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Shop sustainably during COVID-19

Retail therapy looks really attractive right now. What better way to break up the monotony of quarantine than online shopping? And with most of us staying inside, we don’t need to worry about missing any parcels. It’s all too easy for the delivery driver to become our new BFF as we click our boredom (and bank balance) away. E-commerce giant Amazon has reportedly recruited an extra 175,000 workers to cope with a surge in orders during this pandemic. But should we be online shopping for non-essentials during this time? There are a few factors we need to consider before hitting that ‘buy’ button.

There is the potential that a non-essential purchase endangers the health of warehouse staff, delivery drivers and postal staff. The general trade union GMB has set up a petition calling on ASOS to ‘shut up shop’ citing reports of ambulance calls outs, a lack of protective equipment and terrified workers at their warehouse in Barnsley. On the other hand, not buying any items could put livelihoods at risk, as demonstrated by Laura Ashley falling into administration at the end of March. And what about the planet I hear you ask? In March, Greta Thunberg stated “There is a lot of talk about returning to ‘normal’ after the COVID-19 outbreak. But normal was a crisis”. Our addiction to instant (and short lasting) gratification through acquiring stuff for the sake of it has a devastating impact on the climate. The fashion industry alone produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, and more than half of the textiles produced each year contain plastic. We also need to acknowledge the human cost of production. Your shiny new smartphone is powered by cobalt which is likely to have come from a mine where children work in backbreaking and dangerous conditions for as little as £1.50 a day. It’s easy to ignore the reality of throwaway culture when a carefully crafted advert pops up on our Instagram feed pushing comfy yet stylish loungewear for the ‘stay at home season’. Don’t get me wrong, I buy into trends and bargain prices just as much as the next person. But I am trying to make better, kinder decisions now for the sake of this planet and everyone on it. I have included my top tips below to help you also shop more sustainably during this crisis.

1. Question your desire to purchase

Always ask yourself if you really, really need that new item. If it’s a piece of clothing, will it go with the rest of your wardrobe? Will you definitely get a lot of use out of it and keep it for years to come? If you’re not sure but it’s uber trendy and looks oh-so-cool on the model, can you name three places or occasions in the next three months where you will definitely wear it? If not, put off the purchase for a week. In all likelihood you will forget the irresistible desire to buy in a few short hours. Jessica Rose Williams has numerous articles on her website about creating a capsule wardrobe with a few key, long lasting pieces to break the cycle of over-consumption. I’ve linked one here if you’d like to learn more about this method.

2. Slow down

I know the rush you get when you’re on a spending spree, adding multiple items to your basket, flitting between websites. Retailers have made online shopping so easy that you don’t even need to think about entering your delivery address or card details before hitting that buy-it-now button. They further add to our sense of urgency with sales and listing #trending and ‘going fast’ on items we’re viewing. But don’t buy into this marketing ploy. This method is used so we stay on a spending high and don’t question whether we really want what we’re purchasing. If you’ve asked yourself all the questions I mentioned in tip 1 and you still want to buy, leave your basket for a few minutes. Go away and make a cup of tea. When you come back, proceed slowly and with caution.

3. Can you get it second hand?

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Depop, the mobile app to buy and sell pre-loved, vintage and luxury fashion items. And you’ve probably used eBay at least once. If you fall in love with a new piece by your favourite fashion brand, try searching for a similar, pre-loved item before you commit to a purchase. This could save you a bit of cash as you won’t be paying full price and it closes the loop on an otherwise linear fashion model. There are also plenty of websites dedicated to reselling used tech and gadgets, and Facebook marketplace is great for furniture and homeware!

4. Donate or swap - don’t throw!

Speaking of closing the loop… Instead of chucking your unwanted garments and items into the trash to end up at a landfill site, see if you can upcycle or donate them first. Around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill every year, with many of these clothes containing synthetic fibers that leach chemicals and toxins into the environment. There are numerous places to donate unwanted items, and even more ways to reuse your old clothes. T-shirts can be turned into shopping bags and cleaning rags, jeans can become shorts, scarves can be made into cushions. The possibilities are endless! I always look forward to receiving the clothes my sister no longer wants, and feel fabulous every time I find a new use for something in my home.

5. Support more sustainable brands and small businesses

There are currently so many amazing, sustainable e-commerce businesses looking to make a difference. One of my favourites for household and beauty items is Plastic Freedom. Founded by Beth Noy in 2018, this small business grew out of a desire to provide great, plastic free alternatives to everyday items. They have so many options for cleaning products, kitchen tools, skincare, makeup and more. I really recommend checking out their website for some sustainable, plastic free treats. When it comes to clothing, try sticking to items made from natural fibers like hemp, cotton, bamboo and linen. Thanks to the internet, we have no excuse not to know where our clothing comes from and the production practices used. I feel much more comfortable wearing clothing that has been made in an ethical environment, where factory workers are treated fairly and paid a real living wage. One website I’d recommend for this is Know the Origin. Not only do they sell beautiful, sustainably made pieces, they also post articles about ethical fashion and sustainable living so you can learn more.

And let's not forget the small, local businesses which may be struggling at this time. If you are able to, why not order a takeaway from your favourite local coffee shop. You could also purchase a voucher for that new restaurant you kept promising you'd try, to redeem once social distancing restrictions are reduced. This is a difficult time for physical businesses who rely predominantly on face-to-face interactions with their customers. If you have the means to show your support in any way, it could potentially save livelihoods and ensure that these businesses are able to reopen once it is safe to do so.

6. Love what you own

Marie Kondo’s beautifully simple, decluttering question “does it spark joy?” is an essential approach to sustainable shopping. Not only do we need to ask this before purchasing something new, but also when evaluating what we already have. It is all too easy to acquire things nowadays. Yet we feel so much lighter without unnecessary, extra belongings taking up space in our homes and life. Once you learn to love and respect what you do own, you lose the temptation to buy stuff just for the sake of it. This is the concept behind minimalism. The Minimalists duo Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus claim that Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom. Who doesn’t want more of that?

Every decision we make has an impact and as we continue to experience the adverse effects of climate change, it is vital that we shop more consciously. Until further government restrictions are enforced, the decision to buy or not to buy during this pandemic ultimately lies with us, the consumers. If you do decide to purchase non-essential items during this time, try following these top tips to shop sustainably. Small and simple changes to the way that we approach online shopping and consumption in general will have a positive impact on this planet and on everyone who calls it home.

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