We have increasingly become a ‘consumer society’ and alongside that we have become more wasteful. Our shopping habits are no longer based just on ‘need’ and instead the phrase ‘retail therapy’ was coined to capture the idea that we can in some way buy ‘happiness’. The resulting items sit in our homes, some never used, eaten or worn before being discarded as waste. We hear the term ‘throw-away society’; where it is easier to replace something than repair it.
By swapping ‘retail therapy’ for other activities, we both consume and waste less. We will lower our carbon emissions and save money. When we go shopping we go into battle with a marketing machine which is geared towards persuading us to buy more things and in ever greater quantities. We need to learn how to ‘just say no’ to tempting deals and promotions, and flashy, tailored advertisements.
Green Fact: The carbon footprint of a T shirt is equivalent to powering your home for 2-3 days; a wool suit is equivalent to up to a month’s energy to power your home.
Green Fact: British and American households throw out a THIRD of the food they buy!
Food is one such area where waste levels have rocketed. The top reasons for throwing food away in the UK were found to be:
74% of people didn’t write a shopping list
35% didn’t plan their meals
24% didn’t know what was in the fridge before they went to the supermarket
With a little pre-planning before the weekly shop, we could all significantly reduce our food waste. With 2.6 million slices of bread thrown away every day in London alone, it’s high time we did!
When we waste food, we also waste water, as a significant amount is required to grow and produce food. It takes 100 buckets of water to produce a loaf of bread, 54 buckets to produce just one chicken breast and six buckets to produce a potato, so when you throw this food away, the water is wasted alongside the produce, causing an even greater environmental impact.
Changing How We Shop
Remember to ‘change how you shop, not what you’ve got’. If you already own something then it’s best to continue using or keep it rather than replace it because it isn’t eco-friendly.
Making some simple changes to how we shop will have a huge impact environmentally. Here are some suggestions:
One of the biggest impacts you can have on your carbon footprint can be achieved by reducing the amount you consume.
- ZZZ Buy less. Opting for a simpler life and buying only those high quality items that will last is better in the long term.
- £££ Make your own and grow your own. Making your own is generally cheaper, healthier and better for the planet. From bread, yoghurt and cakes to household cleaning products, making your own reduces both use of synthetic chemicals and wasteful excess packaging.
Home prepared meals are better than highly processed and packaged foods, which often have a larger carbon footprint.
Make your own cleaning products from natural household ingredients - see our ‘Homemade Cleaning Products Guide’ information.
Grow your own vegetables and salad.
Make your own clothes and gifts.
Planning your shopping ensures you only buy what you need.
Try following these tips:
- £££ Plan your meals. Only buy the fresh food you need.
- £££ Make a shopping list. 'Arming yourself’ with a shopping list and sticking to it helps ensure you only buy the items you need. When you are tempted to buy ‘off-list’ ask yourself: “Do I really need this?”. You didn't think you did before you entered the shop.
- Beware of offers. ‘Buy one get one free’ offers, particularly on fresh produce, encourage us to buy food that we will struggle to use and end up wasting.
- £££ Buy dry foods in bulk and shop locally and more often for fresh food. Bulk buying of dry foods with long shelf lives leads to less journeys, less packaging and is generally cheaper overall. Shopping locally and more often for fresh foods, either on foot or by bicycle means you are less likely to overbuy and have food go to waste. These habits also carry the added benefit of supporting local independent businesses.
- ZZZ Consolidate internet shopping orders. Each order requires a van to make a trip to your delivery address. Placing a single order and opting out of next day delivery will reduce the number of van journeys made.
- £££ Reusable shopping bags. Take your own reusable shopping bags so you don’t use plastic carrier bags. As your plastic ‘bags for life’ fail, try replacing them with hessian or canvas bags and look after these so they last. Many textile alternatives can be washed and reused again and again.
- Reusable cotton produce bags. Take reusable cotton bags for fresh food rather than using the shop’s plastic bags when buying loose fruit and veg. To find where you can buy these go to the Eco Shops section of the New Leaf Company Directory.
