How can I be a better consumer if ‘better’ is out of reach?

Every time I open Instagram, my phone is littered with people telling me what to do, what to buy, what to eat. The biggest trend being all things green and clean. Sustainability is in and every influencer is on the bandwagon doing everything in their power to convince me I am inadequate. Be green or be square, but sustainability is not affordable. 

According to a Dutch study, sustainable products are on average 80 percent more expensive than conventional products, with products in beauty and health being up to 220 percent more expensive. ‘Made from recycled materials’ is definitely not student budget friendly. So how can I be a better consumer if better is simply out of reach? 

When I go to the grocery store, similar to an Olympic sprinter, I try to beat my personal record of how fast I can get through it. But I always end up staring at the shelves forever, overwhelmed by the choices and in a stalemate. Is there really a difference between having a green sustainability sticker and not? In the bigger scheme of things, surely there are more important problems than the level of freedom the chicken on the shelf received. 

Not only are all sustainable products more expensive, but you also can’t tell if the product is actually sustainable

Another dilemma we face is a new type of greedy-eyed monster – greenwashing. The world is starting to respond to the climate crisis, but not necessarily by the books. Green is in, but the laws have not yet been laid down on what exactly constitutes being green. This means that not only are all sustainable products more expensive, but you also can’t tell for certain if the product is actually sustainable or just capitalizing on the green trend. 

The most important characteristics of sustainable products are that they are made from renewable resources and that production and distribution requires minimal energy usage. Meaning that the products can be made again with as little waste as possible. Importantly, recyclability is not a requirement for a sustainable product since many recycling processes require more energy than mass production chains. This is also one of the reasons why sustainable products are more expensive. 

Mass production chains are not sustainable by these characteristics, but they feed the world’s rapidly growing population, both directly and indirectly. Sustainability does not sustain the masses! 

Paper straws might not be solving any big problems at the moment, but luckily that is not all we can do to help. Real sustainable products are more expensive now, but with the right demand on the market will become the new norm. Until then, you might run into me at the local thrift stores. 

CARLA ERASMUS

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