Some thoughts on our buying choices

Small shopping trolley filled with toilet paper rolls

Recently, in the Permaculture Central Coast Facebook group, one of our members let us know about the glue in toilet roll tubes. Lucy was interested in knowing if they could be composted and discovered that her favourite brand uses a synthetic polymer glue and while they can be recycled, composting is not recommended.

Lucy also discovered that the popular brand, Who Gives a Crap, uses a starch and water-based glue so they are fine for composting, but as others pointed out, this brand is made in China so the safety of the product, the treatment of those that make it and the fossil fuels used to ship it are all a concern. 

This is such an interesting topic and reminds me that there are very few manufactured items that are entirely free of contaminants. Food might have been sprayed or fertilised with synthetic chemicals, paper and cardboard might have been treated with plastics, fungicides, rodenticides and insecticides, even organic cotton clothing (apart from its huge ecological footprint) has probably been sown with something other than organic cotton thread, and the label will almost certainly be a plastic-based fabric. 

Making good choices matters. Buying less, buying organic, buying local, and most of all, NOT buying what we don’t need, but avoiding all contaminants is impossible. I find it’s better to take a pragmatic approach. Composting is endlessly useful for converting organic matter back into rich, useful stuff. It also helps to remediate contaminants through fungal and microbial activity, and it’s easy to see if something is wrong; no worms! Yes, those microplastics will persist in the soil indefinitely but that was going to happen anyway. 

We have passed the point where we can have ‘pure’ systems. I think it’s okay to do our best and to accept the reality of some choices being good, but less than perfect. Thinking about where things come from, how they are made and what happens after we finish with them becomes second nature when you live a permaculture life, but sometimes we can only choose the least bad option. We can also ask manufacturers to make better choices. Doing this can have a huge impact if enough of us do it. Lately, I’m noticing an increase in products that offer us better choices, even when those improvements are sometimes only slightly better. 

I’m mindful of ‘green wash’; it’s that tendency for manufacturers to present their products as ‘green’ and environmentally responsible when they are only a rebranded version of the same thing. I’ve noticed a ‘greener’ brand of baking paper where the only difference is the colour (it’s brown) and an ‘organic’ herbicide that is not organically certified. It is endlessly frustrating to discover that something I thought was a good choice is not so great. That happened with Who Gives a Crap. It can also be time-consuming to do the research. It took a lot of asking to find out that the new Kleenex bamboo toilet paper sources their bamboo from China. I now buy locally manufactured toilet paper from which is made from recycled paper waste. They home deliver and I can purchase it with or without paper wrapping. So far it’s the best possible choice. 

I’m also remembering that the first ‘R’ in the waste reduction cycle is ‘refuse’! By using washers for urine, rinsing them when we wash our hands and putting them in the wash we have massively reduced our consumption. I think that’s where all our decisions need to start. Can we do without something, or replace it with something that can be reused?

We would love to hear members’ thoughts on this. Have you discovered a product that claimed to be ‘green’ that really wasn’t? Do you have a suggestion that will help other members reduce their ecological footprint? Jump on our Facebook group and share your ideas with others, or if social media isn’t your jam, consider writing a short piece for the newsletter. Sharing our knowledge and experience makes us collectively smart.

Words by Meg McGowan
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay