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To Anyone Who’s Ever Had To Compromise

I’ve been planning to write this since I wrote about buying an iPad. I received some criticism for it (which was to be expected, given the nature of this blog), and that got me thinking.

Did I make the wrong decision? Did I abandon my morals? Am I a bad person? Have I fallen off the wagon?

Trying to live in a sustainable, ethical way isn’t always easy. There always seems to be compromise. It isn’t so much about the right thing to do, but the least bad thing to do.

I remember when I first stopped thinking about doing more, wishing I could do more, and decided to do something about it. I started doing postgraduate studies in Environmental Decision-Making, and I secured an internship at a UK charity called Tree Aid. Whereas at my previous workplace I was sometimes referred to as a tree-hugger (getting an internship at a charity called Tree Aid in no way helped this!), now through study and work I was surrounded by people who cared as much about sustainability, ethical consumerism, social justice and the environment as I did. Maybe they even cared more.

As someone who was just beginning this journey, I was expecting the people I was now exposed to to be hardened “greenies” (although what I thought that meant, I’m not sure). Yes, everyone was passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated. What I found surprising though, was all of them did things that I didn’t consider to fit with this image I had created.

There were the vegans who didn’t use animal products for environmental reasons, yet drank soy (soy production contributes to rainforest destruction).

There were families that wanted to connect more with nature so lived in the country, but had multiple cars to make this possible, including a four-wheel drive for the many trips into town for supplies, school and social outings.

There were people who would not step foot inside a department or high street store, and only bought ethical clothing, yet would shop for groceries at the supermarket.

There were people who took regular flights to visit projects or attend courses or seminars, or to travel to remote places to reconnect with nature and feel re-inspired.

At first I felt a little indignant. How can these people call themselves environmentalists when they fly/shop at Tesco/drive a gas-guzzling car?! Then I realised…they weren’t calling themselves anything. I was the one labelling them. They were just trying to do the best they could with the resources they had available to them.

Another thing I’ve slowly come to realise, is that you can be passionate about many things, but often they are in conflict with one another.

  • Believing in Fair Trade, wanting farmers in poor countries to be paid a fair wage, and wanting to provide a market for these products…whilst also believing in supporting local producers and the local economy, and avoiding high food miles.
  • Wanting to support organic, sustainable farming practices with free-range, grass-fed animals, whilst recognising that a vegetarian/plant-based/vegan diet uses less energy and is considered more sustainable.
  • Flying uses huge amounts of fuel, has a huge carbon footprint and is a massive source of greenhouse gases…yet it enables people who do great work on sustainability to travel and reach wider audiences to spread their message. It also allows people to connect with nature and remote places, or see social injustice and poverty, and feel inspired to fight for them.
  • Electronic gadgets mean mining, manufacturing processes that use chemicals, questionable working conditions and end products with short shelf lives that contribute to landfill…yet they are the main means of communicating the in 21st Century; if people want to connect, to inspire, to teach and to learn, these gadgets are necessary.

When faced with conflicts like this, we have to choose. How we choose depends on our situation, our resources, our experiences at that moment. It doesn’t mean we’d make the same choice next time. It doesn’t even mean we made the right choice this time – after all, making mistakes is how we learn, and grow, and get better at what we do.

When I bought my iPad, I made a decision, and I was faced with a choice. I wanted to be able to connect with other people online, and be a part of the sustainability online community. I wanted to be able to work online outside of home, and the freedom this gives me. I wanted to be able to read books, magazines and articles electronically, to learn more and feel inspired. The decision was to invest in a tablet. My choice wasn’t about whether this was the most sustainable thing to want; it was whether I could achieve this in a more sustainable way. Looking at options, there was no ideal solution, just a “least bad” one. That’s how I made my choice.

You know what? Sometimes, that’s how it is. We have to compromise.

Having to compromise sometimes doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my principles (tweet this). It doesn’t mean I care less about living a sustainable lifestyle, Fair Trade, social justice, landfill waste or plastic pollution.

It means I’m not perfect. But I’m doing the best that I can.

Plastic Free Tea: Let’s Start a Campaign!

My discovery during Plastic Free July that teabags contain plastic made me mad. It made me really mad. Why, I wondered, when I generally drink loose leaf tea anyway? I came up with two reasons. (Well, three reasons. ‘Generally’ means I do drink tea made from teabags occasionally.) Firstly, the information I read stated that all teabag producers use plastic in their teabags…except one. That is the key. If one company can make plastic-free teabags, then it’s obviously possible – so why don’t the others? The second reason was that the Sustainability Officer for Teadirect (the Sustainability Officer, no less!), was quoted as saying this: “Most consumers don’t notice [the polypropylene] and probably don’t care.” Don’t notice?! Don’t care?! I think what’s more relevant is that consumers probably don’t know. What’s more, I care, and I know plenty of other people who also care…including Plastic is Rubbish and WestyWrites who have also been raising awareness, contacting tea companies to find out what their teabags are made of, and complaining about this use of plastic! Whether we’re in the minority or not, we still exist! So we’ve decided to do something about it, and we’d love you to join us!

