8 Questions to ask before buying a “sustainable” product

8 Questions to ask before buying a “sustainable” product

Figuring out how sustainable a product is can be complicated and confusing. To help simplify things, a good way to think about this is to ask these 8 questions:

1. What is the product made out of?

Check to see whether a product is made from compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, regenerative or non-toxic materials.

  • Compostable materials decompose and only leave behind beneficial residual products like fertilisers and other elements that improve soil health.

    • Biodegradable materials can also decompose over time, making it better for the environment than non-biodegradable products such as plastic. As what it decomposes into depends on what it’s made of, some of them can leave micro toxic waste residue behind which can be problematic. Therefore where possible, select products that are  compostable products, and if not, choose ones that biodegrade into non-toxic elements.

      • Recyclable materials can be processed and reused again. The key thing here is to understand how easily recyclable the material is - e.g. metals and paper are commonly used and recycled across the UK, but only a small percentage of plastics are recycled.

        • Regenerative materials are ones that can be easily restored, renewed or revitalised with little to no inputs. For example, bamboo can grow up to 91 cm per day and is therefore easily renewed.

        • Non-toxic materials are substances that are not expected to cause symptoms or be dangerous. For example cleaning products that contain borax (basically a salt compound) essential oils, baking powder and white vinegar. Opposed to cleaning products that have bleach, ammonia, ethylene glycol, sodium hypochlorite and/or trisodium phosphate that are toxic. 

        2. Where is it from?

        Source products from suppliers who make products from locally sourced materials/ingredients where possible. As part of a product’s carbon footprint is from the logistics of getting the materials to production and from the finished product to you,

        sourcing locally can help to reduce transport carbon footprint and help support your local community.

        3. How is this product made?

        Check to see if workers are treated ethically, how much and what type of energy and water is used during production, whether the production causes any pollution and how much waste is produced in the process.

        • Working conditions - Everyone has the right to fair pay and a safe workplace, checking the labour conditions under which the products are made helps ensure you aren’t contributing to exploitation of workers and their health.

        • Energy use -  Consider whether the production process is made in an energy intensive way, and whether the energy used comes from renewable sources (e.g.hydropower, geothermal power, wind energy, and solar energy)

        • Water use - Consider whether the company minimises water use - this can be done by streamlining their processes to prevent unnecessary usage, integrating new water saving technologies, or other sustainable water solutions such as grey water harvesting to utilise rainwater and recycle wastewater wherever possible.

        • Pollution - Understand whether the production involves releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere, chemicals into water or land that will negatively impact local communities and wildlife.

        • Waste - Consider whether the company designs its production process to minimise waste, and what they do with the waste produced by reusing materials, recycling and recovering waste!

          4. How is it transported?

          Choose brands that use low carbon transport (e.g. EV, bike delivery) to lower carbon emissions.

          This is particularly important for heavy products (e.g. beer, laundry detergent) where shipping can account for a large part of their carbon footprint, in comparison light items (e.g. clothing) where shipping is such a small part of the carbon footprint that it would make more sense to focus on the production process.

          5. Is it made to last?

          Choose durable products with a longer life expectancy, so you don’t need to replace them as often, saving raw materials and production resources which in turn is good news for the environment.

          6. What happens when it breaks?

          Consider what repair schemes are in place, if any, to return damaged products that can be restored. The new ‘right to repair’ laws have introduced repairs and increased product lifespans, helping you and the planet.

          7. What happens when you are done with it?

          Think about what you’ll do with the product at the end of its life. Can it be reused, repurposed or recycled.

          • Reusable products and packaging that is actively reused by the business or designed to be reused by consumers - e.g. reusable containers and product refill schemes.

          • Repurposed products are designed to be used in different ways once their original purpose is complete, for example a glass jar repurposed as a plant pot.

          8. What kind of packaging does it come in? 

          Consider whether there is unnecessary packaging, and what materials is the packaging made of. For example - whether it is plastic free, reusable, compostable, recyclable.

          Sounds like a lot of work? The good news is we're making this much easier for you. No more worrying, searching, and figuring out all by yourself if a product is really sustainable or not.

          All products on our platform have already been researched and vetted with our sustainability criteria, with all credentials clearly displayed on product pages.

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