When It Comes To The Environment, Less Is More


A few weeks ago, I attended an anti-capitalism summit hosted by The Trampery and one of the conclusions from the event that stayed with me for weeks was that, when we speak about counteracting climate change, the reductions that we need to make go against the concept of capitalism and growth. To slow-down the damage that we are doing to the planet, we must also slow-down our purchase and consumption behaviour. Less is more, no truer words were ever spoken.

Buy less, reuse more and learn to give a new purpose to items that until now were considered waste. All these necessary habit changes in our lives are not good news for businesses that rely on us continually stocking on their products, but if they don’t take the planet seriously, we are going to have to teach them a lesson. I’ve been writing a lot about this over the last year and a half:

One thing that I haven’t done is to write about the changes that I’ve been implementing in my life to reduce my waste. Some of these changes were no-brainers and easy to implement, while others took a lot of deliberation and compromise. Not only with myself, but also with those who live with me. It’s not an easy feat.

I have divided them in three sections: already put in practice, in the process of and on the drawing board.

Already put in practice

I am trying to reduce as much as possible single-use plastic. This has proven to be a massive endeavour as almost everything you buy these days has plastic. From clothes to food, you always end up with unnecessary plastic waste:

  • I love cooking, and I not only cook very often, but I also like preparing elaborate meals to share with others. This translates into having a lot of leftovers that I need to store in the fridge or freeze for future consumption. One of the most convenient ways to do so is to store the leftovers in zip-lock bags. And that means that, at the end of the year, I have gone through hundreds of these types of bags, mainly because you can only wash them and reuse them a limited amount of times. This was the first change that I implemented. I bought several silicone zip-lock bags that are washable and durable and have completely eliminated single-use zip-lock bags from my kitchen.

  • Tap water in London is terrible. It is safe to drink, but it’s so hard and tastes so awful that it even affects the taste of what you cook. Since we moved to London, we got into the habit of buying bottled water that we use for drinking, cooking, coffee, tea, etc. We only use tap water for washing. This translates into dozens of bottles of plastic wasted every week. It got to a point where I felt like the sole responsible for climate change in the world. I replaced bottled water with a Britta jug in which I filter tap water. The taste is not as good as bottled water, but at least all the minerals that come with the tap water get filtered out, and I’m not producing so much plastic waste.

  • Also, in the kitchen, plastic wrap is something that is commonly used to cover and protect things that you store in the fridge. My friend Chloe told me about these fantastic bee-waxed organic cotton cloths that are washable and shapeable and that easily replace plastic wrap. I’ve been using them for weeks, and I haven’t looked back at plastic wrap again.

  • I hadn’t bought new clothes in almost a year. I know that this goes against the industry that I work in, but I just didn’t want to give my money to brands that were not taking into account the environment when making their garments. I’ve done extensive research on the matter and a very little percentage of the brands that call themselves sustainable actually are. To be fully sustainable, a brand must have procedures in place for the whole life cycle of the garment, even after the garment can’t be worn anymore and it’s disposed of. Very few brands do this, and the whole concept is very confusing for consumers:

    • First of all, it’s worth mentioning that Ethical and Sustainable are two different concepts. You can be one without the other, and you can most definitely be both, but the terms are not interchangeable. An ethical brand sources materials from suppliers that pay their workers a fair wage, that treat their employees equally disregarding gender, religion, sexuality, age, etc., brands that guarantee humane working conditions in their sites.

    • A sustainable brand worries about its environmental footprint. It sources materials from sustainable suppliers, and it tries to produce their garments using sustainable techniques with the least amount of transport possible between the different stages of the production cycle. A brand that, when it sells you an item it tells you what to do with the garment once you decide not to wear it anymore and that would take back those garments and tell you how they will repurpose them.

    • These two concepts sound like they should be at the core of every single fashion business ethos, but you’d be surprised at how very few brands out there actually take them both into account. As a photographer, I use a lot of plain black t-shirts for work, and up until last year, I was buying them from a very well-known Japanese fast-fashion brand. But, last year I decided that I was going to stop buying from fast fashion brands because they are part of many of the problems that we face in our societies these days (environment, local economies, working conditions).

    • That’s when I started researching ethical and sustainable brands and found the people at Rapanui Clothing, a brand from the Isle of Wight in the UK. They produce circular economy t-shirts with organic cotton using renewable energy and are transparent about the whole production cycle of their garments. Rapanui makes their t-shirts from ethical, sustainable organic cotton and all the stages of the production take place under the same roof so that the environment is not impacted by transporting materials between factories. Once the t-shirts are finished, they are sent to the UK via ship, which has a lesser impact than planes. When you buy from them, all their packaging is made out of paper, including the tape, and once you are done wearing their garments, they buy them back from you with store credit and repurpose the materials to make other items.

In the process of putting in practice

At home, the kitchen seems to be the biggest entry point of single-use plastic, and I’m guessing it is a similar reality in other people’s homes:

  • I am now researching food suppliers that don’t use plastic for packaging or use as little plastic as possible. It’s difficult with hectic lifestyles in big cities to find online supermarkets that have reduced their plastic usage. Amazon and Morrisons have joined efforts to deliver groceries, and they only use paper for their packaging, but still, most of the items inside the paper bags come wrapped in layers and layers of plastic.

  • I’m at the stage of identifying one by one the brands that are the alternative to the ones that I commonly buy from but that don’t use plastic or that much plastic. This is proving to be a very difficult endeavour because of how cheap and convenient plastic packaging is.

  • In general, I am also trying to reduce buying single-use items or items that have a very short lifespan. I’m trying to go back to how our grandparents thought when they bought anything. Everything was meant to last, good quality meant something that could be used throughout your whole life and then passed down to the following generations. Sometimes that means spending a bit more, but in the long run, you spend less because you end up replacing your items less. The good old quality over quantity.

On the drawing board

When you start doing the exercise of studying all your spending habits to see where you can reduce your waste, the most inoffensive of things turn out to be the most polluting:

  • Travelling is one of them. I have always been an advocate for exploring the world. It helps us learn about foreign cultures and expands our horizons, but our vacations are killing the planet. The proliferation of low-cost airlines and cheap holiday packages have benefited both suppliers and consumers, but it has been the doom for the Earth. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and it is a tricky one, especially for those of us who live far from our families. But, we need to start travelling abroad less, travelling locally more and using the train rather than the plane when going on holidays.

  • This way of thinking will also benefit local economies, so it’s a win-win. The money earned here will be spent here, the anti-globalization movement. It sounds difficult to implement in our own lives, but ask yourself: how well do you know the city/country/continent that you live in? Why go explore overseas when you don’t even know how your backyard looks like? It’s true that most of the times it’s cheaper to travel two continents away than going to the town next to ours. But, like with everything related to reversing climate change, you have to look at it from the point of view that your money is being invested in saving the planet.

What measures have you started implementing in your life to reduce your waste and become more sustainable?

Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.

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When The Mercury Rises


I’m writing this post in the middle of a heatwave. Tomorrow, the mercury will rise to an unprecedented 38º C in London, which means that it will be hottest here than in my tropical native country of Panama. Funny enough, summer-loving people in London are celebrating this weather without thinking for a second that this heat is a sign that our planet is not doing well. Admittedly, I am a winter person, and I don’t like the heat, but if I go to a Caribbean beach in Panama and all of a sudden it starts snowing I would be far from happy. We are warming up the planet to extinction, but we are going down with a celebration.

Around this time last year, I wrote a post on sustainability and the myths of Recycling and how we need to reduce our waste as much as possible. Today, I write about why we should be cautious when the brands that we buy from tell us that they are sustainable and green. Over the last year, many brands have jumped on the wagon of sustainability, especially fast fashion brands, but I wonder if we are starting to use this term as a selling point rather than as a real concern for the planet.

I’m not underestimating the efforts and the investments that brands are making to become more sustainable. But, some of the things that these brands are advertising as their efforts to becoming green are just a fraction of what they need to be doing. To be truly sustainable, a brand must acknowledge that the life-cycle of a garment is longer than they had anticipated and should also include the life after the item has been worn and replaced.

