It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to adapting your lifestyle to be more environmentally conscious. The sheer amount of complex issues that are wrapped up in the term ‘sustainability’ makes it almost impossible to begin. Wading your way through the buzzwords of single-use plastic, environmentally damaging chemicals, deforestation, reduce-reuse-recycle, it feels like ‘you can choose 1 of 8 to care about’.
Recently I went shopping, or more like strategising, at Lush. I had figured that shopping in there at least meant that I’ve reduced the impact of the chemicals in the products, 1 tick. I was looking for shampoo and conditioner that gave me the results that I have advertised to me from mainstream brands, including hair that shines like cherubs teeth and as frizz-less as a prepubescent boys chin. The plethora was overwhelming, which at first I was chuffed about, at least going sustainable didn’t reduce my options. 10 minutes later, I was a woman on the edge. Do I pick the Himalayan honey shampoo that’s fairly traded from farmers but packaged in plastic? Or is it the shampoo bar that comes in paper packaging but with dubious ingredient origins & doesn’t leave my hair fully cleansed? Does that matter? Shouldn’t I forfeit my craving for luscious hair if it means the planet is safe? But does the balance of the world really lie in whether a woman in the South West of England lives with a birds nest for hair? I felt like Sophie, and this was my impossible choice.
Out of sheer mental exhaustion of my own and the poor sales assistant whom I questioned relentlessly for 40 minutes, I bought 2 small plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner, which I later continued to berate myself for, since I should have bought bigger ones to reduce the amount of plastic; a bar of deodorant, which causes me anxiety every day in case my armpits decide to reject the lack of sweat suppressing chemicals; and toothpaste tablets, which upon putting in my bathroom I realised reduces no plastic and taste horrendous.
Instead of the virtuous glow I was hoping for, it felt more like a lukewarm ‘eh’. I had gone with the hope of reducing my impact while still benefitting from the convenience and luxury of high street shops. Instead, I was met with aromatic products and a big receipt total, with no feeling of reducing the environmental impact of my purchasing habits. This isn’t a criticism of Lush, their business model is more or less as sustainable as a high street shop can be; their plastic is 100% recycled and have a return scheme for their full-sized plastic tubs, and source most of their ingredients naturally and ethically.
My shop was reasonably sustainable for what I can find on the high street, but not sustainable for my budget. For those four items, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and toothpaste it cost me over £20, a shop I’m sure with my stingy ways could have cost a tenner.
It’s a moral argument, not a monetary one, but with prices rising and wages staying the same, the danger is that saving the planet will become a luxury many of us can’t afford.