I’m starting to feel my age. Hipster businesses are emerging with ‘innovative’ solutions to steer us towards more environmentally friendly everyday products. But, like a 90s boy-band revival, it would seem that there’s nothing new here!
Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t doubt that it’s the vigour of today’s vicennials that can lynchpin our ecological hopes with action. Indeed, their revival energy is not just for bringing back ‘mom’ jeans and Craig David – all fashions come back around. These eco products are The New Black – even if the Gen Z kids on this block think they’re the ones who brought them to the fore…
1. The Reusable Revolution
Musical kitchenware is the backtrack of my life – the clink between my steel water bottle and reusable coffee cup harks back to the rattle of my yoghurt spoon within my lunchbox. (P.S. How on earth did we ever live without frubes?!)
But, forgive me, weren’t we using reusable bottles and coffee cups long before now? Who remembers their translucent sports bottle? With the rubber drinking tube that inevitably broke off with too many chews by bored teeth on coaches to matches? I’m sure mine isn’t the only one that lasted as long as the football socks my Mum said I’d grow into.
And what about hot drinks? Glass cups with cork sleeves, personalised, interchangeable KeepCups …my ageing eyebrow is raising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a thermos in disguise? Granted, we’ve come a fair way in the materials used and the carbon footprint required to make them – but judging by old photos of my permed-parents clutching the very same giant Thermos that still comes out every winter (you know, the ones with the suitcase-like side handle and little cup in the lid? The ones you now see adorning trendy gift shop windows alongside sourdough starter kits and Kilner jars) – I’d say the opportunity to skip paper takeaway cups has been around for a rather long time!
2. Meat as a Treat
Vegetarian and vegan practices have increased hugely in recent years, reportedly by 500% in the U.S. – with reducing meat intake often being lauded as one of the most influential contributions an individual can make towards reducing their carbon footprint. Movements like Meat-free Mondays and Veganuary have transformed reducing meat consumption into a trend – and some of the country’s most prominent chain eateries have responded to this demand with staggering fervour (recall the rush on Greggs for their vegan sausage roll in 2019?).
But, ask any retiree today, and they’ll confirm that the mid-century approach to meat consumption was inadvertently more progressive than intended. At the time, largely vegetarian weekdays would be followed up with a small meat joint for a Sunday roast. This was, of course, an unwelcome hangover from wartime rationing, but this meat-as-a-treat mentality is coming back around. In response to historical perceptions of over-zealously ‘pure’ vegans, more and more millennials are describing themselves as flexitarians – prescribing a vegetarian lifestyle most of the time, with the odd bacon sandwich thrown in to accompany the other type of hangover every now and then.
3. Clean, green (and less-mean) beauty
Now, this is the one that gets me most of all. The green and clean beauty market will reportedly be worth $22 billion by 2024 – a far cry from the Body Shop being our lone tweenage hotspot for sustainably glittery, baby-blue eyeshadow (I’m keen to give Britney a break given the year she’s had, so I’ll blame the girls from S Club 7 for this one). Nowadays, you’d struggle to find a beauty brand that doesn’t claim to be sustainable in some form, causing industry heavyweights to club together to develop an impact assessment and scoring system for the entire lifecycle of beauty products to help prevent greenwashing. But it was whilst I smugly popped my ‘reusable cotton rounds’ in with a whites wash that a friend from that very pastel-eye-lidded clan chuckled that my self-righteousness was unfounded. “All you’re doing is washing horrendously overpriced flannels.” Oh. Of course. (And don’t get me started on me being similarly brought down to earth when my husband mistook my ‘organic bamboo face cloth’ as one to clean the bathroom with…)
Yet, there are many more innovative attempts at a greener beauty industry. A recent flurry of activity in product development has led to a plethora of waste-free sanitary products, the increasing prominence of refillable packaging, and the use of bio and post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics. But it was the release of Garnier’s solid shampoo, which made me shake my head at myself for, again, ignoring an O.G. of minimalistic bathing – the lowly bar of soap. Childhood memories of pastel peach Imperial Leather sliding off the sink ledge came back to me, but fortunately – for both the whale population and my parched skin – soap has come a long way. Tropic, Perkier Naturally (below) and Lush have all put a millennial spin on this ecologically minded cleansing classic.
4. The butchers, the bakers, and the plastic-free makers
Before the supermarkets created the weekly ‘big-shop’, the independent patrons of the high street practised an unknowingly green breed of business. Paper bags at the grocers, local meat at the butchers and glass milk bottles on your doorstep all meant for a less carbon and plastic-rich shopping basket. Yet as we know, the state of the modern British high street is not a healthy one. Mary Portas’s 2011 review painted a bleak picture of decline, to which the COVID-19 pandemic has added deeper colour. Yet, in small pockets around the country, Gen Zs are trying to brighten the colour palette by encouraging more traditional shopping habits.
Increasing numbers of zero-waste shops are popping up in (more youthful) high streets all over the country – where traditional practices of weighing out and only buying what you need, and using reusable packaging to take it home, are being revived (no wonder sales of wicker baskets of the bouji variety are on the up). There’s also an increasing number of online offerings in the space, such as Ethical Superstore who also focus on supporting smaller businesses and social enterprises with low-waste aspirations. And thanks to The Modern Milkman, your doorstep can be re-employed to its former milk-bearing glory. Order through the app by 8 pm, and in the morning, you’ll take delivery of everyday provisions (including dairy-free alternatives) from local suppliers – a perfect example of new tech enabling old behaviours to transcend into thoroughly modern ones (though I’d love to see my late Pop’s face if you told him you could ‘milk’ an almond).
5. Make do and mend
As the second child to a curtain-maker, it’s safe to say that a fair number of my clothes growing up were refashioned from my sister’s and her friends’ wardrobes. (Although some of the questionable outfits I’ve seen pictures of also make me wonder if curtains were involved too.) But with the cheap (and ethically dubious) textile manufacturing boom, alongside improving female education and employment prospects, far fewer ‘homemakers’ have existed with the skills to prolong the life of garments. But with the spread of COVID-19, thumbs all over the world were twiddling, and Gen Z took to sewing, knitting and crocheting their way through lockdowns.
Extending the life of a garment by just nine months can reduce its environmental impact by a staggering 20-30%, and with the market for second-hand fashion growing seemingly exponentially – it seems that this traditional thrifty mentality could be the death of fast fashion altogether. Fun Fact – the resale market is reportedly growing at a rate 11 times faster than conventional retail, with a projected worth of $84 billion by 2030, with fast fashion predicted to be worth about $40 billion. I can also see how a more modern-minded approach to gender roles could lead to longer garment lives, as hand-me-down chains strengthen across siblings of all genders (something my mother-in-law was well ahead of the curve with, judging by the countless photos of my toddler husband looking darling in his big sister’s rose, salmon and blush hand-knitted jumpers).
It’s easy as a not-so-new kid on the block to let scepticism and fears of ageing fuel my eyes to roll at those who can still manage a morning run after a bottle of wine the night before. But, even if some of the ‘innovations’ they’re bringing forth are recycled, ultimately, isn’t that just the practice we want to encourage anyway? Take the old, and use a fresh approach to make it work not just in the future, but so that there is a future at all? So count me in. I’m all for harking back to a simpler time, so long as my Mum’s curtains stay firmly on the windows.
- Check out this directory for the most sustainable beauty brands for simple swaps that can save you money too!
- Find your local Zero Waste Shop and stock up! Greener and more convenient!
- Read this piece all about all generations uniting to fight climate change together – maybe your grandparents have some tips you could share with us @curious.earth.hq
- Read our guide to charity shop shopping