Fessing up – my failures at ethical consumerism

Journalist Sally Whittle, she of the fabulous Getting Ink blog, has tagged me in a meme, first started by Dom at PR-otagonism. The idea is to admit publicly to the products you use that normally you would be too ashamed to admit to in polite company.

I’m not mad keen on memes, but this one does raise some interesting issues about ethical consumerism. Most of us probably put on a good front about how much we “do our bit” for the planet. Why, only yesterday, I was having a Twitter conversation with David of Quest PR about why I wasn’t going to buy a funky new laptop bag because I had a perfectly serviceable one already. (I confess to having caved in on that already – my laptop bag, barely used anyway, is up for sale and I ordered this.)

And, actually, having spent 9 years in the Netherlands where having 5 dustbins is a normal way of life, I’m pretty good at doing my bit. I’ve been buying clothes and books from charity shops for 30 years, I don’t run a car, I separate my rubbish (my weekly black bin bag is barely a tenth full) and I don’t really feel any great urgency at having the latest must-have gadget (I have never owned an iPod, Apple iPhone or BlackBerry, for example).

So I had to think quite hard about what I do and/or buy that is Bad with a capital B.

Bottled water: not so much a brand as a way of life for me. Before I went abroad I had a Brita water filter jug. And in Paris I drank the tap water happily for 3 years. But at some point while across the Channel, I started buying the bottled variety. Because I’m a consumer cheapskate (cf. clothes from Oxfam), I don’t spend oodles on Perrier or any other expensive brand. My H2O habit is Tesco own brand and the cheapest they sell – Perthshire Mountain, which I think costs about £1.59 for 6 x 2-litre bottles. I know the tap water here is clean and healthy and drinkable. I know I’ve paid for it with my water rates. But I have to have my bottles. I drink a lot of water and a daily 2-litre bottle helps me keep track of my fluid intake. So there. And the empties get flattened and dumped in the plastic recycling bin.

Clarins: a couple of decades back, I bought my shampoo at the Body Shop but somewhere along the way fell out of love with the brand. Maybe it’s because I got tired of smug Anita Roddick saying how “experiences” were the most important thing in life. Yeah, it’s easy to have an “experience” hanging out with African tribeswomen when you have that sort of wealth to pay for it. I can’t actually remember what I used to slather on my skin before Clarins, but I remember feeling hideously guilty at spending £20 on a tube of Beauty Flash Balm the first time I bought it, probably around 15 years ago. Now I use the day and night creams – RRP £45 a jar. In fairness, I do think my skin looks better since I switched and careful use means a jar lasts 5-6 months, which is reasonably economical. And at least I’m not buying Creme de la Mer or La Prairie, which both cost around £150 a pop.

Cillit Bang: Like Sally Whittle, I know I should be using Ecover on the rare occasions I do housework (in fairness, I had a cleaner at my last house – not paid by me I should add – and the current abode is tiny so only needs a quick going over once a week). Having spent more than 12 years abroad, I was a bit puzzled on my return to hear mention of CB, as this brand doesn’t exist in the Netherlands. Plus, I rarely watch the commercial TV channels as I hate ads, so I was completely ignorant about this brand. The thing is, worthy as Ecover and co are, they don’t actually clean very well. And while I don’t want to eat my dinner off the loo seat, I do want the loo seat to be clean. And the pan. My landlord works for the company that owns CB so when I moved in, there was a free supply under the kitchen sink. And it does what it says on the tin. I’ll be buying it again, even though I know that it’s probably really toxic to small mammals and poisons the water table. I don’t care. Well, I do. But not enough. Especially as I have a pet and need to keep my floors clean. I might start buying loo roll made from recycled paper again though, if the boffins can figure out a way to stop the toilet paper disintegrating in your hands the minute it comes into contact with fluid.

I couldn’t possibly embarrass myself any more now after fessing up those bad habits. Well, I could, but I’m not going to here. Craig McGinty, Claire Annals and Joe Gravett – consider yourselves tagged…

10 thoughts on “Fessing up – my failures at ethical consumerism”

  1. So good to know someone else shares my Tesco bottled water dependency – and for exactly the same reason! Also, refiling plastic bottles with tap water is bad for you – chemicals in the water cause the plastic to release toxins (which you then drink) apparently.
    I did support the Tap into Water campaign for as long as I could… but I backslide and there’s a bottle of Perthshire on my desk now.
    Mad love for Clarins BFB too 😉

  2. I’ve been following the Month Without Plastic blog on the BBC site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/monthwithoutplastic/) with interest. I’m not doing badly at all in the plastic stakes. I separate so much rubbish that what goes to landfill every week would barely fill half a Tesco (plastic) carrier bag. It would be even less if I could compost here (which I did in my last abode). At least I don’t spend £3 a bottle on water and I never buy water from outside the UK because of food miles.

