WHAT ARE SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
Prior related content- What is Sustainability
When you think of a sustainable product what comes to mind? Believe it or not, many answers vary and some tend to be incorrect. However, this is not the average consumers fault. We have been led to believe that many products are sustainable when in fact they are not. This is due to companies, industries and powers greenwashing and taking what they know you WANT to hear and using it to their advantage in order to continue to line their pockets with your hard earned cash.
The worst part is, these same forces then create products to meet our “new sustainable needs” which only came about because, what they made us think we needed before, ended up causing the mess we are in now! These companies and powers have manipulated the masses to now spend their money on the next generation of “necessary goods”. We need to put an end to this level of power and manipulation. But, easier said than done! PHEW, that was heavy.
Let me say this now, we cannot save the world by BUYING things. Just think of all the people who can’t afford sustainable products. Are we to think they can’t make an impact because they don’t have the money? That way of thinking would be ridiculous!
If you choose to follow my content you will realize that my main goal in life is to be as self-sufficient as possible with what my family has. Relying very little on external resources and supplies. Along the journey I will share true sustainable practices that I am learning and applying to my own life and home.
Let’s get right into it.
It’s sad, but I have found that one should always assume they are being deceived when it comes to purchasing products of any kind. You need to become an investigator whose goal is to discover and expose the companies and products that are trying to misguide you because, many times that item you are holding in your hands, is not what it appears to be.
It may sound like a lot of work but I promise you, the more you do it the easier it gets. Before you know it, you will be able to smell BS from a mile away when it comes to greenwashing and manipulative tactics!
First and foremost, we need to take a long hard look at who we are as consumers.
👉 It is estimated that the average American produces 4.4-4.9 pounds of trash per day (2). Multiply that by the 320-330 million people in this country (USA) and your eyes should be opening wide right about now. 👀
Let’s analyze ourselves and our purchasing habits a bit.
Do we replace things and buy new stuff simply because we are bored or want a change? Do we find ourselves buying things we WANT but don’t NEED? Perhaps purchasing to keep up with the trends and what’s “in”? How about buying convenient single use or disposable products because it easier? Do we throw away food and excess goods because we didn’t use them in time or decided we don’t want or need them anymore?
These are just a few of the habits that need to be put into perspective because they drastically increase your carbon footprint and overall negative impact on sustainability.
You can buy sustainable products all you want, but if you are staying on the path of overconsumption and excess waste production, then are you really maximizing your efforts and making an impact?
All over social media I see the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra AKA the 3Rs being used in popular posts and zero waste influences. But doesn’t it seem as if society is practicing this mantra backwards or out of order? The common path chosen appears to be Recycle-Reuse-Reduce. This could be because recycling is the easiest path or because it has been made out to seem like an actual “SOLUTION” when it’s not. We have already proven we can in no way keep up with the recyclables we have. Someone tosses a bottle into the recycle bin and thinks, “Okay I did my part” as they crack open another plastic bottle of soda. But once again, is it really their fault?
Unless someone cares enough to research and educate themselves on the truth (like you’re doing right now, woohoo), they would otherwise think they are genuinely doing the right thing by recycling. What they don’t know is most of the time they aren’t even recycling the proper way and therefore, their recyclables end up in the landfills anyway.
Even when you do recycle plastic properly, yours and everyone elses items are only getting recycled about 8-9% of the time meaning a whopping 91-92% is going elsewhere (2). This blew my mind. However, we still NEED to recycle properly in order to do our part for the items that DO make the cut.
Take a peek at the below chart from EPA.GOV (2) for a visual on just how much of your plastic actually gets recycled. Or click on the link to learn more about how to recycle the right way.
It may be the most inconvenient at first, but reducing our overall consumption is the #1 best thing we can do for sustainability.
Now that we got the basics out of the way, let’s move on to what makes a sustainable product!
I found this visual from the “Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council”(SPLC) (3) and it sums up what makes a product sustainable. I took the concept and descriptions (credit to the SPLC) and created my own version of the chart. See below
Sustainability is a system. It is a process that takes the above three “pillars” into consideration (people, profit, planet). They are all interconnected and in order to flourish, all must be considered with any decision that is to be made. I wish every business had to be transparent because you know their priorities look nothing like this!
If a product has compostable packaging and natural ingredients but the employees are abused and exploited, then that is NOT a sustainable product. Or if the company has a diverse employment pool and provides fair treatment across the board but packages their product in plastic and uses ingredients from crops linked to deforestation then, once again, the product is not sustainable.
Below is another visual I created based off the information and charts available by the the “Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council”(SPLC), so credit to them (3), to show what companies should be focusing on when thinking sustainably.
If your goal is to purchase sustainable products then you need to ensure you are focusing on the whole system not just one part.
👉 Keep in mind, the company needs to be able to sustain as well, which means they need to be able to profit.
