Focus: Ethical Dilemmas

Zero Waste shopping isn’t something new. I have fond memories from my childhood (in the 1980’s) visiting Weigh and Save each week with my parents to fill bags with an assortment of kitchen staples such as flour, raisins and cereal. I loved filling up the bags, weighing them on the scales and printing the labels before taking them to the till. Weigh and Save was, to the best of my knowledge, a small chain in East Anglia (please let me know if they were further afield) and an early version of what we would now call a Zero Waste shop.

Sadly Weigh and Save closed down due to hygiene concerns because of people weighing food out themselves and the belief that pre-packaged food was more hygienic… I don’t think I need to go any further with that because fast forward to 2022, Zero Waste shops are becoming the norm on many high streets.

This post was prompted by a recent visit to my local zero waste shop (the fabulous Art of Zero Living in Greenwich Market if you fancy a visit) to which I am a request visitor.

When looking to refill a bottle of household cleaner (I can’t remember what it was now, possibly multi-surface cleaner), I was looking at the ingredients on the front of the container and discovered that it contained phenoxyethanol, an ingredient that (where possible) I try to avoid in beauty products. I found myself asking Just because it’s zero waste, why would I want this in my cleaning product? 

Now in this instance there was a phenoxyethanol-free alternative available, so I purchased that instead but it certainly got me thinking….

The Ethical Dilemma

There is no question that I love a Zero Waste shop. It’s great that I can take an empty container (or six) and refill it with everything from dishwasher rinse aid to rice and shea butter to spaghetti. I’m not putting more unnecessary plastics into the system (a big plus) but am I potentially compromising my principles when it comes to ingredients?

When it comes to making conscious decisions, more often than not there are compromises that need to be made. Quite often it is a compromise of ethics; weighing up which is more important to you as a consumer.

Which is more important to me?  zero waste or clean ingredients?

The same goes for food shopping…

For instance: The majority of the time I buy Yeo Valley organic spread however the only place I can buy it locally (within a 15 minute walk) to me is in a Tesco Metro. Many years ago I made a conscious decision that whenever possible, I would not to support Tesco* as for many years they have been considered one of the least ethical supermarkets (Ethical Consumer, 2021). This gives me a dilemma.

Do I buy the organic, ethical product from the non-ethical supermarket? or buy the non-ethical product from a more ethical supermarket?

My answer: Once a month I take a trip to Tesco and buy that one product.
I would prefer to shop elsewhere but I also am concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of the cows who’s milk has been used to make that spread. This to me is more important than the very occasional relatively small spend in Tesco.

Whilst for a proportion of the year we grow our own or buy British from our local farmers market (or supermarket), given the seasonal nature of these fruits, British produce is only available for a very short period of time. Out of season, raspberries in my local Co-op or veg shop frequently come from Morocco, Peru or Spain. I could, not buy any of them (the most ethical option) but I have a child who loves soft fruits and I want her to have a varied diet.

My answer: The closer to home the better! If I can’t buy British soft fruit then I choose the ones which have the lowest air miles and try to avoid any which are grown outside of Europe. The same goes for all the food I purchase from supermarkets.

For me it’s the best compromise.

The principle is the same in terms of the makeup, skin and body care products I use – both personally and in my kit.

When it comes to beauty products I have a list of ingredients which I will avoid like the plague. There is then a secondary list which contains ingredients that I would prefer to avoid if possible but it isn’t the end of the world if I can’t get a product without that in. It’s all a compromise.

Do you choose vegan friendly red lipstick over an organic red lipstick containing beeswax?

My answer: Personally I would choose the organic one but it’s not without much deliberation. A few years ago I wrote this article on the ethical dilemma surround the use of Carmine in makeup – Focus: Carmine in Makeup. Obviously if you were vegan, then this is probably more important to you than whether the contents of your lipstick are organic. Or maybe not…?

If it were only a choice between a big name lipstick which is produced by a brand known for their poor attitude towards animal testing or a big name lipstick which is certified cruelty free then I would choose the latter without hesitation. Sadly there are still some brands which I won’t even consider looking at in a store for this reason.

Making ethical decisions is also about making ethical compromises. Everyone will differ in the values they feel are important. Be it organic v non-organic, refillable v clean ingredients or vegan v sustainable, there are no right or wrong answers it’s just a case of weighing up the options.

Obviously the more boxes you can tick the better but ultimately the only thing that really matters, is what matters most to you.



* I also avoid (where possible) Sainsbury’s and Asda for the same reason.

N.B: I am lucky that I live in an area where I have access to a number of different supermarkets, small independent stores and farmers markets, however I appreciate that many people don’t have the variety of shops at their disposal or the financial resources available to make these finite choices. It’s a case of doing the best you can and making the decisions based on the resources available to you.


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