    Clarins is tricky. The products are mostly natural which is good but they are so heavily overpackaged, which isn’t. My guilt is at the expense rather than greenness or lack thereof. And BFB is as essential as toothpaste in my book.

    I’m doing very well compared to most Brits in the eco-stakes after my years abroad, where I learned well, but we all have our weaknesses. I think my biggest eco-plus is the lack of a car, but I suspect that I might have one if disability hadn’t deprived me of my licence. But actually, I’ve now lived almost 20 years without driving and it’s doable if you live in an urban setting, as I do.

  3. That raises another interesting dilemma. I do have a Co-op very near by. Unfortunately, while it’s within walking distance it’s too far to lug 12 litres of water home on foot. And I don’t drive.

    1. Walk to Co-op to buy water and support ethical water campaign in Africa, take cab home – the short car trip is really bad for the environment and probably cancels out the good of supporting the campaign. It’s probably greener to donate to Oxfam.

    2. Walk to Tesco (2km away) to do weekly shop, including water, take cab home for £3.50.

    3. Order online and get Tesco to deliver. Fee: c.£4-5 depending on delivery slot. Option 2 is cheaper and may possibly incur less food miles, plus I’m not reliant on someone selecting my shopping for me.

    There are no easy answers (apart from drinking tap water again). I shop local fairly regularly – my neighbourhood has a proper, old-fashioned shopping parade with a butcher, fishmonger, deli, bakery, greengrocer and post office, plus another 20-plus shops including the Co-op. It supplies most of my basic needs but not all. Walking into the city centre enables me to pop into other shops too before doing the supermarket run and taking a cab home.

  4. I too used to drink bottled water. I think for me it was a coldness thing and just a feeling that it was fresh and pure somehow. Basically I was just addicted to it.

    But I broke the habit. I did have to keep a jug of tap water in the fridge (I never drink straight from the tap – stupid I know) and if it is more than a day old I won’t drink it. But when I come down to make my first coffee of the day I fill my jug from the tap, put it in the fridge (it’s a big jug) and I do drink from that all day. And I drink a lot of water (with a twist of lemon).

    It felt good to me – like I had broken a bad habit. Just coffee and wine to go – oh and my Thursday night takeaway curry and all the packets of Doritos I eat. But one thing at a time eh? I couldn’t buy Cillit Bang though – the name is just too awful. One must have some standards.

    You sound as if you live a pretty wholesome unembarrassing life to me.

  5. Hello, Reluctant Blogger!

    Can I ask why you won’t drink straight from the tap? Do you run it first and thus let litres of water rush straight back into the sewers? 😉 Funnily enough, I’d rather drink straight from the tap than drink chilled water – that’s mainly because my teeth are really sensitive to cold but also because it’s not like we have to worry about lead piping these days…

    You’re in good company when it comes to coffee and wine – I must have my morning pot of coffee when working and, in the evening, a glass of something with a good vintage is pretty much essential.

    As for Cillit Bang, the name sounds like the title to a really bad east European porn film and when I first moved back my attitude was something with a name that bad couldn’t possibly match up in performance. Sadly, I was proved wrong. I still worry about the fishes and the purity of the water table but at least my bath is gleaming!

    And don;t assume my life is wholesome – it’s probably anything but, but I’m blogging under my own name here so I’ll take the fifth.

  6. Hi Louise,

    Thanks to you and Sally for resurrecting the meme, which was threatening to die a slow and inauspicious death. It’s really nice to know that there are some fellow ecologically minded peeps out on the interweb.

  7. Dom, we still have so far to go here in the UK (although not as far as other industrial nations). My attitudes were coloured firstly by having a parent who had experienced WW2 rationing and deprivation so I grew up in a household where nothing was wasted. My time in the Netherlands was a real eye-opener – everyone recycles there and if you want plastic bags in the supermarket you have to pay for them (I arrived in 1995 and even that long ago, paying for bags had been in place a long time). It took very little time to adjust to separating rubbish so there is absolutely NO reason or excuse for us not doing the same here. It does help to provide incentives, though – Tesco gives you extra points on your loyalty card if you bring your own bags, for example. We all need to do more. Much more. And not just individuals, but industry too.

  8. Pingback: Craig McGinty

  9. haha no I don’t waste it – I run it from the tap and then put it in the fridge. I don’t drink it from the tap simply cos it isn’t cold enough. I don’t run any off first, it’s warmish when it goes in the fridge. I found keeping a jug in the fridge meant my children didn’t run water off either – they just pour it from the jug.

    Glad to hear you are not altogether wholesome. That might be a little dull!!!

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