ECOMALOPOLSKA – responsible consumption


Every item we purchase, be it a toy, an appliance, a piece of clothing or a book, no matter how expensive it was or how good the quality, eventually becomes waste, because the moment it is no longer needed or is no longer usable, we throw it away.

Every year in the UK alone, 8.5 million brand new toys that are in perfect condition are thrown away, simply because children have lost interest in them. In the EU countries and the USA, a total of 20 million tonnes of clothes are sent to landfill or incinerators every year, despite the fact that 95% of discarded textiles are recyclable. In the USA, more than 151 million phones are thrown away every year.

Every purchase we make contributes to the amount of waste we generate. In order to realise the impact we have on the amount of rubbish we produce, let’s consider in what form do we most often buy items, how are they packaged?

A plastic juice bottle, a jam jar, a tomato can, a yoghurt container, a plastic bag of vegetables, a shopping bag…. What these items have in common is that they have served as packaging for the products we have bought, but once the purchased item is used up, they become just waste.

Was all the packaging we can find in shops, which later ends up in the waste bins, really necessary? Could products have been bought without packaging?

This is the first question we should ask ourselves when shopping. A lot of packaging is essential, but there is also some that we as consumers can do without.

What can we do?

  • When buying fruit and vegetables, choose those sold loose, without packaging;
  • The disposable plastic nets found at fruit and vegetable stands, and sometimes at bread stands, are the least environmentally friendly. They are very perishable, often not reusable after just one shopping trip and have to be thrown away. Avoid this type of packaging and replace it with cotton bags, which you can make yourself, e.g. from a curtain, or buy in a shop. These bags will last for years, are easy to wash and take up very little space, so you can always carry them with you.
  • When shopping, pack your produce in a rucksack or your own cotton bag. The plastic bags or polypropylene bags available in shops are not the best solution if we buy them every time. They are durable enough to be used repeatedly. Therefore, if you have already acquired such a bag, do not buy a new one the next time you go shopping, but use the old one. Remember, too, that once a bag is worn out, it needs to be disposed of in the plastic bin.
  • Both plastic and paper bags are best replaced by cotton bags. Such a bag takes up very little space and, together with the vegetable bag, can even fit into a small rucksack. With it always at hand, there will be no need to buy plastic bags in the shop. Cotton bags are lightweight, roomy and can be repaired when holes or abrasions develop over time.

We can easily reduce waste right from the shopping stage, just by looking at the way products are packaged or by carrying our own shopping bags. But what about packaging, which is impossible to eliminate?

Drink bottles, jars, plastic containers such as yoghurt containers. Often, packaging that we are unable to give up can be used for a long time if we give it a second life and use it for another purpose at home.


  • a jar can be used e.g. for your own preserves you make at home: juice, jam or salad;
  • a yoghurt container – such a container is perfect for freezing fruit or spices such as parsley, dill or chives. By freezing these types of products, we can use them throughout the winter.
  • Tomato/corn tins – these cans can be used, for example, as pen holders or kitchen utensils. You can paint or spray the tin any colour you like or decorate it in other ways;
  • a plastic cream box – this box can be used for storing small items: jewellery, nails, screws and so on.

Packaging waste accounts for around a third of municipal waste, so by simply reducing the amount of packaging we buy and use, we can easily reduce the amount of waste produced in our homes.

There is important information on the packaging regarding the materials used.

The type of material can be expressed either as a symbol or a numerical code, and can be represented by a triangle with arrows with the code or symbol written on it, or both at the same time. This information will help us to segregate waste correctly. In addition to the product composition, we can also find various symbols on the packaging. These will help us to choose products that are more environmentally friendly. In the infographic below, you will find symbols that will help us identify eco-friendly, more sustainably produced, responsible products in the shops.