The Campaign for Plastic-Free Tea

Taking that quote that made me so cross, and turning it round, I want all these tea companies to know that actually, people DO notice, and what’s more, they care, too.

teabagjpg

I’d love you all to tell these companies that you don’t like plastic in your teabags, and you want them to change. I want to make it as easy as possible for you, so I’ve done the legwork and got all the contact details I could find for some of the more popular teabag companies. If you have another you’d like me to add, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!

Even if a company doesn’t sell products in your part of the world, don’t feel like you just have to stick to your little corner! Complain away!

Your Mission…Should You Choose to Accept it…

Choose how you prefer to contact each company. I’ve listed email addresses, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, if they have them. Use the hashtag #plasticfreetea on social media so we can find your comments!

Clipper Tea

Clipper tea use plastic in their square bags, but not in the individual string bags, as found out by The Snail of Happiness who wrote a letter and received this response:

“We can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.

Contact Clipper and tell them we don’t want plastic in our teabags!

By email: help@clipper-teas.com

Twitter: @ClipperTeas

Clipper Teas on Facebook

Yorkshire Tea

Yorkshire Tea informed @Westywrites via Twitter that:

“There’s an incredibly fine plastic mesh woven into the teabag for strength and structure.”

Contact Yorkshire Tea: contact form via their website

Twitter: @YorkshireTea

Yorkshire Tea on Facebook

PG Tips:

PG Tips informed Westywrites via phone that:

“There is a small amount of plastic in the tea bags to hold the bag together.”

Contact PG Tips: contact form via their website

Twitter: UK @PGtips or USA @PGTipsUSA

PG Tips on Facebook

Nerada:

Twothirdswild contacted Nerada about potential plastic in their teabags, and was told:

“There are cellulose and thermo-plastic fibres in the bags which are necessary to seal the product! Their bags are however, made from manila hemp, which has been oxygen whitened, not treated with chlorine or chlorine based compounds.”

Contact Nerada: contact form via their website

Nerada on Facebook

Twinings Tea

The information I read from 2010 stated Twinings use plastic in their teabags, but I’m yet to discover if it’s still the case. Chances are, it is.

Twinings operate in 100 countries. Find your local contact information here.

Contact Twinings UK: contact form via their website.

Twitter: @TwiningsTeaUK @TwiningsAU

Twinings UK on Facebook and Twinings Australia on Facebook

Tea-Drinking Not Your Thing?

You don’t have to be a tea-drinker to join in, just a plastic-hater! Most of us have accepted that to drink tea and avoid plastic we’ll have to switch to loose leaf tea, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be letting companies know our disappointment – if they don’t know, they won’t have any reason to change.

We can all do our bit to reduce our plastic waste through our consumption, but we can also take things to the next level and speak out about plastic in our products. Maybe teabags didn’t make you mad – but I bet something else did! If you kept a dilemma bag during Plastic-Free July, have a look and see what companies produced these products – and send them a message. I’ll be joining the Plastic Free July team on Thursday night for the Plastic Free July finale, and as well as a celebration there’s gonna be a letter-writing frenzy as we all contact these companies and tell them what we think!

Have you complained to any companies about plastic in their products? What was their response? If you haven’t already – it’s not too late to join in! Please make sure you share who you wrote to and how they replied. Any other thoughts? Leave a comment below!

Fair Trade: what it means, what it does, and how you play a part

Last Friday I attended the Fairly Fashionable? event, where local fashion designers created garments using Fair Trade fabric to raise awareness of ethical fashion. I was telling some new friends about it, and one of them asked me:

“What is Fair Trade?”

Good point! Whilst you probably know (or could guess!) it means that workers getting paid a fair price for the goods that they produce, there’s actually a bit more to it than that.

What does “Fair Trade” Mean?

Fair Trade is all about better prices, yes, but it’s also about decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.

The movement came about after people recognized that conventional trade wasn’t providing fair wages and sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people. Poverty and hardship make these workers more vulnerable to exploitation by limiting their choices, access to markets and negotiating power.

The idea with Fair Trade is that farmers or workers are paid a higher price for their goods or services, and this cost is passed onto the consumer, who will pay more for a product that has been fairly traded.

There’s no one definition of Fair Trade; there are many different organisations who promote Fair Trade, and they have different standards and criteria. The 10 principles listed by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), which Fair Trade organisations are expected to follow, are excellent for explaining what Fair Trade companies across the globe strive to achieve.

