Ecoprivilege: Spending money to save the world

I care about the planet. We only have one of them and I want to be sure my great-grandchildren get the same enjoyment from their time here that I have so far.  So it saddens me how hard some companies make it for people to make eco-friendly purchasing decisions.

Plastic bags: not very nutritious.
Plastic bags: not very nutritious.

I worry about our plastic production and consumption. Many plastics are petroleum-based and will never break down fully. They make their way into our waterways and soils, getting into our food and causing harm to our precious sea life. Beyond plastic, I worry about the chemicals in our washing fluids that make their way into our grey water and drains. The sprays we use to keep our orchard fruit pretty. The chemicals we stick in paint to make it last longer.

I have noticed a trend, of late, for fruits and vegetables to be packed into small groups or individual servings. This baffles me. We have gone the entire history of crop cultivation without needing to plastic wrap bananas. Without putting organic avocados in special cardboard and plastic packages (missing the point of organic, anyone?). Why are we starting now? What tangible benefit do they confer that justifies the increased production of plastic?

So what’s a girl like me to do? Make better choices, obviously. Easier said than done. Whilst there are sustainably sourced, ecologically friendly replacements for just about every product you can think of there’s a good chance you won’t have the expendable income to afford them. I call this ecoprivilege.

Consider, if you will, these everyday products*:

  • Eggs
    Caged: 45c per egg
    Free-range: 62c per egg
  • Chicken breast
    Battery: $1.70 per 100g
    Free-range: $2.70 per $100g
  • Bin liners (large)
    Budget brand, no specific eco-features: 9c each
    Ecostore biobags: 47c each
  • Surface spray
    Janola (bleach): $1 per 100mL
    Ecostore all-purpose spray: $1.19 per 100mL

 

While this is far from a comprehensive list it is rather indicative of the cost of trying to care for the environment. And I’m not okay with it.

I wrote recently about being made redundant and the stresses of financial struggle. I acknowledge that my partner and I are fortunate to still be able to make some choices when we do our groceries. Free-range is a priority for me and because of sacrifices in other areas we are still largely able to shop ethically (at least where chickens are concerned). But what about the many Kiwis doing it even harder than us? Should they have to choose between feeding their children and torturing chickens and pigs? Should they be forced to buy rubbish bags that don’t biodegrade simply because they’re all they can afford? Looking after the one planet we have should not be a financially privileged choice! No one should have to choose between the health of their children and the health of the planet they live on.

I blame companies for the rise of ecoprivilege.  Companies who operate across international borders and target the low-value-high-output end of the market. Companies who put profits ahead of people and the planet; companies more interested in making money than ensuring we have the products we may want. Were they to provide eco-friendly options in their existing price brackets, to put a measure of importance on ensuring their outputs do the best they can for the environment, I feel sure people would buy them. Give us the option and I genuinely believe we will make good choices.

It’s the 21st century. How many decent excuses are left?

If you are one of the majority not blessed with ecoprivilege, here are some low-cost changes you can make:

  1. Buy barn eggs instead of free-range. The chickens are treated better than in battery farms and the eggs are less prohibitively priced than free-range. You could even get a chicken if you have the space!
  2. Grow your own vegetables. You may not be able to replace everything you buy at the supermarket but you will be able to supplement your diet. Use plastic buckets (usually around $1) with holes drilled in the bottom in place of pots, where needed. Packets of seed for staple crops are often cheaper than a week’s worth of the fresh produce and will produce over 100 times the quantity. There are many resources available online for anyone wanting to learn how to create a vegetable garden.
  3. Take reusable bags to the supermarket. If you’re anything like me you don’t need all those supermarket bags and will end up throwing many out. Concerning. If you can’t afford the reusable bags the supermarkets sell you can use any bags you have lying around. Many clothing stores will provide cloth bags when customers make purchases. If you have some, these make ideal grocery bags. If you don’t, you can take your plastic bags back to the supermarket and reuse them. It saves them money and you get the satisfaction of knowing they need to order a few less because of you.
  4. Use baking soda, vinegar and eucalyptus oil as cleaners where possible. You don’t need to clean everything with chemicals. A list of alternative cleaning products can be found here.
  5. Let your fruit and vegetables roll loose around your trolley. You’re unlikely to need that bag for your 3 apricots, plus the one for your 12 potatoes, plus the other one for your 5 carrots. Pop the food straight in a corner of your trolley instead. It’ll survive just fine.

For my part, I am trying to make the best decisions possible on the budget we have. We grow vegetables and herbs. We take cloth bags to the supermarket. We buy biodegradable rubbish bags (tho not the ones I want… yet). And we buy and eat free-range whenever we can. As our household income increases we will make more changes. For now, I satisfy myself knowing that although I am not saving the world I am doing what I can.

 

*All prices sourced on the day of publishing from the Countdown and Ecostore online stores.