Being An Imperfect Environmentalist

Over the past year, I’ve gotten into sustainability and protecting the Earth. I light up every time I hear the word ‘sustainable’ or ‘sustainability’. From the research I’ve done, I have realized that a lot of the world’s problems are connected to the environment and our inability to slow down. The concept of living more consciously and intently, is uplifting, because not only do I think that paying more attention to how we treat the Earth will help the environment, but maybe even save humanity all together. This past year I took a class in college on systemic thinking. One of the resources I read for that class was about the year 3000 and what we as humans want the world to be like that far into the future. All of the authors agreed that they wanted an ‘imperfect but lovable world’. It could just be the young idealist in me, but I believe that the concept of sustainability can help us get to that point.

Even though becoming more sustainable as a person and inspiring others to do the same is uplifting, it also terrifies me. Every single time I read a disturbing article about climate change, I realize that it’s not necessarily just a foray into becoming a better human/contributing towards a better world. It’s a matter of life or death.

It’s not just preparing for natural disasters that might come a thousand years from now if we’re not careful; it’s about apocalyptic disasters set to happen in this century. It’s not just about choosing an organic bamboo t-shirt over an ethically made, cotton American shirt sprayed with pesticides. It’s about the female and child garment workers working over 12 hours a day in egregious working conditions; breathing in toxic chemicals while being paid slave labor wages just to survive. By the way, these chemicals find their way into the water supply as well. It’s about how  2/3 of the great barrier reef has been bleached. It’s about how minorities in poor communities will be disproportionately effected by climate change. It’s about how the Arctic during the summer-time will be ice free by the year 2040. I will be 43 years old. That sounds like a long-time from now, but in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t. The next war could be over water supply. Fact is, climate change is going to make the world into a pandemonium and 30% of people believe that climate change is not human caused, but rather due to natural changes. While this is still the minority and not the majority, cultural influences are powerful and as a result, they vote in people who deny climate change. The majority of Republicans in congress deny climate change because of big-oil special interests. Even amongst the slim number of Republicans in congress who do believe that climate change is caused by humans, they don’t believe that it’s a huge threat. For instance, Governor John Kasich who is seen to be moderate believes that, “Now it doesn’t mean because you pursue a policy of being sensitive to the environment, because we don’t know how much humans actually contribute.” It’s depressing when you look around you and want to snatch all the plastic bottles out of people’s hands and replace them with reusable ones; showing them how much easier and cost-efficient it is. It’s depressing when the college you go to promotes sustainability, but their compost bin isn’t even inside the dining halls. They also overheat the dorms and classrooms to the point where you’re sweating profusely and feeling nauseous. You want to yell at the administration and tell them how much money they’d save if they turned the thermostat down and told people to wear sweaters instead. It’s depressing when you see people do silly things that are toxic to the environment and if they made one small change, it could make a huge difference. But I also know that I have to have compassion and know that people care. They just aren’t educated enough and/or don’t have the time to think about it due to the ludicrously busy lifestyles we’re forced to live today.

However, I also think that environmental perfectionism can steer some people away from living more sustainably as they feel that they can’t live up to what they perceive to be an impossible standard. Including myself. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely admire and support the zero waste movement, minimalism, capsule wardrobes, only buying ethical and sustainable products, compassionate vegans, living off the grid, etc. If you do any of these things, props to you! I believe that the world can and should learn from these movements; but doing all of these things 100% of the time isn’t attainable for everybody.

I often will beat myself up for not being ‘sustainable enough’.  Even though I know about the horrors of the fashion industry, I still buy clothing from mainstream retailers when I need pants in a petite size, a bra that fits my large breasts, work clothes that fit my budget, or simply just because it’s more convenient. I try to buy more ethical and sustainable products, but I can’t help that they all come packaged in plastic. I’m just not in a place in my life where I can ‘DIY’. I still take 20 minute hot showers because I like it. I still use the dryer to dry my clothes. I’m nowhere close to zero waste or even low-waste yet. I can’t go vegan due to having a plethora of food allergies and other health conditions.