The 10 Principles of Fair Trade

Principle 1: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Principle 2: Transparency and Accountability

Principle 3: Fair Trading Practices

Principle 4: Payment of a Fair Price

Principle 5: Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour

Principle 6: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association

Principle 7: Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle 8: Providing Capacity Building

Principle 9: Promoting Fair Trade

Principle 10: Respect for the Environment

(You can read a full description of these principles here)

How does Fair Trade Work?

Fair Trade has existed since WWII, but was more focused on handicrafts in the beginning, with products sold solely from Fair Trade shops (also called worldshops) and churches. From the 1980s there was a shift towards the fair trade of agricultural products, and the idea of certification came about.

Certification was introduced in 1988; the first certified Fair Trade product was coffee.The idea behind certification was that it allowed consumers to recognize which products gave farmers a premium price for their crops and followed Fair Trade principles. This meant products could be sold in mainstream shops such as supermarkets rather than specific Fair Trade shops. Certification has allowed the reach of Fair Trade to grow massively, and more customers means more farmers can benefit.

How does certification work? An independent organisation certifies that the commodities used in a product meet Fair Trade standards, and manufacturers pay for the right to use a logo. This tells consumers that the product meets certification standards for Fair Trade.

The FAIRTRADE Mark

The FAIRTRADE Mark is probably the most famous Fair Trade logo: it’s currently used in over 50 countries and is attached to over 27,000 products. It’s an independent certification mark that guarantees a product has been produced according to international Fair Trade standards. It shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved.

Fairtrade logos

Certification schemes with logos that people recognize mean that products can be stocked in supermarkets where high volumes of products can be sold. It is estimated 90% of consumers trust the FAIRTRADE Mark – and this confidence means higher sales.

Whilst the FAIRTRADE Mark is the world’s biggest Fair Trade certification scheme, it’s not the only one. Different certifiers will have different standards and procedures, but all promote Fair Trade.

Different Fairtrade logos

Logos from Fair Trade USA (left and second left), the Fairtrade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization

Not all Fairly Traded products are certified, either. Remember that participating in a Fair Trade certification scheme costs money. Some organisations that work with small cooperatives to produce Fair Trade products may not have the resources to certify their products; but that does not mean they don’t adhere to Fair Trade principles. Most businesses selling Fair Trade products want to be as transparent as possible, so if in doubt, just ask questions.

What Can We Do to Support Fair Trade?

Buy Fair Trade products! Simple as that! The most common products are coffee, chocolate, sugar and bananas, and you’ll be able to find these in supermarkets. Health food stores and independent grocers will probably have a wider range.

Start with just one product that you buy that has a Fair Trade alternative, and make the switch. Last year I switched to only buying Fair Trade chocolate. The market for Fair Trade products continues to grow every year, and the more we support it, the more this growth will continue.

Fairtrade InfographicFor more information on Fair Trade, and to see how you can support Fair Trade in your area, check out these great websites:

World Fair Trade Organization
Fairtrade International
Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand
Fairtrade Foundation (UK)
Fair Trade USA

Do you already buy Fair Trade products? Are you new to Fair Trade but willing to make the switch? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Everyone buys too many clothes…

“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.”
– Dame Vivienne Westwood

That was what Dame Vivienne Westwood, the famous British fashion designer, told the press after the launch of her show at London Fashion Week this week, as reported on the Telegraph.co.uk website.

I’ve got to say, I love her message. It’s something I’ve believed in for years. I remember going clothes shopping with my sister as a teenager, and we’d browse through the clothes rails and pick out bargains. When I asked myself if I really liked the item I’d found, how much it cost always came into the equation. “Hmmm, it’s £10 nice”.  Which meant, I like it because it only costs £10 – if it cost more I probably wouldn’t want it. Once I realised that I was only buying things because I saw them as a bargain, often never really wearing them, it made me question my buying habits. There were many reasons why I’d never wear the things I bought – they didn’t really suit me, I didn’t have the right occasion to actually wear it, it didn’t really fit properly… and many more. Every time I’d been seduced by price, but it had ended up being a false economy.

So I decided in my early twenties to take price out of the equation completely. When I was looking for something, I would only buy things that were absolutely perfect. I wouldn’t consider price until I’d found what I wanted – and then I’d check the price tag and decide if I was willing to spend that much. If something is perfect, and I’m sure I will wear it many times, I am willing to spend a little more. It’s a much better system than buying heaps of cheap items that were a “bargain” but that I’ll never wear. Not to mention cheap throwaway fashion that will only get one or two wears before they stretch, fade and/or become mis-shapen.

How has this worked for me? Well, I no longer need to go shopping in the sales. That stuff isn’t really a bargain – it’s all the stuff the store couldn’t sell at full price so had to discount to shift it. Why didn’t it sell in the first place? Whatever the reason (badly cut, odd sizing, strange colours), it may be a reason why the person who buys the “bargain” never actually wears it either.