- Reusable containers for meats, dry foods and liquids. A ‘zero waste’ shop allows you to take containers to refill with shampoo, conditioner, cleaning and washing products, and dried foods such as pasta and pulses - see the Food Cupboard section in the New Leaf Company Directory to find your local zero waste shop, shops operating refill schemes and retailers who are happy for you to bring your own containers.
When you are shopping there is often a myriad of choices, so try to choose well and swap products that have a significant impact on the environment for more environmentally friendly ones by following these tips:
- Opt for eco products and buy from environmentally responsible and sustainable companies.
- Choose ‘A-rated' products for energy use when you buy household appliances and light bulbs.
- Choose organic foods. Over 320 pesticides can routinely be used in non-organic farming. Organic farmers are permitted to use just 15 pesticides, derived from natural ingredients including citronella and clove oil, but only under very restricted circumstances. Because organic farms don't rely on potentially harmful chemicals and pesticides, they have healthier soils and support over 75% more plant species - thereby supporting more wildlife. Look for organic products certified by the Soil Association.
- Buy ‘FSC certified’ wood, charcoal and paper, which comes from sustainably managed forestry.
- Soil Association endorsement. Look for cleaning and beauty products which have been certified by the Soil Association. These contain natural ingredients and reduce the use of chemicals and pollutants, which affect our air and water quality. Wilko has a competitively priced range of ‘eco’ cleaning products.
- Buy products made from recycled materials. Recycled paper products might include stationery, toilet and kitchen roll. Try sustainable loo roll in recyclable packaging such as ‘Who Gives A Crap’ or Ecoleaf - see the Household section in the New Leaf Company Directory. Look out for household products like brushes and buckets made from recycled plastic. Try Weaver Green for fabrics and textiles made from recycled plastic. Silent Night Eco Comfort range of mattresses feature a layer made from recycled plastic bottles and sustainable fibres.
- Avoid free plastic gifts like the ones in Macdonald's Happy Meals and Kinder Eggs. These cheap plastic toys can’t be recycled and will only offer short-lived fun and soon end up in the bin.
Palm oil is used in our foods, cosmetics, cleaning products, and fuels. The demand for palm oil has led to the destruction of huge tracts of rainforest which have been bulldozed and torched to make room for plantations.
Green Fact: In 2015, Indonesia temporarily surpassed the USA in greenhouse emissions due to deforestation for palm oil plantations.
Try to avoid products containing palm oil or ensure the palm oil is sustainably sourced. Look for the symbols for 'Palm Oil Free' and 'Sustainably Sourced Palm Oil' products.
See the Health & Beauty section of the New Leaf Company Directory for shops selling palm oil free toiletries.
Palm oil has many guises.
It is also listed in ingredients as PKO Palm Kernel Oil, PHPO Partially Hydrogenated Palm Oil, FP(K)O Fractionated Palm Oil, OPKO Organic Palm Kernal Oil, Palmitate, Palmate, Sodium Laureth Sulphates, Sodium dodecyl Sulphate, Elaeis Guineensisi, Glyceryl Stearate, Glyceryl Stearate, Stearic Acid, Steareth-2, Steareth-20, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, Hydrated palm glycerides, Sodium isostearoyl lactylate, cetyl palmitate and acetyl palmitate.
Try to replace plastic products with non-plastic alternatives.
- Wipes. Most wipes including baby wipes, make-up removal face wipes and household cleaning wipes contain plastic, so the best solution is to stop using them and opt for reusable alternatives such as cotton cloths and flannels.
If you have to buy wipes choose ones marked ‘biodegradable’ like Detail’s New Green wipes which are made from 100% biodegradable plant fibres, or Cheeky Wipes for babies.
See the Baby and Eco Shops sections of the New Leaf Company Directory.
- £££ Female sanitary products. It's estimated that the average woman throws away 90-130kg of disposable sanitary items in her life.
Changes you can make:
Avoid plastic applicators at all costs.
Choose products that don’t require an applicator to reduce waste.
Consider switching to alternative sanitary products such as period pants, reusable pads and menstrual cups. Find out more by reading The Independent's Review for World Menstrual Hygiene Day and visit the Health & Beauty section of the New Leaf Company Directory.
- £££ Nappies. An estimated 3 BILLION nappies are thrown away every year. About 25% of a disposable nappy is plastic which ends up being incinerated and contributing to carbon emissions.
Instead of disposables consider switching to reusable cloth nappies or eco disposables for when you are away from home.
Reusable nappies are better for the environment, provided you wash them on a full load, using an eco cycle and don’t tumble dry.
Using cloth nappies and washing them yourself can save up to £200 per year.
Winchester NCT runs a 'Nappy Library' which allows you to trial a range of reusable nappies.
You can buy second hand nappies and pass them on when you’ve finished with them.
‘Urine only nappies’ can be washed at low temperatures with your general laundry.
See the Baby section of the New Leaf Company Directory.
- Other swaps:
'Sponges'. Change from plastic washing-up sponges to natural luffas or coconut fibre scouring pads - available from Ethical Superstore and Ecoliving, among others.
Dishcloths. Choose washable dishcloths rather than plastic disposables like ‘J cloths’.
Razors. Buy a safety razor that will last for years - check out The Independent's Review of Safety Razors for recommendations. Choose bamboo disposable razors over plastic.
Dental. Buy a bamboo toothbrush and floss, and eco replacement electric toothbrush heads that are part of a return and recycle programme.
Film. Ditch clingfilm and store food in wax cloths, jars and either reuse plastic tubs you already own or use glass or stainless steel containers.
See the 'Eco Shops' section of the New Leaf Company Directory to explore retailers offering these products.
The less packaging the better. Energy has been used in the production of the packaging and will also be used in any recycling process.
£££ Don’t buy bottled water. Use a refillable water bottle and drink tap water instead.
Green Fact: Bottled water can cost up to 500 times more than tap water.
Swaps you can make:
- Choose loose produce rather than pre-packaged. You both avoid unnecessary packaging and only buy the amount you need, reducing food waste.
- Choose milk in reusable glass bottles rather than plastic. You can have milk delivered in reusable bottles from ‘Milk and More’.
- Buy one bottle of cordial and then dilute with tap water rather than purchasing multiple bottles of flavoured water.
- Choose solid soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser and deodorant bars over liquid products in plastic bottles.
See the 'Eco Shops' section of the New Leaf Company Directory to find retailers offering these products.
Buy locally produced food
- Foods produced locally will have travelled fewer miles and as a result have a lower carbon footprint.
- Imported foods will have a higher carbon footprint, particularly if the food has been flown in rather than transported by sea.
- Food with a short shelf life like salad, asparagus, soft fruit, tomatoes, will have been transported by air in refrigerated conditions and have a very high carbon footprint.
Naturally encased fruits which can be allowed to ripen such as melons and bananas are transported by ship and have a lower carbon footprint than soft fruits transported by air.
- British rather than South American beef. All beef has a high carbon footprint but the worst is meat produced in South America where farming is driving destruction of the rainforest. Its also likely to have been raised on processed feed rather than grass, which adds to its carbon footprint.
- Consider ordering an organic veg box (you can select UK only) if you can’t find these options easily locally.
See the Fresh Food section of the New Leaf Company Directory.
Buy seasonal food
Try to eat food that is in season. Even UK foods can have a high carbon footprint where produced outside its natural season if gas or electricity has been employed for heating and lighting greenhouses. Check our UK Seasonal Calendar.
Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, second only to oil; producing 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year. Approximately 8% of man-made CO2 emissions are produced by the fashion industry. That’s more than aviation and shipping combined.
We are buying more, and each garment is being worn less before it is thrown away. Synthetic fabrics are cheaper and it is estimated that we are buying 60% more garments per year than we were in 2000.
Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon and acrylics are produced from crude oil and produce much higher emissions from their production than natural materials. Even cotton production has a significant carbon footprint as it is a thirsty crop, using large amounts of water. It is estimated that 10,000 litres of water is used to produce one pair of jeans.
There are limited recycling options for textiles to recover reusable fibres. It has been estimated that less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled within the clothing industry, with around 13% recycled for use in other areas.
