As the planet nears destruction, it’s become far more urgent to find ways to live sustainably.
While individual action only goes so far – the biggest culprits of greenhouse gas emissions are the richest in the world, along with giant companies – showing support for sustainably-focused companies rather than harmful ones can help turn the needle in the other direction.
“The majority of companies aren’t going to make the change unless they are forced to, as it will impact their margins or selling prices, since the only reason to use plastic is cost,” says Dr Stephan Helary, founder of local skincare range Terres D’Afrique.
Even so, consumers themselves are turning away from unsustainable products and are actively looking for alternatives. Here’s what to look out for when squinting at labels.
Look Out For ‘Greenwashed’ Products
There are many ways we’ve become convinced something is helpful when it’s not. One is the practice of greenwashing: calling a product sustainable when it isn’t really, or assigning a “green” value to something that is irrelevant.
For example, if a burger patty is labelled gluten-free, this might convince you it’s healthy, but patties are made of meat and shouldn’t contain gluten anyway.
“Most items that say they are natural materials and have a material content on the label will soon reveal if they are,” says Marc Barnfather, founder of Just Breethe, a clothing line that’s meant to be staple and used for years. “You can easily see if the packaging looks recyclable or not or if there is some sort of attempt to show they are trying to achieve a greener foot print,” he says.
Important to note: most plastics aren’t recyclable or don’t end up in the recycling plant, so it’s better to avoid it in the first place.
Buy Things That Last
“The true way to know which companies to support are the ones who don’t support fast fashion and embrace longevity in their makeup,” says Barnfather. Just Breethe clothes are built to last. “I wanted to create a capsule wardrobe of well-engineered clothing items that won’t move, sits well and looks great,” says Barnfather.
The principal transcends clothes. For example, instead of buying a sprig of thyme or basil, why not keep the pot plant in your kitchen? You’ll cut plastic use and have an ever-ready herb in your kitchen. Beauty products are becoming even more sustainable with recyclable packaging or self-contained soaps, solid oils and perfumes. “At Terres d’ Afrique we have opted for more sustainable packaging materials and try limiting our use of plastic to the strict minimum from inception of the brand,” says Dr Helary.
“Some think that the refill revolution is underway,” says Dr Helary. This involves opting to refill your coffers at stores as opposed to buying pre-packaged products. “With the introduction of new regulations banning single-use plastics, chances are that we’ll see a lot of new initiatives in the near future,” he says. Try your hand at shopping at a zero-waste stores, buy in bulk where you can, or buy refill products instead of a whole new jar or bottle.
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Make Your Voice Heard
Monique Spaltman, Formulations Specialist at Lulu & Marula, says there’s power in actually telling companies where they’re at fault. “Submit feedback in the most meaningful way possible, via social media platforms and emails,” says Spaltman. “The bigger momentum a movement gains, the greater the demand for change.”
Marc Barnfather remains optimistic. “We have a long road ahead of us as both consumers and clothing manufacturers, but by shining the light on the ones driving this forward is already a huge step in the right direction,” he says.