Let me paint a picture for you of the ideal sustainable company and product through my eyes.
🌏 EXAMPLE OF THE IDEAL SUSTAINABLE COMPANY:
The company has sustainability built into their business strategy with the same level of importance as their other values and goals. This company focuses on all levels of diversity, ethical treatment, transparency as well as animal and human rights. They also focus on who they use as a supplier ensuring how the ingredients are sourced is not involved in devastation or negative impacts to the earth or society.
This company uses renewable energy sources and is constantly innovating and improving how they manufacture their goods to ensure their process has as little negative impact as possible to the planet as whole. This company focuses on packaging, manufacturing and shipping. They want to make sure that every aspect of their process is as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. This company provides reports that show the impacts they have on the planet regularly because they have nothing to hide. This company gives back. Whether it be planting trees, donating to help ocean cleanup or any of the thousands of other opportunities out there that make a difference.
This company genuinely cares about our health and the environment.
🌏 EXAMPLE OF THE IDEAL SUSTAINABLE PRODUCT:
The product will be from a sustainable company that meets the criteria above. The product is NEVER single use and will be made with environmentally friendly ingredients that don’t pollute the environment in any way such as polluting water with chemicals, micro plastics or ending up in landfills, etc. The product will be of high quality so people will want to use every last bit of it. The packaging will either be reusable or compostable. Therefore, when the product is gone there is no “trash” left behind.
🌱 Picture this: A locally made bar of natural soap. It is made by a small company that cares about their employees and where their ingredients come from. The soap is packaged in a recycled cardboard casing or simply tied with a piece of biodegradable twine. The label is made of compostable material and any information needed is online only, as to not waste paper. The soap has no harmful chemicals so when it goes down the drain you don’t have to worry about it. Once the soap is gone and the package is composted there is nothing left but the pleasant thought that you made a wonderful and sustainable choice.
As you can see, it’s not just about how the product is manufactured, packaged or shipped. We need to be cognizant of the WHOLE picture. Nothing in sustainability is linear. When I say linear I mean NON-holistic. Linear thinking can be represented in ways like “take-make-dispose of, take-make-dispose of” over and over again and that’s it. This kind of thinking is bad and ineffective when it comes to sustaining our planet’s health.
Everything needs to be approached with a holistic point of view. Sustainability can be compared with the circle of life (if Disney’s Lion King song and Simba being held up by Rafiki just popped into your head, I am with you). From the crop an ingredient is sourced from, all the way to what is left at the very end of the product’s life; every step of the way needs to be considered when you want to purchase a truly sustainable product. The same goes for making a product as well!
Nothing related to sustainability is linear. It is always circular. Like the circle of life.
COMPANIES USING FALSE CLAIMS TO TRICK YOU…
It has been brought to light that many companies are adding false claims to their products to give the illusion of “green” and “sustainable” origins or that their product is recyclable, because as we said, it’s what the people want to hear. For example, the big ones like , “ALL NATURAL”, or “CLEAN”, don’t actually mean anything. Can you believe that? Check out this document by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) which calls out different bogus tactics and language that companies are currently using to try to deceive you, the consumer. CLICK HERE (This is such an eye opener)
Below is a list of current legitimate logos to look for on your products courtesy of Good Housekeeping Magazine (5). Phosphate free and phthalate free in no way means your product is sustainable ( just as an added FYI).
IS THIS PRODUCT SUSTAINABLE?
👉 Luckily finding the answer doesn’t have to be rocket science.
Earth911.com had a good “quick hit” approach to validating if something is sustainable or partially sustainable. See below bullets (4)
First, check the label. Often, labels on a product will convey how the product is made and what its environmental impact might be. For example, you can look for labels that indicate that the product:
– Was made from recycled materials;
– Was made from renewable energy;
– Is 100% biodegradable or;
– Was manufactured using ethically sourced laborEarth911.com
HERE IS A LIST OF BASIC SUSTAINABLE PRODUCT IDEAS AND CONCEPTS
Do your best and research to find out the most sustainable companies. Be sure to look for logos from the chart above! I, myself, still try to do the best I can to find the most sustainable products. Every day I get better and better but I am nowhere near perfect! My #1 focus is always to cut down on how much I consume and buy overall.
⭐️ Remember, companies want you to know that they have met the criteria in order to be considered sustainable, eco-friendly and green; so the information will be plastered all over their products. It will not be hard to find.
- Shop local and small business. Support your local economy. When you support local economy, you are cutting down on your support to industrialized entities that have a big hand in our pollution and more so than not, are using non-renewables to fuel their giant facilities. This also results in cutting down on shipping and transportation between countries which will lead to less pollution. You can build up your sense of community and connectedness by buying local.
- Repurpose everything you can. When you become a sustainable consumer, you will create less waste and are usually left with little or no packaging if you compost; or you are left with a reusable package/container that can be repurposed to hold all kinds of different goodies.
- NEVER buy single use plastic, or at least try your best. This includes single use coffee pods. These are horrible, please don’t use these. They sell the simple reusable pod inserts which is all you need (and they have reusable coffee filters too!)( check it out)
- Use Beeswax wrap to replace plastic wrap and Ziplock bags. Check out this post to learn more CLICK HERE or (check it out)
- Reusable water bottles (preferably not plastic) (check it out)
- Reusable Coffee mugs (preferably not plastic) (check it out)
- Reusable cloth towels to replace paper towels and napkins. (check it out)
- Bamboo or recycled toilet paper
- Purchase a Bidet or bidet toilet attachment like this. (check it out) This will help eliminate the need for wet wipes or excess use of toilet paper. Wet wipes are not good at all for the environment or the septic system. Just because they say flushable does NOT mean your septic can handle them. Just ask a professional!
- When it comes to cleaners go for concentrates, like Branch Basics. This will drastically cut down on transportation and emissions since you are cutting out heavy products that are mostly water. Why would we want to waste time, money and resources shipping water around the world when we don’t need to? Use a glass refillable bottle and you are killing it! (check it out)
- Rechargeable batteries. Why keep buying new ones and disposing of them when you can recharge what you already have. (check it out)
- Bamboo compostable toothbrushes. (check it out) I love them.
- Compostable floss
- Toothpaste tablets like “Kindfill”
- Mouthwash tablets like “Kindfill”
- Period panties or period cups instead of pads and tampons that add to massive waste crisis we already have. Ladies, have you calculated how many pads and tampons you dispose of in a lifetime? Imagine that piling up with everyone else’s. Oh, and tampons are not what would be classified as “flushable”. So don’t be thinking they break down, because it takes at least half a year. (check it out)
- Buy second hand anything when possible! This is the move! Start finding beauty in reusing items and hunting for amazing finds! Cut down on your purchasing woot woot!
- Make your own! You can make so many things on your own it is incredible. Just try your best to ensure the ingredients you buy are sustainably sourced!
- Buy and support sustainable and ethical fashion and fabrics if you can’t do second hand (this is a tricky one though so do your research!). Click here for an amazing source of information
- Look for products with little to no packaging made of recycled or compostable material. (Example- cardboard or aluminum)
Any link that says ( check it out) is an affiliate link meaning , if you buy it and it is an eligible item I could receive a percent from sending Amazon business. I started doing this because, I was linking products anyways in past blogs so I figured, I might as well see if I can benefit from recommending products I use in my life. If you do purchase from Amazon do NOT use overnight shipping and please select the option at check out to have all of your items shipped together. That way less transportation is required.
CALL TO ACTION | YOU HOLD THE POWER AS THE CONSUMER
Companies will only produce what the customer demands and values. If we start showing that our values and demands have changed, then companies will be forced to change and evolve as well to meet our new level of “needs”. At least that is the goal!
READ BELOW for something you can start doing today!!
👉 Put pressure on companies and do NOT feel bad about it. All it takes is roughly 5 minutes to go to a products website or social media account, find the businesses "contact us" option, and shoot them a respectful email calling out the fact that you are disappointed in the packaging they use and that because of it you will NOT continue purchasing their products and will not recommend their products to others. You can also ask when they plan on changing their packaging or whether they are even considering it. This method can be used to recognize a number of things outside of unsustainable packaging.
👉 I did this recently with the company LAIRD. I absolutely loved their dairy free powdered creamer and all of its unique goodness! But I was so disappointed when it came in a plastic pouch. They claimed it is recyclable but guess what, you have to tear it open and tear out the silver lining before it can be considered recyclable (realistically who would do that?!) It is like this for many plastic pouches, so beware. I shot them an email calling this out and also stated I can’t wait until they come out with sustainable packaging so I can resume purchasing their product. I got a response saying they are working on it....Obviously I WANT to just keep buying it, but I will NOT because I care more about the sustainability of our planets health then I do my own convenience.
⭐️ Can you imagine if hundreds of people did this; even thousands? How much faster do you think the company would find a sustainable container? I am betting they could come up with something pretty quick!
Well that’s all for now. Make sure to check out all the good stuff on the side bar (or below this post if on a cell phone) and subscribe to the email list to get notified on our next topic. SUSTAINABLE WATER
Until next time!
- EPA.GOV HOW TO RECYCLE
- EPA.GOV NATIONAL OVERVIEW
- SUSTAINABLE PURCHASING LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
- GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
ADDITIONAL READING MATERIAL
- How to read plastic recycling symbols https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/g804/recycling-symbols-plastics-460321/
- How to spot greenwashing https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/a32191077/what-is-greenwashing/
- How to recycle better and what you are doing wrong- click here