Global, Kitchen/Food

Single Use Plastics

As I’ve previously mentioned, the sustainability movement has become very popular lately. It’s trendy to be sustainable, so it seems like everyone is trying to cash in on it. This leads to a lot of buzz words and greenwashing thrown around. One buzz word/phrase is “single use plastics”. It’s something I’m sure most people have heard of by now, but may not exactly be sure what it means. So what is it?

A single use plastic is any plastic item that, as the name suggests, one would only use once, and then discard. They’re made from petrochemicals, made from crude oil and natural gas. Some examples are things like plastic food containers, coffee cups, water bottles, straws, plastic bags, etc.

Ever since the 1970’s, plastic has gained immense popularity, and skyrocketed to the place we know it to be today. Within the last 50 years, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced, and half of that in the past 15 years alone. This can largely be attributed to increasing consumerism and overconsumption. We’ve embodied a throw-away culture, where things aren’t made to last, and replacing an item is the standard procedure, rather than trying to fix it. Single use plastic is the ultimate example of that. We now rely on these single use plastics rather heavily, creating one massive problem: waste. We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items.  The problem is that plastic doesn’t necessarily break down the way that other materials do. Plastic gets smaller instead of decomposing. Those pieces become microplastics. Microplastics have become a huge problem in recent years, due to the massive amount of plastic thrown away, they come from everywhere. Those microplastics then end up getting in the water, and affecting the health of wildlife and people alike. It’s a problem often overlooked, but one that deserves our attention. In my previous post, I mentioned some sustainable swaps, some of which were for single use plastic items, and trying to find alternatives is a good way to reduce your plastic use. But one other major component is recycling your plastics. Many plastics go in the garbage when they can go in the recycling. Polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most commonly recycled plastics and the material that makes up most water and soda bottles, can be turned into everything from polyester fabrics to automotive parts. So it’s important to always double check for the recycling symbol on your plastic. Or not use it at all when possible.


Sustainable Swaps

As we’ve discussed, corporations, government, and individuals play a role in pollution (some roles are bigger than others however). Still, there are ways that one can be more sustainable on an individual level. There are small, inexpensive ways that one can add a little more sustainability to their lives.

  1. For those who use cotton pads/cotton balls/makeup removing wipes : They make reusable pads out of bamboo, which you can reuse multiple times by rinsing, and then throwing in the wash! I’ve personally made this swap, and I use mine almost every day. They work just as well as the cotton ones, and they’re as good as new after I wash them. I used to feel so bad when emptying my trash and seeing handfuls of little cotton rounds dump out, but I don’t have that problem any more!
  2. One swap that’s become quite popular nowadays is swapping paper or plastic bags for tote bags. This is a swap I’ve also made, and I really like it! I no longer have a collection of plastic bags inside another plastic bag, and instead opt for a reusable bag whenever I go shopping. One thing to note: If buying produce, it might be a good idea to clean the inside of the bag once in awhile, just to be safe. It might also be a good idea to go with a vinyl tote bag instead of cloth, if that’s what you’re looking for. I also think tote bags are a fun, easy way for people to express themselves. On top of that, it’s also an opportunity for you to support small artists, as many shops online sell them with original artwork.
  3. Swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one. I made this switch somewhat recently, and honestly it feels just like a regular toothbrush! At first, I didn’t realize that the bamboo toothbrush was slightly wider than my regular toothbrush, which took some getting used to, but now I like it just as much. Fun fact: bamboo is antimicrobial (hence it’s popularity in kitchen utensils and cutting boards) which means that it is able to kill bacteria that still lingers on the toothbrush, unlike plastic.
  4. Swapping other hygiene items for bar and capsule versions of it. You can now buy your shampoo and conditioner in a bar form instead of a bottle, which means that there’s no empty plastic bottle when it’s done. The same goes for mouth wash, which you can get in a capsule form to cut back on plastic. I personally haven’t tried this yet, but I would like to. Unfortunately these swaps aren’t the most accessible, and are pretty much exclusively online at this point. Hopefully this changes in the future.

No matter your commitment to sustainability, remember to go easy on yourself. The society that we live in makes it near impossible to live a net zero emission life, so every bit helps. Maybe you’re a vegan who only eats organic food, but purchases their clothing from fast fashion producers. Maybe you exclusively thrift all your clothes but use single-use plastics. Any progress made toward being more sustainable is worth it, because it shows consciousness of your actions. The goal should just be to try to be as sustainable as we can be. Because ultimately, the most important sustainable swap is to swap inaction with action, by demanding more from the major businesses responsible for most pollution.