As you can see, some of the things I listed above I can definitely improve on and some of it is outside of my control. But I can’t help but compare myself to bloggers, youtubers, and Instagramers who I know are doing better than me. Sometimes I’m able to rationalize my way through and tell myself that I’m in a learning stage, that it’s important to have a peace of mind. Even if I could, I don’t think I would be completely 100% anything because having an obsessive mind-set where I scrutinize all of my actions isn’t healthy for me. However, whenever I see a new article talking about how we’re destined for the worst within our lifetimes, I feel like all the actions I’m taking are minuscule compared to the depth of the problem. If I use another plastic bag all the fish in the ocean will die. I need to start a capsule wardrobe now! 32 pieces in my wardrobe per season max! Curse you food allergies! Because of you, I can’t go vegan and I’m killing the planet. Yeah that piece of plastic might be recyclable, but only 9% of plastics get recycled, so therefore I must go zero waste NOWWW!!! You get the picture.

I can only do so much as one person. The key to saving the planet and becoming more sustainable is educating people on actions they can take, not specific lifestyles or labels. Small actions add up. Imagine if everybody drank from a reusable water bottle, started thrifting more, used public transportation or car-pooled whenever possible, refused plastic straws, or went meatless on Mondays. Think of the impact all of this would have! It is my opinion that the simple, daily changes of many can have the same effect as the larger actions of a dedicated few. If you can’t or don’t want to do everything in an eco-friendly/sustainable way, don’t give up the ship! Every little action helps!  Nobody should shame you if you aren’t doing things in their way or up to their personal standards. I’m not and will never be the perfect environmentalist. Instead, I strive to become more mindful and aware of the actions I take each day, while also educating myself as much as I can. Living a more sustainable lifestyle is a journey, not an instantaneous endpoint. Don’t beat yourself up for being an imperfect environmentalist. If you’re reading this blog post, you care, and that is what matters the most.

How are you an imperfect environmentalist? Let me know in the comment section down below!

Alex

How To Avoid The Fast Fashion Industry On A College Student Budget

Recently, a well-established women’s clothing store, The Limited, has closed their in-store businesses after 54 years. Why? Because consumers are showing a preference for cheap, fast fashion retailers that can keep up with yearly trends. The Limited was known for making multi-purpose, business casual clothing that never went out of style. This used to be a successful business model, but now a days, consumers prefer to purchase an abundance of clothing at cheap prices and then dispose it, once the trend is deemed unfashionable. While being able to purchase 3 dresses for $30 at Forever 21 might sound like a deal you can’t pass up, the consequences are detrimental for factory workers and unsustainable for the environment.

Factory workers are paid on average 3 dollars a day and given few legal protections. Many of these workers are exploited and forced to work 12+ hours a day. A sector of these factories don’t even given their workers a day off. One would like to think that this is a rarity or an exaggerated statement, but it’s a reality. Only 2% of suppliers pay their workers a living wage and the workers, often female, can barely support their families.  In addition to the fast fashion industry being toxic and dehumanizing for workers, there is currently 11 million tons of textile waste in landfills. This textile waste takes over 200+ years to biodegrade.

While I can’t control the fact that Donald Trump wants to get rid of the EPA, I can control what I choose to buy. I understand that buying from more ethical, sustainable companies is more expensive and difficult when you’re on a tight budget. As a college student, I can’t be the perfect sustainable/ethical fashionista 100% of the time, but I do believe that my awareness of the issue helps.  Here are some things I do to avoid the fast fashion industry when I can on a college student budget, that you can do too!

      1.) Shop at thrift, consignment, or vintage stores: Thrifting is one of the number one things we can do to be sustainable when it comes to clothing. Reusing clothing instead of throwing it into the landfill, is so important, as it extends the life-cycle of an object. It can be hard to sift through the racks, as some of them are filled with grandma sweaters that grandmas wouldn’t even want to wear. However,  you can also find some true gems at thrift/consignment shops. The prices are also extremely compatible with a college student budget, often surpassing discount fast fashion retailers. While the majority of the clothing in these thrift/consignment stores were probably made from conventional clothing stores, you are not supporting their fast fashion practices. Instead, these funds go to the store owners or charitable causes.

Vintage stores are also a wonderful place to shop! Not only are they fun to look at, but back in the day, clothing was made to last for multiple decades.  Even though vintage stores cost a bit more money than thrift/consignment stores, I find everything there to be of high quality . The shop owners, also, often know the story behind the item. For instance, I got this red hat at a vintage store in Providence, Rhode Island.