This new way of thinking about the life-cycle of clothes involves both brands and consumers. We are all in this together and if we don’t want to kill our planet, we must act now.

What actions can we take right now to become more sustainable?

As Brands:

  • Use sustainable materials/suppliers/processes: this is what the majority of brands calling themselves sustainable are doing right now, and in principle, it is something good. But it is just the first step on the roadmap to sustainability. The work doesn’t end there; there is more to be done.

  • Source locally: it is kind of counterproductive to source sustainable materials in remote places, ship them all the way to the factories and then ship the finished garments to distribution centres where they will be shipped again to the points of sale. It really doesn’t matter how sustainable a brand’s materials are if the carbon footprint of their supply chain is destroying the Earth.

  • Generate less waste: this is the tricky bit. Fashion brands need to sell to stay in business and to sell more, you need to produce more, but there must be a limit to the amount and frequency of the items produced. A brand may be the greenest of them all in sourcing sustainable fabrics or having a sustainable supply chain, but if they are releasing hundreds of new designs each month to force their customers to keep on renewing their wardrobe, all their sustainability efforts will go to waste. Literally. The real challenge of turning a fashion brand into a sustainable brand is how to make customers buy new clothes while at the same time stopping them from sending the old ones to landfills or incinerators. This is where the concept of circular economy comes in, but is it really possible to make fashion circular?

  • Keep it affordable: Price is the icing on the cake. Sustainable materials and research are still not cheap and to be able to lower their cost we would need to produce and sell so much that we would be contributing to the problem of waste while trying to amend it. At the same time, the sad reality is that if sustainable clothing is more expensive than non-sustainable one, people will keep on buying the latter.

As consumers:

  • Buy less: it all comes down to generating less waste, and to generate less waste, we must renew our wardrobes less often. This is the last thing that brands want to hear, but in all honesty, we don’t need to buy new clothes every season. Today we have five times more clothes on average than our previous generations, maybe because they didn’t have the money or the offer, or perhaps because they made their clothes themselves and these lasted longer. My mom once told me that she only had two dresses that my grandmother had made her, and as a child, she would have to go out on Sundays looking the same every week. And so did everyone else! Obviously, I’m not pretending that we go back to making our own clothes (which wouldn’t be too bad) or to owning just two pieces of clothes. The ideal would be to buy less but buy smarter, buying from brands that are truly sustainable and circular and that produce quality clothes that last longer and promote less waste.

  • Buy Second-hand/Vintage: Buying smarter also involves giving a new life to someone else’s old clothes. Pre-loved clothes are not only a sustainable way to renew our wardrobe, but it also gives you the advantage of not looking exactly the same as everyone else who buys from current seasons.

  • Don’t Become a serial returner: sizing is a serious issue when buying online, and sometimes we have to purchase and return at least once to get the right sizing. Some consumers buy/wear/return consistently, or buy many different sizes of the same item in the hopes that at least one would fit instead of properly researching the measurements of their body according to the tables that online retailers provide. Serial returners have a massive impact on the environment.

  • Buy from brands that are circular: again, buy less but buy smarter. Buy from brands that allow you to take your old clothes back to the shop in exchange for store credit. But, before doing that, ask them what they will do with your old clothes.

  • Repurpose your old clothes: don’t throw away your old clothes. Hand them down, take them to charity shops, return them to the shops where you bought them from if they offer store credit, donate them to the homeless but don’t throw them in the bin.

  • Don’t judge people for what they wear: the pressure to look always stylish and trendy is one of the main reasons that force us to buy so many clothes that we don’t need. This is particularly true when you work in the fashion industry because peers and superiors are constantly judging you from what you wear. This forces workers in the industry to contribute to this cycle of massive spending.

The time for complaining about the heat is long gone. It is time that we do something about it. We must seriously keep this conversation alive and look for ways to becoming more sustainable and saving our planet. Do you have any other ideas of how to become greener as consumers and as brands?

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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