Pollution and the Government

As we’ve discussed, pollution can be affected by individual and corporate action. Corporations have a significant impact on the world, and simultaneously, on climate change. Their influence affects policies, consumer interests and surrounding communities, so the way that they approach pollution matters. One other entity with a similar level of influence is the government, both national and local. While there are some policies in place, it’s somewhat incohesive on a national level. Since 1990, the United States has followed The Federal Pollution Act. This established pollution prevention as the public policy of the United States. The Federal Act declares that pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source wherever feasible, while pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner. As you can see, this is somewhat vague. There are other more specific standards with pollution however, like the standards put on heavy-duty trucks in 2016, which aimed to cut over a billion tons of climate pollution, while also benefiting public health by reducing emissions. All vehicles and engines operating in the United States must comply with emissions standards for pollutants including smog, soot and greenhouse gases. Because of these policies, newer vehicles now emit far fewer pollutants. We also follow certain standards regarding other forms of pollution as well, like the Clean Water Act, addressing water pollution. Its objective is to maintain and restore the integrity of all bodies of water in the United States.

Recently, there was a proposal for reform in our climate policies, called the Green New Deal. While it was most recently discussed and voted on in 2019, versions of this proposal have existed since the early 2000’s as a platform for candidates of the Green Party. The Green New Deal aimed to get the United States to move away from using fossil fuels, and to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the ultimate goal being the elimination of the U.S carbon footprint by 2030. The Deal also focuses on shifting toward electricity from 100% renewable power, updating the power grid, and providing a new transportation system based around a high speed rail system. This version of the bill also would address economic inequality, with a surge of new jobs in renewable energy industries. Passing the bill would have meant a complete overhaul in every level of production, and our way of consumption. The Green New Deal, while ambitious, unfortunately did not pass the Senate floor in a 2019 vote.

The government has the power to help reduce pollution through a legal avenue, but it also has the power to hold those most responsible for this climate crisis accountable. Meaningful government action on pollution becomes more crucial with every day, as an obligation to the future of this planet.


Pollution and Corporations

When talking about sustainability, it’s important to know that it’s a layered topic. There are many factors at play that go into sustainability on a global scale. Most of the time, it’s overwhelming to think of sustainability this way, so instead, many people who talk about sustainability often focus on what can be done on an individual level. However, there is one major component that must be at least mentioned.

Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of all industrial emissions of greenhouse gases. Many corporations have the goal of greenhouse gas emission reduction, but their emissions are happening at every level of the production and consumption process. First, there’s upstream emissions, which come from the physical production of the product. This happens because the product often needs some sort of natural material that has to be harvested, extracted or cultivated. Then there’s the downstream emissions, which are the emissions that come from the product’s use and disposal. Without recognizing these areas of emissions, there’s an area of improvement that’s not being utilized.

For example, Proctor and Gamble, or P&G has an emission reduction goal of 50% by 2030. Currently, P&G’s paper products, including their toilet paper, paper towel and facial tissues are estimated to produce 17.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, due to its use of virgin pulp. So while the idea of 50% reduction sounds fantastic, the reality is that their reduction would only happen on a few levels of the production process. Namely, they would be reducing emissions at their own facilities (their factories/offices) , and those emissions generated by the third parties that P&G buys energy from. This fails to mention the emissions that come from the deforestation needed, the transportation of the product, and the emissions from the disposal of the product. So in reality, the portion of emissions they’re speaking about reducing accounts for 2% of their total emission output. So a 50% reduction would only account for 1% of their total output.

So again, sustainability is a layered topic. Sustainability on an individual scale is very important, because conscientiousness is always the first step towards progress. Now it’s important to apply that conscientiousness to those companies that make a huge impact on the environment, and hold them responsible for the pollution that they’re causing.


Thrifting: Pros and Cons

As previously mentioned, there are many benefits to thrifting as a sustainable alternative to buying from fast fashion retailers. With thrifting, you’re not supporting the fast fashion industry and cycle, which means you aren’t contributing to the mistreatment of workers or the wastefulness of the industry. If there’s less demand in fast fashion stores, then less gets made and less people get exploited. By buying second hand, you’re not creating a demand for more materials, because those materials and items already exist. In fact, by thrifting, you’re able to keep items out of landfills. The fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry, with synthetic fabrics taking 100+ years to decompose. Thrifting also leads to greater individuality with clothes. When thrifting, a person has to physically look through all kinds of items to find something they like. In a fast fashion store, things are laid out and organized together based on trends, and the stores are essentially telling you what to like, but in a thrift store, every piece speaks for itself. Thus, you get to find out what you really like, and not just what’s trendy. Also, thrifting is often less expensive than buying an item new, so it’s a cheaper alternative as well.

