World Consumer Rights Day: bringing people together in the fight against plastic
By Thaís Mota
Created to highlight the power and rights of consumers for a safe, equal and sustainable market for all, World Consumer Rights Day, celebrated today (15/03), has the theme of Tackling Plastic Pollution and unites people in a global consumer movement. The campaign’s intention is to support consumers in mobilising companies, governments and society to make combatting plastic toxic waste and adhering to sustainable consumption an easy (and accessible) choice for all members of society, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
This day serves as a chance to protest against market environmental abuses and social injustices which undermine consumer rights. This year’s theme is “Tackling Plastic Pollution”, with the aim of raising awareness and engaging consumers globally to promote sustainable practices, opting for plastic-free alternatives. Our goal at E&U For The Climate is to contribute to the reduction of what can potentially become the eternal footprint that humanity leaves on Earth: plastics. In light of this, we have prepared a guide on how to become more eco-conscious consumers, outlining products that can replace the use of plastic, thereby aiming to adopt sustainable habits to beat plastic pollution and to reinforce ethical consumption!
THE PROBLEM OF PLASTIC: AN ENVIRONMENTAL “VILLAIN”
Without swift, impactful changes in social and economic behaviour around the world, it is estimated that the flow of plastic in the oceans will triple by 2040, reaching 29 million tons per year. This data is collected from the study Breaking the Plastic Wave, published in 2020 by Pew Charitable Trusts & SYSTEMIQ, in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, serving as an alert (and daresay, a crucial appeal) on the urgent – and vital – need to act in the fight against plastic pollution.
According to Helena Leurent, the executive director of Consumers International, consumer awareness on the plastic crisis is growing worldwide. “Consumers have a fundamental role in shaping the market and we must support them to mobilize companies and governments, to ensure that sustainable consumption is accessible to everyone”, she says in an official publication of the institution.
It is important to remember that there is no single solution to end the damage that plastic brings to the environment, so any good action, no matter how small, already has a very effective impact on the movement to tackle this threatening phenomenon – which ends up having positive changes with regard to economic and social benefits, consequently feeding a greater good: the circular economy. In an interview with Agência Brasil, Ellen MacArthur, creator of the foundation that bears her name, argues that “A move towards a circular economy, with maximum reduction in the use of plastic, collection and recycling, and the replacement of the product whenever necessary, would allow, by 2040, the volume entering the oceans to fall to 5 million tonnes per year.” If action is not taken NOW, by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in our oceans than fish.
BECOMING ECO-CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS: A PLASTIC-FREE PRODUCT GUIDE
With a view to “showcasing” easy and positive choices to adapt to an eco-friendly routine striving to reduce the use of plastic, we selected some products that replace and eliminate this “environmental villain” from your life!
We understand and acknowledge that the inequalities that exist globally mean that only a (small) portion of the population has the privileges and conditions to adhere to the most ecological choices for everyday life, as they often end up being a little more expensive. For this reason, we encourage these people to act in mobilising for the environment and life, collaborating so that, one day, we are all equally capable of making a difference on the planet.
Have you ever thought about the ecological cost of 7 billion people using plastic toothbrushes, which take 400 years to decompose, following the rule of purchasing a new one every 3 months? The environmental impact of a toothbrush looks rather small, but it is substantially huge when added up! For instance, 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away annually in the U.S. alone, creating 50 million pounds of waste annually. Accordingly, it is important to swap to more sustainable alternatives: for example, brushes made from bamboo become a more ecological option, since the material of the handle is natural and the bristles biodegradable.
Bar shampoo and conditioner
It is true that shampoo and conditioner plastic bottles typically “hang around” in the shower for longer than a single-use water bottle would. However, the pollution caused by their usage and disposal is alarming: in the U.S. alone, more than 552 million shampoo bottles end up in landfills every year; the number of shampoo bottles thrown out in the United States every year could fill 1,164 football fields; and only 1 in 5 people consistently recycle items from the bathroom. An amazing alternative are bar shampoos and conditioners, which have the same function as plastic packaging products and, in many brands, are produced with 100% natural components.
