Sustainability's Tricky Trends
Written by Cara Trinidad
The spotlight on sustainability is shining brighter than ever. Everyday more eyes are opened to the reality of our environment and the brutal effects of climate change. In an effort to help our planet recover, many have started a more sustainable lifestyle. Naturally, many industries have revamped their campaigns and released new products branded as “eco-friendly”. As a result, the word “sustainable” has been carelessly thrown around simply to keep up with the trends. Too many have fallen victim to greenwashing. As consumers, we should learn how to be more careful. However, most of us are still learning and are bound to slip up more than we’d like. Let’s dig a little deeper into some sustainable “trends” to differentiate the practical from the problematic.
You’re probably familiar with the 3 Rs. Say it with me, “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” Some of you may even be familiar with 5Rs, or 6Rs. These include additions like Rethink, Refuse, Repair, Replace, and so on. For now, let’s zoom in on one: Reuse.
The most common reusables on the market nowadays are items such as tote bags, straws, cutlery sets, various food and beverage containers, etc. Most reusable products have helped us reduce the waste we generate. Since the 1950s, the amount of plastic waste we produce has doubled every decade. We are now up to over 380 million tons a year - and that’s just plastic. Figures like this are completely unacceptable. Thankfully, reusable items help us curb the production of plastic and many single-use products.
So, why are they tricky?
Remember, if you can reduce consumption of anything, it’s always better to do so. While reusable items are evidently beneficial, sometimes we still buy them for the wrong reasons. There are times we spend solely based on popularity. Maybe you felt obligated to buy from a friend. You might even buy it just because it was labeled as eco-friendly. The fact is, none of that matters if you won’t use that product in the long run.
Before spending on a reusable item, ask yourself if you’ll make good use of it or not. Do you really need that set of straws? Or could you skip the straw instead? Do you really need a new tote bag? Or do you have enough at home? Evaluate your lifestyle and build your shopping list based on that. Just because a product COULD be useful, doesn’t mean it’ll be useful for YOU. If you can hold off on something brand new, then less resources are used up. Don’t forget, “Reduce” comes before “Reuse”.
Next to oil, the clothing and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world. The toxic chemicals from dyes have made their way into our oceans. Discarded textiles contribute to 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. By actively prioritizing convenience and cheap production, we’re faced with a surplus of lower quality products that are thrown out with every season anyway. To make matters worse, most of these companies fail to provide decent wages and working conditions for most of their employees.
Sustainable fashion is meant to tackle these problems. There are quite a number of sustainable brands popping up both locally and internationally. Ideally, they should produce timeless pieces with non-toxic and/or recycled materials. They must also have well-paid and well-treated workers. If you don’t want something brand new, then buy second hand. This gives clothes a longer life before they’re discarded.
So, why is it tricky?
You can’t guarantee that a brand is sustainable and ethical if they aren’t fully transparent. Watch out for those that take advantage of sustainability as a trend. Do not fall for false promises and greenwashing. If a brand doesn’t provide information on their manufacturing process, then there’s no guarantee it’s trustworthy. Keeping that in mind, we have to set stricter rules before making our next purchase. Especially when buying something new, it’s not enough for a store to claim that they use natural/recycled materials. Where is it sourced from? Could it be blended with un-recycled plastics? If it’s recycled, what’s the process of doing so?
Then there’s the matter of work environments. The fashion industry is the most labor dependent industry in the world. A brand may be using eco-friendly materials. However, if their workers aren’t paid well and treated right, are they really worth supporting?
Another option we have is thrift shopping. Not only does this save money, but it encourages a circular economy. Nonetheless, we still have to be conscious when thrifting. It’s easy to buy impulsively and/or excessively over a good deal. Always think twice (especially when buying online). Will you make good use out of it? Do you already have a similar piece of clothing? Maybe you can alter something at home and not spend at all!
Now all of this may sound overwhelming. But the ultimate goal is simple. Always go for the most eco-friendly choice you can make. The harsh truth is most sustainable brands are yet to become more inclusive. Not all are easily accessible, many don’t offer bigger sizes, and they’re usually expensive. Moreover, when it comes to thrifted clothes, accessibility is heavily dependent on your location. We’re yet to find more options that cater to a wider audience. Nonetheless, there ARE better options (like Habi!). While waiting for more to appear, do what you can -- one piece of clothing at a time. After all, wouldn’t you rather have one thoughtfully produced outfit rather than ten pieces that aren’t eco-ethical?
You may have noticed some people beginning to remove meat from their diets. Many have even transitioned into a completely vegan lifestyle. Some of the most recent statistics state that animal agriculture contributes to 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions. That clearly trumps the 13% caused by transportation exhaust. Most animal products are now genetically-modified just to keep up with demand. Knowing this, going vegan does sound like the healthiest and most eco-friendly choice.
So, why is it tricky?
Giving up animal products isn’t that simple for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a change that directly affects our health. We all have different bodies. There isn’t a standard meal plan that works for everyone. While going vegan does wonders for some, it might not be the best option for others (read more here). Another factor is your location. In some places, the vegan/vegetarian options are extremely limited. Not to mention, they aren’t always budget-friendly. Which brings me to my next point -- not everyone has the resources to make sudden changes in their diets. Especially in developing countries, there are so many struggling to put food on the table at all.
When it comes to eco-friendly eating, there are ways to lessen your carbon footprint other than a complete diet change. Simple things like buying local and organic lessens emissions and provides healthier alternatives. Avoiding eating in excess has environmental benefits too. You could even learn to compost or grow food at home.
If it’s doable, reducing animal product consumption definitely benefits the environment - but, don’t stop there. Do what you can, and do it to the best of your abilities. No one expects you to go vegan overnight.
In creating sustainable habits, we should acknowledge the gray areas. Our capacity to live sustainably is heavily dependent on our lifestyles. We should make changes based on our own needs and resources. You don’t have to do the same thing as everyone else. Don't forget -- sustainability is more than a trend.
The following is a flow of questions that can help you stay mindful of the things you buy.
The truth is, it’s a privilege to be knowledgeable on environmental issues. Those most affected by the climate crisis are usually those least aware of it. For those of us who are more fortunate, we must educate ourselves and commit to more conscious practices. Until we find more universally sustainable solutions, we should do what we can and teach others to do the same.
Let’s better ourselves so we can better the world.
Cara Trinidad is a 20-year old Dance Major at the UP Diliman College of Music. Outside of the dance studio, she constantly advocates for the preservation of our environment and climate justice. She grew up in a relatively eco-friendly household, but began developing a sustainable lifestyle in 2018. Over the past two and a half years, she has spent most of her free time building more conscious habits, and encouraging others to do the same.