be shopping with the rest of them this Saturday and assuaging my guilt with a vegan kebab for lunch (I am not even vegan).

But don’t let me bring you down… Things are changing slowly, and the more documentaries, blogs and TED Talks there are about these issues, the more it should inspire people to petition, protest and lobby government and industry alike to demand they look at the bigger picture.

Do you feel under pressure to make the “right choice” as a consumer? Do you care what you wear or are you just happy to find a bargain?

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Filed under Consumerism, Economy, Fair Trade, Family, Green, Organic, Shopping