Hayley Matthews: Market forces can make the world a better place

Since the start of the year I've been working with the BBC on giving up bad things so I'll be a more ethical person by the end of the year. This month it's plastic.

You can 'upcycle' old bed linen by making dresses for women in the developing world (Picture: Getty)
You can 'upcycle' old bed linen by making dresses for women in the developing world (Picture: Getty)

Not just single-use plastic items like straws, but items like freezer food that comes wrapped in plastic-coated cardboard, plastic in clothes and accessories, all plastic. And it really is in everything!

It seems recently our awareness has increased massively about the damage we’ve done to the environment, with Facebook posts littered with pictures of plastic straws filling the ocean. We’re taking notice now, and this is why I want to challenge myself to be a greener, more ethical human, with the smallest carbon footprint possible.

But it’s been tough and I’m only a few days in. Take a look around, you’d be amazed at how much damage we’re doing. A pleasant discovery, however, is that companies who are conscious of plastic, often have an awareness on animal testing, carbon footprint, upcycling and all things ethical.

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It’s really encouraging to see businesses lead the way on carbon-neutral, organic and ethical consumerism. However, it often seems to be small independents, not the big chains with the cash, who seem to have a conscience. I’ve been researching ‘precycling’, ‘upcycling’ and recycling, and actively seeking out places that are aware of the benefits. Just last month I found out about the charity “Little Dresses for Africa” when opening up a pack (later reycyled) of bed linen from the Secret Linen Store, which works with the charity.

They actively encourage people with an instruction leaflet to make a dress from an old pillowcase to then send to Africa. The idea is you make a dress for a girl in Africa out of old bed linen, instead of ripping it up for dusters or binning it. Send it to Little Dresses for Africa and by helping to ‘upcycle’ old pillowcases, you’re giving a dress to little girl who might not have the opportunity to acquire one. I’m not the best at sewing but the needle and thread is in hand.

It’s not just about avoiding the plastic waste and upcycling though, there are lots of local climate-neutral businesses that I’m reading about in my attempt to give up all things nasty – while still wanting to shop.

Climate-neutral ventures like online project We Are 1 of 100, which celebrates the UK’s established alternative musicians, illustrators, DJs and artists. It is a Glasgow studio which produces T-shirts that are 100% organic cotton, UK made, Fair Wear Foundation accredited and climate neutral. So there definitely seems to be much more ethical concern and awareness from young entrepreneurs nowadays. I found out during my research that We are 1 of 100 use a supplier that was the first company in the world to calculate the carbon footprint of each garment and print it on the label. They’ve since reduced this footprint by 90 per cent, without using carbon off-setting. Supporting companies who use less carbon, less packaging, less plastic and less chemicals etc is a positive step in the right direction. Hopefully in the future it will mean cleaner oceans, greener landscapes, fresher air and a better life for our children. I challenge you to look at your shopping habits and make just one change to support a more ethical life. It might not be easy at first but it’s all supply and demand, the more of us who try, the easier it will become. So reuse your old pillowcases, avoid the plastic straws and shop carbon neutral if you want your green wings.