The global footwear industry emits 700 million tonnes of CO2 a year.
Green Fact: Globally, nearly three-fifths of clothing end up in an incinerator or landfill site within a year of being made.
- Avoid fast fashion and only buy what you need. It is better to buy fewer, better quality clothes that will last longer.
You can check the sustainability ratings of clothing brands via the app ‘Good on You’.
- £££ Buy vintage and second hand clothing from vintage and charity shops.
- Recycled materials. Buy clothes made from recycled materials.
- Rent clothes for special occasions rather than buying.
- Choose natural fibres which have a lower carbon footprint, over synthetic materials. Synthetic materials also shed millions of plastic microparticles when they are worn and washed. These contribute to pollution of our air, water and food chain.
- £££ Make your own clothes and re-fashion items.
See the Clothes section of the New Leaf Company Directory.
Home Furnishings & Appliances
- £££ Furniture. Buy second hand and upcycled furniture rather than new, or have a go at giving old furniture a new lease of life yourself. As well as saving money, you can end up with a unique piece of better quality furniture. You don’t have to complete the entire project yourself; you might be confident with sanding and painting and choose to leave the reupholstering to an expert. To find out more read this useful article.
Car boot sales, local ads, Facebook Buy & Sell pages and Ebay are all good places to find second hand furniture and pieces for a project!
- Appliances. When buying appliances check energy efficiency ratings and try to opt for the highest rating. Another factor to consider is a product’s 'sustainability’. The consumer guide ‘Which Best Buy’ is introducing sustainability to its product assessments, providing information on recyclability of packaging and ease of repair. This helps you avoid cheaply produced products will soon need to be replaced and identify a quality product that can be routinely repaired and will last.
Consider purchasing a reconditioned or second hand appliance if possible. This can save you money and extends the life of an item that considerable energy and materials have gone into the manufacture.
Gifts & Presents
The marketing machine shifts into a higher gear around seasonal events like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Christmas, and we often feel compelled to buy things that people simply don’t need.
- £££ Try running a ‘Secret Santa’ amongst the adults in your family. Agree the budget between you. You will end up buying and receiving less unwanted gifts and the one item you receive is more likely to be of use to you than a number of smaller gifts.
- Dedicating a tree is a great gift that will help create greener and healthier places for people to enjoy for generations to come. You can dedicate a tree to celebrate the birth of a baby, a birthday or anniversary, or in memory of a loved one. You can select your preferred region of the UK and prices start from £6.99. You receive a Tree Dedication Certificate which includes the person’s name and your message to them.
- Adopt an orangutan. Orangutans have declined by around 50% in the last 60 years. Make a regular monthly donation and in return receive a cuddly orangutan toy, fact pack, bookmark and stickers. Your donation helps the World Wildlife Fund monitor orangutans in Borneo and help create protected areas of rainforest, as well as other vital work around the world.
- Twin your Loo. By donating £60 to twin your toilet, you help fund a project in a poor community that will enable families to build a basic toilet, have access to clean water and learn about hygiene – a vital combination that saves lives. In return you receive a certificate to display – showing a photograph of your overseas toilet twin and GPS coordinates so you can look up your twin’s location on Google Maps!
- Gift an experience. Gifting tickets for a family day out or a trip to the cinema is gifting precious family time with lasting memories.
- Eco friendly gifts made from natural products or recycled materials.
Here are some of our gift suggestions:
A vegetarian or plant-based cookbook
A biodegradable phone case
Clothes or accessories made from textile waste
A bamboo reusable razor
A bag or purse made from recycled material
- Wrapping paper. Many wrapping papers contain plastic and can’t be recycled. Use the ‘Crinkle Test’ to see if the product contains plastic. Scrunch the paper and if it springs back into its original shape it contains plastic. Choose wrapping paper that is FSC certified and doesn’t contain plastic or metal as this paper can be recycled - or try alternatives such as recyclable packing paper with reusable ribbon or pretty recycled/vintage fabrics.
See the Gifts section of the New Leaf Company Directory to find suppliers of these gift ideas.