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The shop owner told me that this beaut’ was made in the 70’s and apparently had never been worn before. It is incredible to me that this stunning item would’ve spent its whole life-cycle never being worn. In today’s fast fashion industry, something like this would’ve been tossed in the landfill, but vintage stores give these items a second chance at life. I, 40 years later, am able to give this hat a story. An upside of wearing vintage clothing, you get a plethora of compliments as what you’re wearing is so unique. Whenever I wear this hat, I get, on average, about 3-5 compliments in a day.

     2.) Etsy: I pancake flipping love Etsy and browsing their website. For those of you who don’t know, Etsy is a website where independent businesses can sell their products, similar to eBay. I can literally spend hours looking at all of the eclectic, unique products on their website. I can’t say that I’ve shopped a lot on Etsy, but what I have gotten from their sellers has been superb. I  once, got an abalone ring that only cost $33 that was handmade by a woman in Florida. It is my favorite ring and I wear it all the time.

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If you’re curious, the hand-chain I got is from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair-trade boutique store.

Best of all, it isn’t some cheap piece of jewelry made of questionable materials and no one’s human rights got violated making it. Since they are made by independent sellers, many of the products can be customized, which you can’t get at your local Forever 21. .If you want something unique and hand-made, but reasonably priced, shop on Etsy!

     3.) The Sales Section of Sustainable/Ethical Fashion Websites: There are so many great sustainable/ethical fashion brands out there, but the prices are usually not friendly for the college student wallet. Look at the sales section of these websites and you’ll see lots of reasonably priced, beautiful clothing. For instance, I’ve had my eyes on this beautiful, eggplant, stripe skirt from Synergy Organic Clothing  for only $37 and this gorgeous bamboo aubergine colored tank top from Thought Clothing  for only $12.21 US Dollars. Also, if you can’t afford to shop for main pieces on Sustainable/Ethical Fashion Websites, buy items that tend to be less expensive like socks, scarves, hats, or underwear. For instance, you can get these adorable thigh high bamboo socks from Thought Clothing  for only $9.76 US Dollar or this beyond cute, hand-made panda hat from People Tree  for only $18.24. While you are still probably going to pay more for sustainable/ethical clothing on sale, what you will be getting will be of much higher quality and last you for years, while helping the Earth/your fellow citizens.

     4.) Buy Less: It is of my opinion, that it is better to buy less and instead, buy versatile items that won’t fall apart by the time the trend is over (items are usually designed to only be worn 7x). If you think about, the $100 dollars that you spend at Forever 21 for disposable clothing, that you’ll hate later on, you can also spend on a hand-made wool coat that will last you a lifetime. I am very picky in what I buy, and even if I do shop at a conventional store at the mall, I have to **love** and be head over heels for the item before I buy it. This year alone, I can count on one hand how many things I’ve purchased (albeit, I do have a wardrobe that I’ve built up over the years that is mostly from conventional retailers). Through selective shopping, most of what I’ve gotten has been under $100 dollars. A part of becoming more sustainable is adopting an attitude where if the object doesn’t add any lasting value to your life, you shouldn’t get it. It is easy to forget that stuff is just stuff. That is why I think it is so important to feel a positive connection to the stories behind these objects. I, personally, feel a lot more connected to a scarf from a company who supports women by paying them a living wage, while also giving them other benefits (education, healthcare, etc.), than a scarf that was made in a sweatshop by an abused worker. That is why I’d rather shop less, but more sustainably, rather than having a new outfit to wear everyday.

I get that it is isn’t always possible to shop sustainably/ethically 100% of the time, especially if you’re a college student or are struggling to make ends meet. It is hard when you want to do the right thing, but don’t always have the funds to do so.  In my opinion, though, it is most important to be aware of the problems with the clothes we wear, and to help if you can. Even if only 20% of your wardrobe is sustainable and ethical, that is certainly something. Every little bit helps and matters, and it is vital to keep that in mind.

I’m curious, what do you guys do to shop sustainably/ethically in an affordable way? Let me know in the comments down below!

Interesting Articles/Sources: 

The Limited is closing all of its 250 stores

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Analysis: Fast fashion comes at a steep price for the environment

 

Best,

Alexandra