I was really thirty while on transit in London waiting for my flight back to Switzerland. So naturally I did as many of us would do, I went into Boots, and grabbed a coconut water to have something really hydrating. While sipping my deliciously refreshing coco water, I started reading the back of the carton (what else should you do when your flight’s delayed). I had the craziest realization while reading the label. The coconuts were picks in the Philippines, then shipped over to Thailand for processing, then to Europe for bottling, and then shipped to the airport where I was waiting, and into my hand. I could have gotten a bottle of locally produced bottles water, but nahh I “felt like coconut water” so I got it. Thinking about the amount of labour, work, energy, fuel, pollution etc. that was behind my seemingly innocent bottle of coconut water was sickening. I decided there and then that I would take an extra minute every single time I buy something to make sure that the enjoyment I get out of it would be worth everything the product went through to make itself to me. Here are a few tips that I’ve now implemented into my life to become a more conscious consumer. *Just as a disclaimer I’m in no way saying I’m perfect, or a true environmentalist or that I live a very ecological or minimalistic lifestyle. My parents live on the other side of the world which means I travel a lot and take lots of flights which is clearly an environmental disaster, making it all the more reason to try make a greater effort in other aspects of my life. We can all do something, and something is always better than nothing.
1. Read labels
The first step to literally anything is being aware. They weren’t lying when they said “knowledge is power”; that shit’s as real as it gets. Thankfully companies are now legally obliged to list all ingredients and origins of their products on the labels, so don’t let all the info pass you by: READ UP. Understand where your products are coming from, whether it be food or consumer goods; understand the journey each product taken to reach you. It’s easy to read the origin of a product passively, but take a moment to genuinely understand the amount of energy (both human and machine) that the voyage and production required.
2. Buy locally
I was looking for lemons in the grocery store last week and I had two options, one option being about 20 cents cheaper than the other. It’s easy to just go for the cheaper one without thinking twice. But I took my own advice and checked the origin of the lemons and found out that while the slightly more expensive ones were from Italy, the other were from South Africa. Like what?! That’s a freakin 10 hour flight away… how unnecessary. Why the hell should I buy lemons that have very literally crossed the world, when I can buy some that were produced right next door?! I understand buying completely locally isn’t always possible (can’t find Swiss lemons anywhere…) but at least look into buying from neighbouring countries.
3. Buy seasonally
One thing I was really craving when I was in India was avocado. Since avocados weren’t in season, it was literally impossible to find them anywhere. At first this wasn’t an easy concept to grasp: a certain item of produce is full-on 100% unavailable for months since it is not in season… come again? I didn’t even realize avocados really had a season since I just eat them every damn day. But each product has a season, and as limiting as this may be, it’s equally beautiful. Each product has it’s time of year and we should really learn to respect that. As I said previously, it may be hard to eat 100% local (if I did that in Switzerland I’d be living off solely brussels sprouts for the entire month of December) but at least stick to your region. I was so excited to have avocado when I cam back to Switzerland, but what I found was that all the avocados were imported from Peru. It being August, I had a full supermarket bursting with gorgeous local produce; so why the hell would I buy something sent over from the other side of the world when we have so many great local options right here?!
4. FREEZE EM
I’m fully aware that this whole eating locally and seasonally thing is going to be a hell of a lot harder in winter when choices get grim af…SO I bought all the seasonal fruit in bulk, and popped em all in the freezer. For those who weren’t aware: freezing things will CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Oh my god this is no exaggeration. Not only can do your part helping the world by vastly reducing your carbon footprint, but you can save heaps of cash aaaand time by buying all the goods that are seasonal and on sale, and sticking them in the freezer. I have so many berries in there rn it’s redic… I’m pretty sure my flatmates are slightly annoyed that I’m taking up all the space but YOU CAN’T WIN EM ALL am I right or am I right??! Berries > Roommates (kiddddinnggg Leon, Annika I love you guys).
5. Ask yourself the most daunting question of all
And that daunting question is: “do I really need this”. It’s crazy how this is something we hardly even focus on at all anymore. Whether it be plastic, food, gas, electricity, water, the consensus is that as westerners, we consume too much. The worst part is that we are so quick to throw things away as well. Next time you go to buy something, honestly pause and ask yourself if this is something you really need. Do I need a plastic bag for that bottle of shampoo when I have a massive tote bag with nothing but my keys and a pack of gum inside? Do I need a third black blouse that I’ll probably stick in my closet and wear maybe twice?
6. Be aware of the plastic
It’s really hard to avoid plastic these days, it honestly wraps essentially everything and anything we buy. It almost seems as though we have no say in the matter, however we tend to forget that we can vote with our dollar. We can chose to buy things from bulk stores that have no plastic wrapping, and show our concern that way.
A single piece of plastic can take 500-1000 years to decompose yet get this… we produced over 300 MILLION METRIC TONS of plastic in 2015.
That number seems too INSANELY massive to grasp, but the conclusion I’m gonna draw here is that the amount we produce versus the amount of time it takes to decompose.. yeah that math just doesn’t work. Recycling is great, but when given the option, I think key is really trying to avoid buying it in the first place. In the same way as we can vote with our dollar in favour of more sustainable options, us purchasing plastic-heavy consumer goods creates more demand, naturally increasing supply.
7. Home-made is always better
If there’s one thing I believe in with all my heart, it’s that anything home-made will always be better than the store bought alternative. Whether we’re talking for the planet, for our waist-lines, for our health or for our wallets, in all cases, you can do it better yourself. Not only is homemade food healthier and cheaper, but having worked in hotels and restaurants a lot I can tell you that they are an absolute ecological disaster. The amount of stuff (food, packaging, waste) they throw away would make you want to cry. I’m not saying never treat yourself to Friday night take-out or a Sunday brunch with friends, but just be aware and try make it more of a “treat” than a daily occurrence.
8. Get your facts on meat
Now I’m not one to preach vegetarianism or veganism on anyone. I was vegan for over two years and started making the switch back a few months ago (read why here), but that doesn’t mean I’m turning a blind-eye to the statistics about meat production. Livestock production uses 1/3 of the world’s fresh-water which is CRAZY. Of course it’s great to cut your showers short and all the rest of it, but switching from a meat-heavy meal to a vegetarian mean only one time a week makes a hell of a lot more difference. No need to transition to a 100% vegan diet, but simply be aware when you’re deciding if you should add beef to your curry for dinner. If you don’t need it, why not cut down.
In the world we live in, unless we alienate ourselves from society as a whole, we can hardly get away from this environment of mass consumption. But throwing our arms down in defeat doesn’t really help much at all, so we might as well take it upon ourselves to at least get informed. Being aware is the first step to being a conscious consumer, which is essentially consuming… but consciously.