There’s many benefits to thrifting. However, it’s not without its faults either. Because sustainability itself is trendy, more people have been going to the thrift store in recent years. This has caused a sort of gentrification of the thrift stores, as resellers flock to it for sourcing. With the increase in demand at thrift stores, prices have gone up, especially on heavier items like sweaters and coats. The average coat at a thrift store is between $12.99-$19.99, whereas before they were closer to $10. This especially hurts the people who rely on thrift stores as their only way to get clothes. Resellers will go into thrift stores and buy all the trendy or quality vintage clothing, and then mark it up to sell online. This also perpetuates the trend cycle, as people then feel a need to constantly shop at the thrift store, and constantly buy more to keep up. Thrifting can lead to overconsumption too, which is a problem for everyone. However, if done in moderation, it can be a way to get new items in a more sustainable way.


Ethics in Clothing Production Part 2

As previously mentioned, the treatment of fast fashion workers could easily be described as “slave labor”. Workers are given terrible wages (often a fraction of a decent living wage, as much as 5 times less) and will often face abuse from personnel if deadlines aren’t met. What makes it even worse is the horrifying truth that often times to make ends meet, entire families will have to work in terrible conditions, including children. Currently there are over 150 million child workers in the world, and the fashion industry employs many of them. One heartbreaking example is the Sumangali scheme in India, in which young girls are hired and payed a wage to work in a textile factory for 3 to 5 years, after which they receive a lump sum that serves as their dowry. While in this system, the girls are forced to live in compounds and have very little contact with their families. Despite being forbidden, this is still a regular occurrence, and needless to say, should be stopped. This is happening on the other side of the world from those of us in the United States, but we see the results of these injustices in every fast fashion store. Besides the mistreatment by the people in this industry, the conditions of the workplaces themselves are also abysmal. There have been countless instances of garment factory disasters, including the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, killing 1134 people. Workers are crowded into unstable buildings with little to no ventilation, being forced to breathe in fumes from the dyes of the fabric, as well as fiber dust. Or even non-fabric related fumes, like blasted sand, affects these workers. 50 people have died and thousands are sick from blasted sand inhalation in denim factories in Turkey. These things, coupled with the sheer number of people working in these factories has led to all kinds of accidents and injuries. On top of all these other issues, workers in garment factories often aren’t allowed to form unions. These workers have no representation, and the cycle continues.

This is the devastating reality of fast fashion, but as I’ve mentioned before, it is something so prevalent in our culture that it’s practically unavoidable. So what do we do? The first step is being aware that these problems exist. Reading as much as possible about these issues can create more awareness when the information is shared and more publicly available. Secondly, put pressure on stores to hold them accountable, or shop elsewhere, like secondhand shops. Thirdly, you can make donations to organizations fighting to better the conditions for these workers, and eventually put an end to fast fashion once and for all.


Ethics in Clothing Production

For many people, the process of buying new clothes involves going to a physical store, or going online shopping to find whatever you’re looking for. There are some people who will shop around and try to find the best deal, or an option even more suited to their needs, but even then it’s not the most involved process. One common denominator is that the most readily available clothing producers, the most popular and most accessible, are often the most unethical in their production. It’s practically unavoidable, as nearly all clothing producers rely on foreign manufacturers, but that doesn’t mean that these injustices shouldn’t be discussed. These major corporations are exploiting entire populations of people who have no choice but to work in these terrible conditions. These workers need all the money that they can get, and these businesses know that they’re vulnerable, so they take advantage of that. They’re putting their health and well-being on the line for abysmal payback. Only an estimated 2% of fashion workers around the world are paid a living wage. In fact many official organizations, including the European Parliament, have decided that the term “slave labor” is an accurate description for the treatment of fast fashion workers. We don’t like to think that slavery still exists in our world, but it does. These workers aren’t treated like people. Many report not being allowed to take bathroom breaks, despite many working 14-16 hour days. During the peak season, the hours are even longer, because they can’t refuse the overtime pay. Many will also face verbal or physical abuse if deadlines aren’t met.

Now, this is a lot of information, and it can feel disheartening knowing that this is so prevalent. The route that I’ve taken is shifting to buy pretty much all of my clothes from secondhand sources, or to make my own. But it’s not that simple for everyone. It’s a layered topic, because the reality is that most of the time, fast fashion is the only option for many people. Many sustainable clothing producers make their clothing in small batches which don’t always include plus sizes. Some people simply can’t afford to shop at more sustainable shops, or even at online secondhand shops like Poshmark or Depop. Even in known secondhand stores like Goodwill prices have increased, especially on sought after items like coats. There is no perfect solution, the important thing is to have the information so you can make the decision that’s best for you.