Eco bag and delivery package
Plastic bags are a major source of pollution in our oceans and seas. In Europe, more than 100 billion bags were used in 2010. Everyone knows that plastic bags can be easily replaced by an eco-bag (a cloth one)!
Now it’s time to ban the plastic trash bag from our homes once and for all. How to replace them? It’s very simple, use reusable shopping bags; it is also important to, for instance, reuse the paper packaging from deliveries that you receive at home.
Aluminium cans and reusable bottles
80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfill . It takes up to 1,000 years for every single bottle to decompose, leaking harmful chemicals into our environment, killing life in all of its forms. Instead of plastic bottles, always opt for aluminium cans and reusable bottles, which are more sustainable and easier to recycle than plastic itself. Nowadays it is even possible to find water in this packaging format.
Bags made of fabric substitute plastic very well for carrying fruits and vegetables on the market.
Vegetable loofah (sponge) is biodegradable, free of any chemical component, and can be used both for washing dishes and for bathing.
Plastic wrap saves your sandwich (and other goodies), but kills the planet and its precious beings.
Research found that, in the first six months of 2020 alone, nearly 80 million Americans had used at least one roll of plastic wrap. “Plastic wrap contributes to the larger plastic pollution crisis, it’s difficult to recycle, and it’s made from potentially harmful chemicals, especially as they break down in the environment.” A great ally, when wrapping snacks and Tupperware, is the beeswax cloth, which replaces the plastic film function. The fabrics are reusable and can go to the compost bin at the time of disposal.
These cloth alternatives replace napkins in a simple and easy way: when dirty, wash and reuse them, then repeat .
Cloth coffee strainer and tea infusers
To avoid even the traditional coffee strainer, the tip is to use cloth strainers, while tea sachets can be replaced by an infuser and the use of natural plants.
A great ally, the reusable retractable cup fits in any space in the bag and can be used for all times.
Homemade beauty products in glass containers
If there is a package for each product, imagine a whole skin care routine? Cosmetics made with homemade and natural ingredients are increasingly popular, arranged in glass containers, those that already exist in the closet, bathroom or the kitchen. It is worthwhile to review your care and choose the most environmentally friendly choices.
SMALL YET POWERFUL STEPS TOWARDS AN INCLUSIVE, ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE WORLD
It is important to note that not everyone can adhere to social and environmentally ethical habits, as we live in an unequal world, in which socio-economic injustices aggravate the divisions existing among the few who have much and the many who have little. It is relevant for those who have the economic means to pursue ecological changes to not take this for granted. If you can adhere to a more ecological lifestyle, please do, as these small changes have a big impact, always keeping in mind the need to deconstruct privilege in order for our global reality to be an inclusive one in which everyone can become more sustainable.
Most importantly, it is imperative to hold accountable the “big actors” driving the consumerist markets: we must stop blaming “everyday” individuals for environmental destruction and start holding the real culprit responsible, namely, the fossil fuel giants, the exploitative fast fashion retailers, the plastic polluting industries, the negligent governments. These are the ones who corrupt the markets and violate consumers’ rights.
Individual sustainability goes hand in hand with governmental and corporate accountability, therefore at E&U For The Climate we advocate for sustainable and restorative practices that will beat plastic pollution, saving our Mother Earth and her beings.
With a burning passion for the arts for as long as she can remember, Thaís is an eternal dancer who loves listening to music, traveling and collecting stories. Graduated in Journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, she is co-author of the book “Look do Dia: Politica”, (“Outfit of the Day: Politics) in which she approaches fashion as a tool for social transformation, alongside politics and sustainability. The Aries is producer of the biggest fashion and lifestyle magazine in Southern Brazil and a sustainability collaborator at Harper’s Bazaar Brasil, an area where she conducts research and expands her love for fashion, in search of positive changes for people and the planet.
This article was translated by Keila McFarland Dias
Picture 1: ¡ Hola!
Pictures 2, 3 and 4: Retrieved from Pinterest