Sustainability Blindspots

Fashion was always a sustainability blindspot for me, and it’s still something I’m working on being more mindful about. But there are lots of other areas where–despite my religious recycling and knowledge of the hard effects of climate change– I could do better.

One of those areas is convenience items. What am I really talking about? PLASTICS.

My office has a break room, but until a couple months ago, did not have sink. For the three years I’ve worked there, I have most days brought my lunch in an effort to be more healthy, more financially responsible, and have less of an environmental impact. However! For lots of the things I brought for lunch, I needed silverware. And then I would use our office supply of plastic forks and spoons, which I would use and then throw away. So bad. So shameful.

Finally, in December, I bought a To-Go Ware set of reusable bamboo utensils. And with our sink, I can wash everything after they’re used and keep the set at my desk!

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These utensils are definitely larger and thicker than your average utensils (and definitely larger/thicker than plastic disposable silverware!) so it definitely felt a little different and odd when I first started using them, but after a few meals I got used to them and I actually appreciate that they kind of force you to take smaller bites and eat slower. As a human-hoover accustomed to eating quickly and running off to the next thing, I definitely need that encouragement to slow down.

Plastics are everywhere, and unfortunately, they last … practically forever. They are cheap to purchase, but the cost to the environment is high. Using plastic forks at the office was free to me, but over time that is a huge amount of plastic that is used, plus a sizable cost of purchasing plastic utensils for the office every month. Buying a $13 set of utensils one time makes long-term financial and environmental sense.

Where can you reduce your plastic impact? This chapter from The World Without Us,  by Alan Weisman, offers a disturbing look into the long-term impact of plastics on our environment. From Chapter 9, Polymers are Forever:

In 1975, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences had estimated that all oceangoing vessels together dumped 8 million pounds of plastic annually. More recent research showed the world’s merchant fleet alone shamelessly tossing around 639,000 plastic containers every day. But littering by all the commercial ships and navies, Moore discovered, amounted to mere polymer crumbs in the ocean compared to what was pouring from the shore.

The real reason that the world’s landfills weren’t overflowing with plastic, he found, was because most of it ends up in an ocean-fill. After a few years of sampling the North Pacific gyre, Moore concluded that 80 percent of mid-ocean flotsam had originally been discarded on land. It had blown off garbage trucks or out of landfills, spilled from railroad shipping containers and washed down storm drains, sailed down rivers or wafted on the wind, and found its way to this widening gyre.

You can read the whole chapter online , which gets into much more detail about the sheer  amount of plastic litter in the environment. I promise you, it’s hard not to think of the phrase “polymers are forever” after reading this and looking around at how much plastic you have in your life.

I definitely have more sustainability blindspots, but trying to reduce the amount of plastics I use and purchase new is definitely going up there as one I am actively trying to address.

Morality and Consumption

You don’t live under a rock, right? Then you’ve probably heard, the President of the United States has complained about Nordstrom deciding to no longer carry his daughter’s clothing line based on lagging sales– prompting the question everywhere: wait, isn’t it unethical for the President to attempt to influence businesses for the profit of his family members? 

In response, many people, including many celebrities, have been tweeting about their gleeful support of Nordstrom. Spend your money where you want, but I don’t think we should pretend that conspicuous consumption is a morally or politically progressive practice.

What is conspicuous consumption? It’s a term that was introduced in 1899 (!) by Thorstein Veblen, describing the phenomena in which consumers buy expensive things for  accumulation and optics, rather than need or utility. I get the gleeful  shadenfreude at seeing Trump sputter at the thought of his daughter losing income, but at the same time… buying your luxury t-shirts at Nordstrom is not changing the world.

At the end of the day, you may feel better about buying products that are made by a company that aligns with your political values, whatever they are, but buying things is not an inherent good. I think you should absolutely make decisions and can derive satisfaction from knowing your purchase isn’t going toward something horrible (or that it is going toward something good, in the case of certain companies or business partnerships), but it should not be the only way you direct your political activity, money, or time.

P.S. Donate to the ACLU, or my favorite local organization, the Women’s Medical Fund, any other organization you care about and feel like is doing good stuff. That’s putting your money where it will really make a difference.

 

 

Ethical Fashion?

I just read a really interesting article about ethical “fast fashion.” 

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So the deal with fast vs. slow fashion is basically that fast fashion is produced at a high speed to keep up with(/create) consumer demand for new things. You know how H&M always seems different even if you visit it after a week or two? It’s because they are actually adding in new stock on a nearly-week basis. Fast-fashion is also generally characterized as being made as cheaply and quickly as possible, so that it stays on-trend and is inexpensive enough for the consumer to keep buying something new every couple of weeks.

Slow fashion, on the other hand, is characterized by an emphasis on quality materials, quality manufacturing (and often ethical manufacturing) and a larger emphasis on curating a smaller line of items that are all high quality.

I work in a non-profit, so Reformation is out of my budget, but it was interesting to read about Yael Aflalo’s approach to keeping up with the trends while also creating ethically and sustainably-made clothing. How should retailers balance consumer demand for trends with a responsibility to the ethical manufacturing?

I’m definitely intrigued by Aflalo’s and Reformation’s approach, although the fast/trend-based aspect makes me nervous (in general, I think the emphasis should be on consuming less), but since fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Read for yourself. What do you think?