When looking at clothing producers, most are making their clothes in a way that is harmful to the environment. Many consumers are now becoming aware of these practices, and are trying to make more ethical choices. Sustainability has become a trend of sorts, and now clothing producers are trying to get in on it.  Many stores are trying to move towards greener initiatives, or, give the illusion that they are.  One company guilty of this is H&M, who re-launched their “Conscious” collection last year.  The collection has technically been around since 2012, but was reintroduced and advertised again recently, because again, sustainability is trendy right now.  The 2021 line was intended to be a message to other clothing manufacturers, to show that clean and repurposed clothing was possible, as their clothes were made from 100% organic cotton.  However, less than a year later, it’s been found that the claims made by H&M aren’t all that they seemed to be.  In research done by the Changing Markets Foundation, a company dedicated to bringing attention to irresponsible corporate practices, they found that 96% of the claims H&M made about their Conscious collection were false or misleading.  One of the biggest inaccuracies was the fact that their Conscious collection wasn’t in fact made from 100% organic cotton, but rather 20% organic cotton.  The Conscious collection was even found to have a larger percent of harmful synthetic materials than the regular collection, 72% to 65%, respectively.  The company also doesn’t disclose any actual information about their production processes, including where the materials were sourced.  This all goes to say that many companies, not just H&M, use wording and claims in their advertising that make their clothing appear to be sustainably made when it isn’t.   Unfortunately, these are the stores that are often the most accessible, so it’s difficult to avoid.  Thus, it’s important to take company claims of sustainability with a grain of salt, and double check your resources if looking to make sustainable swaps.  Every little bit helps.


Fast Fashion Stores

What is fast fashion? Fast fashion is a term referring to any article of clothing that is made in a large batch in a short time. The idea behind fast fashion is to take styles from the runway or from major trends and put them into stores quickly and cheaply. Then, because of the low production costs, the clothes are able to be sold at a low price point in stores. Fast fashion exists as a cyclical model, where the clothes are made fast, and also made to fall apart fast. This allows the wearer then to feel the need to replace the clothes at a faster rate, and thus perpetuate the cycle. This also reinforces the trend cycle of clothes, which has also increased exponentially in the past century. When the clothes fall apart, it causes consumers to feel the need to replace their clothes with newer and trendier items. Who are the perpetrators of fast fashion? Any store who subscribes to this model, and sells clothes in large numbers. There are the obvious offenders, mall brand stores like Abercrombie, Hot Topic, American Eagle, etc. Then there are those who take fast fashion to the next level, releasing new styles weekly, or even more extremely, daily. Stores like Shein, Forever 21, Boohoo, Fashion Nova, etc have completely set the precedent for clothing production. There are stores and businesses that are slow-batch fashion, these are stores that often make their items made-to-order to avoid waste, or are made with much more sustainable materials. Many of these stores are online, in order to better control their production numbers. Examples of these stores are Girlfriend Collective, Reformation and CHNGE. Many fast fashion stores have received backlash for their practices, and are now marketing ethical collections and trying to appear more sustainable. Often this is an example of greenwashing, and the clothes are still produced under unethical conditions. However, as previously mentioned, these fast fashion stores do have the major advantage of selling their clothing at lower price points, which is objectively appealing. For some, this is their only option, so completely switching clothing stores isn’t possible. However, it is something worth looking into.


Sustainability and Fashion

One thing that defines a generation is the major fashion trends it follows. You can always tell what time period a photograph was taken in because of the clothes people are wearing. It’s an important part of culture and individual identity. However, while fashion itself is still an important facet of our lives, there are aspects of it that have changed going into the 21st century. Namely, how much of it there is. Over the last decade, the trend cycle has sped up exponentially, to the point where trends go out of style in a matter of months. This is a huge contrast compared to the 20th century, where we can find trends that lasted an entire decade. This is due to the concept of fast fashion. This is a scheme to make clothes as quickly and cheaply as possible, with styles going from the catwalk to store shelves in a matter of weeks. Starting in the late 20th century, when new poly-combination fabrics became introduced to mainstream fashion, it became possible to create more clothes for less money. This coupled with the hyper-consumerist lifestyle that began in the 90s, people began buying more. Obviously, this has a detrimental impact on the environment. The biggest challenges to sustainability are overconsumption and overproduction. With stores trying to keep up with new trends, they end up using much higher number of materials, and end up creating a lot more waste in the process. Waste that ends up in a landfill, and takes hundreds of years to decompose. Fashion has such an important role in our culture, but it might be killing our world in the process. While there are ways to more sustainably partake in fashion, at its current rate, we’ll be up to our necks in old turtlenecks in no time.