Avica UK

Sustainable Product Buying Guide

It is important to remember that most products are not perfectly, sustainably made. Our goal is moving away from the status quo towards sustainability. Until all of our systems (energy, waste, manufacturing, transportation, ect) are sustainable, you will have to make compromises. The main issue is figuring out which compromises are acceptable and still moving towards the goal. There are a series of questions you should be asking when buying products, so that you can live your most sustainable life possible.

 

  • Does the product accomplish the goal of reducing waste, fossil fuel energy use, or water use/quality?

    • These are the main objectives focused on by SustainalbeLiving808, but there are many other sustainability goals to consider, like the UN Sustainability Goals

  • Where is the product made?

    • Locally made products help money stay in the local economy. Depending on the product, you can consider local to be county, state, or country. If it is made in the U.S. then it is more likely that proper labor, waste disposal, and resource management laws are in place and followed.

    • Sometimes it is beneficial to be made in another country, if that is where the raw material is harvested, for example.

  • If the product is made in another country,

    • Does the company have any trusted certifications relating to sustainability to make sure certain rules are being followed, even though it may not be a law in that particular country?

    • Do they have employees from their company that oversee international production at the sites themselves?

    • Does the company make any mention of how they ensure their product is sustainably made?

  • What is the product made of?

    • Consider what happens to the product at the end of its life

    • Avoid plastic when able due to a host of negative impacts

For example, let’s look at the options for bamboo products. We start with the raw materials, bamboo, water, energy that become the product. At the end of that products life it could end up in the landfill, the environment, or someone’s compost pile or facility. No matter where it ends up, it will decompose into the same stuff wood has been decomposing into for millions of years and, when composted, can provide nutrients for more raw materials to grow.

 End of life options for a bamboo product

Compare that to the options of a plastic product

End of life options for a plastic product

Almost 80% of the 9 billion tons of plastic created to this day has ended up in either the landfill or the environment. We are still discovering how long it takes for plastic products to degrade in a landfill, what they will leave behind, and the impacts that will have. If it ends up in the environment, it will actually absorb persistent pollutants like DDT.  It eventually breaks up into smaller pieces and breaks down, releasing toxic chemicals. If it ends up in the ocean, these little pieces are eaten by prey and predator species alike, then the predators also eat prey species that have eaten plastic. Then we end up eating the predator species that have experienced this biomagnification process.

What if it ends up on land? It is estimated that up to 300,000 tons of microplastics are inadvertently added to farmlands in north america annually. As of today, we are still unsure of the impacts of plastic in the soil. 12% has been burned for energy, and hopefully 100% of that was burned following standards to prevent emissions. And lastly, a measly 9% was recycled into new products.

So comparing the two, you can clearly see that there is a large discrepancy in negative impacts from disposal. Obviously, you always want to find the material with the least amount of negative impacts and also look for the material or product that follows a cradle to cradle cycle, which is circular instead of linear.

  • If the product is made from biological sources, is it sustainably harvested?

    • If a renewable resource is harvested unsustainably, it can be depleted or destroyed, and no longer remain a renewable resource

    • There are many ways a renewable resource can be mismanaged, leading to negative impacts on multiple systems that are not considered when making a “green” claim

Consider bamboo for example, which is probably the most popular green material right now. It is, generally, a more sustainable material than plastic, as we just read. However, we just examined what it leaves behind. What about what goes into it? As more and more people try to go green, the demand for this material has increased, which has led to unsustainable practices. Native forests are now being clear cut in some areas to harvest bamboo instead. Some harvest sites show a substantial use of fertilizers and pesticides, despite claims that bamboo crops required neither of these. Monocrop farming can lead to a loss of biodiversity. There is also unsustainable harvesting of natural stands of bamboo. To help prevent buying unsustainably sourced natural materials, such as bamboo, you can look for trusted certifications, like the one from the Forest Stewardship Council. Or find out if the company has representatives on the ground at the harvest location. 
 

  • Is the product recyclable or compostable?

    • The most important step is reduce, but if the product is needed, if it is recyclable, it can at least avoid the landfill and be repurposed. If it is compostable, is it compostable in a backyard compost or does it need to be taken to a facility? Products that can compost in a backyard compost would be the number one choice, if available.

  • If the product is not recyclable or compostable, does the product help enough with other sustainability goals to justify adding to the landfill?

    • The takeaway containers suggested in the waste page are made of recyclable plastic, but it is plastic, which is recommended to avoid, if possible. However, they are recommended for restaurant/other food leftovers and are intended to be used over and over again for an extended amount of time, reducing the amount of single use containers and the overall waste footprint. The use of a plastic product is, overall, beneficial in this instance.

  • Does the company make sustainability and/or corporate social responsibility a real goal?

    • What are their sustainability goals and what they are doing to reach them?

  • Is the company transparent?

    • This one might be the most important of all. After all, how can anyone evaluate a product’s sustainability if the company shares no details?

    • Companies should share, at a minimum, what materials go into their products and where those materials come from.

 

This product buying guide cannot encompass all the intricacies of the manufacturing process, shipping, disposal, and more. It was created to help bridge the gap for consumers for products that have not yet been reviewed by a sustainability professional.

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Google+ Social Icon