One Sunday morning Sporty and I drove to the start of a new trail we’d discovered (this was back when we still owned a car).
Set about a car length in, a locked boom at the start of the jeep track had inadvertently created the perfect parking spot.
I pulled in immediately, happy that I’d found such a convenient place to park. We grabbed our backpacks out the back and headed off.
We’d barely gone a few metres when a guy called out to me from across the way.
“What happens if an emergency vehicle needs to get up there?” he asked, pointing at the road I’d happily blocked with our little Hyundai Atos.
Only once he’d pointed out what I’d done did I realise how thoughtless I’d been.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t think about that.” I said and quickly ran back to move my car.
We don’t intend to be rotten humans, we just don’t think through the details.
We’re all so caught up in our own worlds, that things like buying food, paying the bills, earning a wage and finding the most convenient parking spot take precedence over everything else.
Life is busy. The things that are important, like being aware and noticing what’s going around us, are relegated to the back seat, when what they should be doing is riding shotgun.
So how can we step up and be better humans?
South African conservationist and adventurer, Braam Malherbe, challenges us to Do One Thing and Mother Theresa summed it up beautifully when she said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
All actions, no matter how small, make a difference.
And there are so many ways we can make a difference. One place in particular where we can make a real and lasting impact is by making better choices when we shop.
The Plastic Pollution Problem
About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. Right now there’s at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently in the oceans, a third of which is concentrated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
At least one million seabirds and one hundred thousand marine mammals die each year due to plastic pollution. The survival of at least 100 species, including the Hawaiian Monk Seal and Loggerhead Turtle, could be jeopardized by plastic debris. —The Ocean Cleanup
Fresh Produce Bags
You know those clear plastic bags you get in the fresh produce section at the supermarket? Well nine times out of ten you don’t actually need them, you’re just using them out of habit. If you’re buying, say, loose lettuce leaves or cherries then it makes sense to put them in a bag.
But most of us use them for absolutely everything, from one banana to a head of garlic to a pineapple or orange. They’re not going to get lost or suffer any irreparable damage if they’re not in a bag, so don’t put them in one.
Reusable Shopping Bags for Groceries
More and more people are using reusable bags when they do their grocery shopping (kudos if that’s you), but an alarming number are still buying plastic bags at the check-out.
Sporty and I have way too many reusable bags, because the rule in our house is that if we forget to take bags with us then we have to buy new ones. No plastic, no matter what!
Recently the pile of bags teetered so high it looked like they were going to stage a coup. Not willing to take the risk (and because we’re minimalists), we rehomed a few of them.
Reusable Shopping Bags for Clothes and Shoes
Here again I think most of us just act out of habit. We’ll go grocery shopping and diligently take our reusable bags with us, yet when we go clothes shopping we’ll still accept a plastic bag. We need to stop doing that. And unless we’re planning to use it for something, say the Santa Shoebox Project, then we also don’t need to take the shoebox when we buy a new pair of kicks.
Earth Friendly Products
Typical of anything non-mainstream, earth friendly products are generally more expensive than the regular alternatives. But more and more, we’re finding earth friendly options that are affordable.
If you can afford to buy them they’re definitely the better route to go. They’re free from harmful toxins, which means the little guys in your house (human and animal) are safe. They’re better for your skin, they’re not strong-smelling and they’re not tested on animals.
Instead of buying bottled water, Sporty and I filter our own. It’s cheaper, more accessible and much better for the environment. At home we have a Brita jug and when we’re out and about we just fill a gym bottle and take it with us.
When we go out to eat we just drink tap water. I know most people would be horrified at the thought, but it tastes fine and it hasn’t killed us yet. Obviously this logic doesn’t apply to countries like India, but I’m assuming since you’re reading this blog you must have at least a modicum of common sense.
I used to have a Bobble water bottle for gym etc. but I found the shape a bit clumsy. It works like a charm though, and what’s especially cool is that you can fill it up anywhere. (Hmmm, maybe I should get myself one again.)
Nowadays food is imported and exported all over the world, which means we can get our favourite fresh produce all year round. Here in South Africa, for example, we’re heading into winter and yet we can still enjoy asparagus and figs (thanks to Peru and Israel).
The are lots of benefits to eating what’s in season. Most notably, it supports your body’s natural nutrition needs. In winter we need the rich doses of vitamin C found in citrus fruit, while winter vegetables are the perfect addition to the hearty soups and stews we crave for their warmth and comfort.
However another equally important reason to eat what’s in season is because the carbon footprint of something grown locally is much smaller than that of its imported counterpart. Think Tinkerbell versus Yeti.
Local is Lekker
We have a saying here in South Africa: Local is lekker. ‘Lekker’ is the Afrikaans word for candy and it’s also what we say when something is really nice.
Try and shop local as much as possible. Some things, like coffee for example, might not be grown locally where you live. If you’re a caffeine addict (like we are) then go ahead and use your mostly mindful get out of jail free card*.
With clothes it’s trickier, since so many brands are manufactured in China or Indonesia where labour is cheap. However there are more and more Indie labels popping up, so make a point of finding and supporting them.
*The whole idea about being mostly mindful is that you find a balance between living mindfully and living i.e. enjoying life. It’s different for everyone, so do what works for you.
Beauty Without Cruelty (Look for the Bunny)
For Sporty and I this one’s non-negotiable. If a product doesn’t have the Beauty Without Cruelty bunny on it or clearly state that it’s not tested on animals then we won’t buy it. Even if you’re not vegan, this is one area where you can be more mindful when it comes to animals and their wellbeing.
You can go one step further and make sure the product doesn’t contain any animal products either. It’s crazy what people will put into products these days, so be sure to scan the label for any untoward ingredients.
Beauty without cruelty extends beyond lotions and hand-creams however. Things like clothing and bedding also come into play here. Make a point of informing yourself before just willy-nilly buying something just because it suits your needs. By way of example, here’s what it takes to make your down coat ethical*.
*Personally, we believe the only ethical coat is an entirely synthetic one, but if you have your heart set on a down one then at least make sure it’s cruelty-free.
Look for packaging that’s recyclable. Sporty and I eat a plant-based diet, which means we buy an enormous amount of fresh fruit and vegetables. Because we’re limited to shopping at Pick ‘n Pay we’re not able to be as mindful as we’d like, but as far as possible we avoid non-recyclable packaging.
So for example we’ll buy unripe, loose avocadoes rather than the ripe ones housed in clingwrap. We also buy loose bananas, even though the bagged ones are packed in recyclable bags. If there’s a choice we’ll always go the non-packaged route. They’re considerably cheaper too and I’m a big fan of being frugal wherever I can. (In our house I’m known as Bargain Betty!)
Sporty: or Frugal Frannie when Betty gets unreasonable 😉
We’re lucky to have a Saturday market around the corner from where we live, so we do some of our shopping there. For the most part everyone there is super mindful of packaging, opting for brown paper bags as far as possible. It’s also a great opportunity to support local growers and artisan traders.
See what’s happening in your area and if you have a local market nearby then make a plan to support them. Aside from making a difference, it’s also a really fun way to spend an hour or two since most of these places invariably sell food and coffee as well.
Hopefully we’ve given you something to think about and maybe even inspired you to make some small changes to your shopping habits. Leave a comment below and let us know. If the post resonated with you please share it far and wide.
Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.