We all know how vulnerable our planet is right now. Climate change is affecting the earth and our survival rate in every way possible, while there are still legislators denying its existence. We have less than 7 years to achieve 0 emissions. There’s 79 thousand tons worth of garbage floating in our oceans. 46% of this garbage patch consists of fishing gear, mainly nets.
We all know that there are horrifying cases of companies and even entire countries that are treating their workers like dirt. Workers are being exploited and are often put in the worst working environments one could possibly fathom. Basic human rights are being discarded right, left and center and anyone with power is turning a blind eye.
We all know how our society has become overly dependent on money and success to the point of neglecting its consequences. Due to the implications of late-stage capitalism that we live in, citizens depend on a handful of companies that supply everything from essential items to luxury goods. This has caused them to have an overload of power over the working and lower class majority and has only benefited the upper-class.
We all know about the unsustainable overfishing and destruction of the beautiful underwater worlds we call coral reefs. Society’s obsession with money has caused countless species to go endangered or even extinct. These species and environmental systems existed under the protection of the earth, yet us humans are consistently destroying it for the sake of money that they won’t need once we have become an endangered species.
We all know that we need to be more sustainable. But how? I have always known the importance of our earth and every individual on it due to my experience having lived in so many different countries and having learned and experienced many different cultures first-hand. I was always taught “reduce, reuse, recycle” ever since I was 3, and my mom has passed down her appreciation for nature and the “doing what’s right” mindset to me. But how, as a regular teenager in high school, was I supposed to save my planet from the huge powers destroying it?
As I’ve always been taught to do, I started with research. What is actually happening right now? What is causing these problems? What companies exist, trying to raise awareness and fix these problems? How are my choices affecting the world?
As often happens, too many questions led to too many answers and my brain to be overloaded with information about how my planet is being destroyed in so many ways. Overall, I learned how impossible it would be to try and fix everything by myself. That would only be possible with long-term legislative change. So how can I help as an individual?
At first, I was lost because I had also learned that it's impossible to fix every single worldwide problem at the same time by one individual. Oftentimes, if you want to use products that are fair trade and don't exploit people, they will also have downsides such as using plastic or high-emission transportation, or vice versa. This is only in the interest of the company, so that they can cut down on other costs because paying workers fairly has increased their costs.
Thus, I first had to figure out what my personal values and priorities were: plastic waste, climate change, overfishing, and human rights. Without this, I would have been lost. This narrowing down was very difficult for me and took a while because of course I find animal cruelty disgusting and inhumane, but I also value the survival of the earth (and therefor the ocean) even more.
Next, I had to find out how to incorporate those values into my everyday life. Some changes I’ve already made when I was little, like separating waste, reusing plastic containers, and using my own shopping bags all thanks to my mom. In other cases, I realised how I had never even thought about the effect my diet, skin-care and even menstrual products had on the environment.
So, the most important choices I started with were not eating seafood and using reusable cotton rounds. The seafood was easy because my mom doesn’t like it anyways, but I did have to say no to my favorite wrap option at the gas stations. I also loved the new reusable skin-care products, but I did have to get used to washing them and getting into a regular routine.
After making my first few changes, there were obviously some struggles I encountered. Due to certain products being new to the market or not bought as much as its primarily used product, their costs were often much higher. In some cases, this was a good investment because the long-term price of the alternative was actually much lower than what I used to use. For example, buying single-use cotton rounds for €3 every month for a year is actually more expensive than buying washable cotton rounds for €13 and using them for over a year. However, I understand that many people can’t afford the initial cost. This is a struggle many people face when trying to start becoming sustainable. Everything seems to cost more due to the alternative’s lower demand and higher production cost even though the choice is worth the cost.
However in other cases, being sustainable actually costs less. For example, using old shopping bags instead of paying for new ones each time costs nothing but a quick thought. Then again, in terms of food, most sustainable options are more expensive but would have to be bought as often as a cheap beef patty. You don’t have to make all of the “sustainable choices” if you can’t afford them. Any choice is a step closer to the world becoming more sustainable.
Another hurdle I encountered was other people judging or criticizing my choices sometimes. I’ve had people say “that won’t solve any problems,” or “that’s so much unnecessary work,” or even “stop pretending you’re fixing anything.” I often try to justify my actions and try to convince them why they should be making changes as well, but this doesn’t always work depending on the person and situation. So, as I’ve learned in other aspects of my life as well, it would be impossible to please everyone around me. Now, after 2 years of constantly adding small changes to my lifestyle to live more sustainably, these are most of the choices I’ve made that may inspire you as well:
No seafood consumption
Have more meatless dinners per week
Try lessening my beef consumption
Use eco-friendly menstrual products
Getting skin care products in reusable glass and aluminium containers
Try not to buy clothing and makeup from large companies but instead from small businesses (and only when necessary)
Make things instead of buying them (such as desk organizers and pencil holders)
Reuse delivery boxes for my small business
Bring my own shopping bags
Using reusable ice cubes
Make my own paper (occasionally)
Using a metal (insulating) water bottle
Reusing old clothing as rags or sewing something new out of them
Making my art & prototypes out of scrap materials
Buy the option with the least amount of plastic packaging
Experimenting with shampoo-bars
Use long-lasting stainless-steel razors
Using cloth face-masks
I’m also very happy that I’ve discovered local brands/online shops such as ZoZero (which supply many brands such as Bambaw, Flawless, EcoLiving, and HelemaalSea) that supply a large selection of zero-waste alternatives which I have used to expand my zero-waste library. Buying from local and small businesses on Etsy and Instagram also discourages contributing to late-stage capitalism and supports people who actually need the money and their unique talents. In my experience, many of these small businesses also tend to make more environmentally friendly choices than large companies, and are much more fun to receive. However, the most important thing I’ve learned is to use what you already have before buying new things! Don’t just throw away your current and spare toothpaste tubes just so you can buy Bite toothpaste in a glass jar. That defeats the whole purpose.
Overall, I discovered how - in this late-stage capitalistic society - it will be nearly impossible for one to make a choice that is 100% good. There will always be nuances to the ethics and sustainability of a product due to the money dependence our society has created. In my opinion, to make any change at all (other than legislative), you have to first set your priorities. Some people may prioritize the rights of workers and others may prioritize their environmental impact. Both are equally as important, and to impact both areas you need both types of people. We also need to acknowledge that no one is perfect, especially when starting something new. If you accidentally buy a drink in a plastic bottle instead of glass, the world won’t burn down, I promise. One can’t fix everything, but as a collective we can save our valuable and vulnerable planet.
By Evelien Vink