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A practical guide to start shopping more ethically and sustainably

  • by Jacqueline Smith
  • 8 min read

Ethical and sustainable shopping reusable glass jars

Here at nookary we appreciate that changing your habits can sometimes feel daunting, and sustainable shopping might seem like a whole different world. You might feel like it’s a bit of a minefield - who do you buy from, what do you buy? It doesn’t need to be a sudden and drastic life change, like with most things in life make smaller, more manageable choices and learn as you go.

To help you on your way, we wanted to share with you a list of 8 criteria which we consider when choosing brands and products to work with. We don’t always have all of our criteria met, but we believe that by considering them all it’s a step in the right direction to help us buy more sustainably and to make more conscious choices. And remember, even if you start with the basics and switch your plastic scrubbing brush for a more sustainable one, it’s a great first step.

We hope this list helps you on your road to a more sustainable lifestyle.


1. Check the materials and ingredients

The first one is a biggy, so bear with us. But have a think about what the product is made from and if the materials or ingredients are sustainable. As a starting point, so it's not too overwhelming, you could start with 3 areas: plastic, packaging and palm oil.

Is the product plastic free?

It isn’t always easy to find products which contain no plastic whatsoever, but a great starting point is to avoid any single-use plastic products. Broadly speaking this means any plastic items which are designed to be used once before they are thrown away or recycled. An example of this would be plastic cutlery or plastic bottles, which are only used once before they end up in landfill. Once you’ve made good headway with your single-use plastic, over time you can start making other plastic free swaps.

What packaging does the product come in?

Look for products with little to no packaging, and where it does have packaging, check if it is reusable or recyclable. For cardboard and paper packaging, is the paper or cardboard FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified? The FSC are focused on ensuring sustainable forest management all over the world, and products which are certified will have a label on them. Each label provides information about the origin of the materials used in the finished product and by choosing products with FSC labels, you are helping to take care of the world’s forests.

Does the product contain any palm oil?

Due to it being so versatile, palm oil is found in a colossal amount of products -  from food to household items such as toothpaste and deodorant - and in some countries it is used as a cooking oil. The problem with palm oil is that it is a major contributor to deforestation, which not only destroys the habitats of already endangered species such as the Orangutan, but is also a major contributor to climate change. WWF have a good article where you can learn more about it here. If you are finding it difficult to avoid palm oil all together, check that the palm oil is RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified. The RSPO’s objective is to minimise the impact of palm oil cultivation on the environment, throughout the entire supply chain. Any products which contain sustainable palm oil will have an RSPO trademark on them. 

What to remember: reduce plastic, particularly single use plastic, go for products with less packaging, look out for FSC certified paper, avoid palm oil and make sure any palm oil is RSPO certified.


Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo    RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil logo      UK plastic recycling symbols 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

2. Is the product made from recycled materials or part of a circular economy?

It’s not only important to think about the material the product is made from, but also if the material has been previously recycled, or is part of a circular economy.

It is a lot better for our planet to use recycled materials than use 'virgin materials'. To help put this into context, recycling just 1 tonne of aluminium saves up to 9 tonnes of CO2 emissions, and every tonne of glass recycled saves 246 kg of CO2 emissions. So opt for companies and products that source recycled materials where you can.

Products which are made from upcycled materials or waste products of other industries are great, because they are giving ingredients which would previously be discarded or thrown away a lease of life. A great example of this is UpCircle’s products. They use by-products of other industries, such as coffee grounds sourced from artisan coffee shops which are then used to make wonderful skin care products. Who Gives A Crap make toilet paper from post-consumer waste (things like text books and office paper). It’s also a growing trend in the fashion industry too; for example, Timberland has a footwear range called Earthkeepers, where the footwear is crafted from at least 50% recycled materials.

What to remember: opt for products that are made from recycled materials as much as possible

3. Is the product reusable?

It goes without saying, the longer a product lasts, the less often we have to replace it. But have you thought about the positive impact this will have not only on your bank balance, but on the manufacturing and recycling industries as well?

Durable products can initially be more expensive, however they are prone to fewer breakages and will need replacing far less frequently. This is great for you as well as the environment, as it has longer to recover the materials used to make it. This is also the advantage of a reusable product such as a reusable shopping bag and refillable bottles.

What to remember: go for products that you can use again and again, and again and again. 