I spend more per item, and I buy a whole lot less. I buy things that I like, that fit properly, and I know I will wear. Spending more on an item definitely guilt-trips me into wearing it, whereas it’s easy if something only cost a few dollars to cast it aside if you change your mind.

It is something I aspire to, but I’m not perfect. When I first switched from shopping in clothes shops to shopping at second-hand stores and on eBay, I had a brief phase of buying things solely because they were cheap. It seemed guilt-free as they were used items, but I still ended up with items in my wardrobe that I didn’t wear that just took up space. It seemed strange to spend decent amounts of money on second-hand items. Now I’ve changed my mind and if I find something I want, I’m happy to pay whatever the seller asks.

This year my sole non-underwear clothes purchases have been a second-hand jacket, jumper and skirt (plus a new pair of trainers). The jacket and the jumper were not super cheap as second-hand items go, but are really good quality and things I specifically needed. The skirt is an example of my hoarding tendencies and shows that I still have lessons to learn – it is actually the same as a skirt I already have and love, and wear all summer long, so when I saw the second one on eBay I had to buy it. Probably not necessary. Scrap that, definitely not necessary! Shows I still have a way to go!

Back to Dame Vivienne. Obviously her comment has attracted some criticism. Some think she is being hypocritical because she works in the fashion industry. Others think that by promoting quality she is actually promoting the sales of her own designer goods – her comments were simply a way to sell her products. Personally, I think that because she works in the fashion industry, she is in a better place to make her comments and have her views listened to. You need insiders to help make change in every industry, and fashion is no exception. Of course she wants to make money from her work – but you don’t see racks and racks of cheap Vivienne Westwood garments in every store you step into. She doesn’t produce wear-once-and-throw-away items. The comment about buying better quality seems less likely to be a cheap marketing plug and more likely a reference to the irresponsible, sweatshop-produced, poorly made rubbish that flies of the shelves each week – and ends up in landfill in the weeks after that. Not everyone can afford her prices, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all spend a little more ensuring the items we buy are things that are made responsibly, that we’ll love and wear many times. As Dame Vivienne said:

“Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don’t keep buying just for the sake of it.”

One reason why I don’t shop at Supermarkets

I no longer do a weekly shop at the supermarket. I haven’t taken part in this ritual since July 2012, when I signed up to Plastic Free July and pledged to stop buying disposable plastic forever. It wasn’t my plan to stop shopping in the supermarkets, but once I limited myself to items not packaged in plastic, it didn’t leave much left to buy. The odd jar, a bag of flour, that was about it. Once I’d traipsed up and down every aisle and only filled my basket with a handful of items, the novelty wore thin. We started shopping elsewhere, namely the markets and the bulk food stores.

I’d never liked giving my money to the supermarkets, but their convenience lured me in. I wanted to support local businesses, local producers and sustainable practices like organic farming, but it was a big change to undertake. Once the supermarkets stopped being convenient and I had a reason (along with the drive and motivation) to go elsewhere, I did, and I haven’t looked back.

It was only once I’d stopped going to the supermarkets that I realised that most of the food I was buying from there wasn’t food at all, but a mix of additives, preservatives and flavours that looked like food. The promotions would lure me in, even though it was the same things on offer, week in, week out. Things I didn’t need and didn’t want…but the bargain factor meant they often ended up in the trolley. Not such a bargain, buying things that I didn’t intend to buy, is it?! It was a habit, one that I didn’t know I had until I broke it.

If you happened to go into my local supermarket this week, this is what you’d be seeing in pride of place at the ends of the aisles on “special”. See if you can spot any real food amongst it all.

junk3 junk2 junk1 junk13 junk12 junk8 junk7 junk6 junk5 Once you’ve looked past the junk, preservatives, additives and over-packaged “food” you’ll find there’s not much left. Plus, you notice how all of that stuff is branded? That’s because companies pay the stores to put their products on display there. It’s why you rarely see non-branded goods in these premium spots.

Buying this stuff isn’t a bargain. It’s not real food. It’s bad for our health, it’s polluting the environment (did you see how much plastic there was?!) and it’s lining the coffers of the big multinational companies and the supermarkets at the expense of smaller producers, local growers and independent retailers.

We all want choice, right? Supermarkets aren’t giving us much choice. You may not live in Australia but I suspect if you went to your local supermarket the same things would be on offer. By giving our money to these places and these companies we’re only strengthening them and limiting our choices in the future.

Where we spend our money matters.

This weekend, visit your local farmers market. Seek out real food and meet the people who grow it, prepare it, make it and bake it.  Have a chat with them about what they’re doing, how they do it, why they do it. Learn their stories.  Support your local community. Connect with the seasons  (local produce means seasonal produce). Let your taste buds be amazed.