Finally, let’s list the activities that we can include in the code of good shopping:

  • Buy less – give up things you don’t really need;
  • Go shopping with a shopping list and stick to it;
  • Always bring your own reusable bag when shopping. Don’t take disposable bags from the shops;
  • Avoid over- and unnecessarily packaged products;
  • Choose returnable, biodegradable packaging, or at least packaging that can be used as a secondary resource;
  • Buy drinks in returnable bottles – avoid single-use bottles, cans or cartons;
  • Choose durable, reusable and good quality products and avoid disposable products (e.g. pens, cups, trays, cutlery) and poor quality products that may break down in a moment;
  • Instead of buying, consider whether you could borrow an item from someone or buy one together (e.g. a book, a tent, a lawnmower). Or maybe we can buy the item from someone else or buy it in a second-hand shop?
  • Refrain from buying from places that use disposable crockery;
  • Choose reusable, recyclable products;
  • Choose products that do not leave hazardous waste;
  • Pay attention to where and how they are produced (buy locally, remember that transport puts a strain on the environment);
  • Shop consciously and do not indulge in mindless promotions;
  • Always check the composition of the product, its expiry date and guarantee terms;
  • Choose products with organic certification.

Every purchase is worth thinking about! Look at smartphones.


Let’s ask ourselves, how often do we change phones? When we replace a phone, do we do so because our old phone is no longer usable, or do we want newer, better equipment? What do we do with our old phones?

In 2016, 1 billion 350 million smartphones were manufactured worldwide, and around 100 million smartphones lie unused in cupboards in the European Union alone.

More than 50 different metals and minerals are used in the manufacture of a smartphone, and only 10% of the raw materials contained in phones are recovered through recycling. In the most advanced countries, such as the Netherlands, for example, around 30% of the raw materials are recovered.

Among the 50 metals and minerals without which our phones will not be made are, among others, gold, cobalt, tin, nickel. The extraction of these raw materials is not only harmful to the environment, but also, in most cases, has a negative impact on the lives of local communities.

Raw materials are often extracted in countries of the Global South: the Philippines, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras. It has come to pass that the governments of these countries, for the sake of quick profits, hand over mining areas to international companies, without caring that the local people have been living there for generations by growing crops or catching fish.

Residents are most often powerless in the face of the influence wielded by multinational mining companies that violate human rights with impunity. Many people defending local communities against the harmful impact of mining investments are even deprived of their lives.

Why are mining investments harmful to local residents?

  • mines destroy the environment. For example: in El Salvador, a gold mine uses as much water in one hour as an average family uses in 20 years;
  • they damage agriculture;
  • they deprive the local population of the land they used to cultivate. They thus deprive people of the work from which they have hitherto lived;
  • mines cause water pollution, thus depriving local communities of access to clean drinking water;
  • most of the profits that the mines generate go to multinational companies, only a negligible part stays in the countries where the raw materials are extracted, but it is still not the local people who earn, but the governments of the countries.
  • Local communities only lose out on these investments and their health and lives are put at risk as each mine generates harmful pollutants that poison the soil and water. Multinational companies do not care about securing mining areas or disposing of waste, resulting in illness and even death for local people.

The demand for raw materials is growing because people are buying more and more. This applies not only to mobile phones, but also to computers, laptops and cars. Every electronic device requires metals and minerals in the production process. In the countries of Europe, the USA, Canada or Australia, people consume up to nine times more resources than people in the Global South, and it is there that most raw materials are extracted, it is there that the people raise the negative consequences of our over-consumption.

Before replacing another phone with a newer one, let’s consider whether it’s really not enough to fix it, or whether we need a new one at all?


Try to perform!

As a homework assignment, students are encouraged to prepare a list with their household members of places in the local area where repairs can be carried out:

  • shoes
  • watch
  • computer, laptop, mobile phone or other electronic equipment
  • damaged or needing alteration clothing
  • household equipment such as kitchen appliances, coffee machine, hoover.


The project was carried out with the financial support of the Malopolska Region.