4. What will happen to the product when you are done with it?

What will happen to the product once you are finished with it? Can it be upcycled, recycled, composted, or will it end up in landfill for hundreds of years? Aluminium is a great material to look out for as it is recyclable an infinite amount of times, vs plastic which can often only be recycled a few times. One area to be careful of is the growing trend in the label 'biodegradable'; we’re seeing more and more products labelled as biodegradable (as technically most things will break down eventually) but it may take thousands of years, need special conditions or break down into harmful micro-plastics. As a rule of thumb, the more natural the materials and ingredients, the easier, quicker and safer it is to break down.   

What to remember: opt for products that can be upcycled, recycled or breakdown easily and safely - the more you go through a product the more important this one is.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

5. Is the product cruelty free?

More and more companies are joining the fight against products which aren’t cruelty free and many large high street brands are bringing out ranges of vegan products. If the product you are purchasing is vegan society certified then it will be cruelty free and won’t have been tested on animals so keep an eye out for the Vegan Society logo. But another thing to check is if the brand test any of their other products on animals, even if it's not specifically the one you are looking at. Looking at their website is a great place to start.

Some companies will unfortunately make claims such as "this product is not tested on animals" but that doesn't necessarily tell you that the ingredients haven’t been. Equally they could claim "this company does not test on animals", but that could also mean they contract their testing out to other companies.  PETA is a good resource and handy place to start. They have compiled an international list of companies which you can be certain don’t test on animals and they also have a list broken down by product type and another by country. There's a huge amount of information on their website to support you in making cruelty free choices which you can read here when you have the time.

If you are looking for items which have no animal by-products in them and are vegan friendly then you can look out for the Vegan Society logo. Items such as beeswax wraps aren’t vegan friendly as the wax is classed as an animal by-product, however you can get a wonderful vegan alternatives.  You can also have a look at a product's ingredients list before making a purchase to make sure it contains no animal by-products. PETA have again made this easy by putting together a comprehensive list of animal-derived ingredients for you to look out for if this is a priority for you. 

What to remember: look out for the cruelty free and vegan society logos and check out PETA


Vegan Society logo  peta logo

6. Is the product part of an ethical supply chain?

How focused is the brand on making sure the supply chain of their products provides fair wages, sufficient health and safety and supports workers rights in the workplace? This is another huge topic, and with such a global economy being across the full supply chain is tough even for the most conscious brands, however there are simple things you can do as a consumer to make a start.

Look to see if the company shares their supply chain policies on their website. Look to see how closely the brand works with their suppliers and manufacturers, or is the product manufactured locally?

A common red flag is if the prices are too good to be true.  As an end consumer we need to be paying a fair amount for the materials and work that went into making the product. If the numbers don’t add up, it’s a sign there has been cost-cutting somewhere.

What to remember: this is a huge topic but if you’re starting out, familiarise yourself with your favourite brand’s people and supply chain policies, and look for brands that have transparency in their policies. Be wary of brands that have 'too good to be true' prices.


Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

7. Is it a carbon measured or carbon neutral product or brand?

Is the brand measuring, actively reducing or offsetting their carbon footprint? Although brands can sometimes have limited options when it comes to this, and it's not an overnight fix, are they measuring their carbon impact or are they doing anything like planting a tree to offset their carbon emissions?

Consider if they are choosing shipping rather than airfreight as sea freight is generally more environmentally friendly than air freight.  The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK (DEFRA) conducted a study on the greenhouse gases emitted by both air and sea freight and discovered: “In regard to two tonnes of freight transported 5000km, the sea freight emitted 150kg of CO2e and the airfreight emitted 6605kg of CO2e. Evidently, there’s a significant difference between the two.” Perhaps the products sourced locally, so don’t need freighting at all?

What to remember: a brand measuring, actively managing or offsetting their carbon footprint is a good sign :)

8. What does the brand stand for, is it a purpose led brand?

Last but not least, have a look at the brand itself - what does it stand for, does it give back, do they donate any of their profits to good causes or use their voice for good?  What a brand and company stand for is becoming more and more important to customers, and a growing number of brands are defining a purpose and mission that gives back to society or the planet. Look out for brands that align to your priorities as a consumer.

Our aim at nookary is to take the leg work out of finding products which will help you to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.  When buying from us you can trust that we’ve done our research and are as transparent as we can be about our products, so you can make the right choice for you. `When you are looking to shop ethically and sustainably elsewhere, we also hope that this list is a good starting point to help you make more considered and conscious choices.

We hope it helps you on your road to a more sustainable lifestyle. And remember- even if you start with the basics and switch your plastic scrubbing brush for a more sustainable one, it’s a great first step.


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