Over time, Western society has adopted practices and consumed products that are affordable and that make life convenient while neglecting to consider the human and environmental costs. As a citizen in North America, I have done these things unthinkingly in many cases and knowingly in others, but still I have committed these sins and continue to commit them. I should change my practices and the products I purchase and so should you; however, such change isn’t easy and not every practice or product can easily be identified as having negative effects on people and the environment.
Well-meaning social media users pressure friends to ban products and adopt practices while using smart phones and computers that are also part of the problem. The world is more complicated than privilege understands. Shamers are often white, able-bodied, well-off people without the capacity for empathy.
If you’re a meat eater, or drive a vehicle, or like to travel by plane or take Ubers or use a Fitbit, or whatever habit you have developed over the years, perhaps you feel guilty when these reminders come up because you aren’t doing the ethical thing, you’re doing the practical and convenient thing. While some changes are relatively easy to adopt, others are not that simple or that obvious. The following is a catalogue of my current sins as a 21st century consumer living in North America. Perhaps you can relate.
The SONOS alarm goes off at five a.m. SONOS plays our music and we use it for our daily alarm. I used to use a clock radio and it lasted until the early aughts but once it died, clock radios were no longer common in stores. Either my husband or I yell at Alexa to stop the music.
Yes, we have the virtual assistant developed by Amazon. My husband works as a head tech geek at a local company and we always try out various products. Do we need this? Not really. It’s come in handy for small things. I do think about the fact that eavesdropping may be happening, but if you carry a Smart phone or have a wearable device or use social media, this is already happening and has been for some time. This doesn’t make it better but it means that one product isn’t the issue; it’s part of a larger societal trend. Privacy is something we sacrifice for convenience. There’s no way to avoid this sacrifice unless you give up all your tech gadgets and stop using credit cards. Privacy breaches resulting in identity theft are happening all the time.
Sonos’ smart speakers are also at issue when it comes to privacy. When we decided to purchase the music system, we didn’t think about the possibility of the speakers listening in on our conversations, it simply didn’t occur to us.
I brush my teeth. I use Sensodyne because I have sensitivity issues when I get my teeth cleaned and the hygienist recommended this toothpaste years ago. On this list put out by the Ethical Consumer, Sensodyne gets a 5.5 out of 20 in relation to six factors: people, environment, animals, politics, product sustainability and company ethos. The best is a paste called Green People Toothpaste which receives 15.5 out of 20. I use Oral B mouthwash and already note that Oral B isn’t high on the ethical consumer’s scale either. My toothbrush is electric, a Philips Sonicare. Perhaps it, too is listening to my morning bathroom activities, I also use a WaterPik and Butlerweave tooth floss. I suspect that the toothbrush and Waterpik were purchased on Amazon.
When I first arrived in Ottawa in 1986, the downtown area had a Sears department store, a Hudson’s Bay Company and a Zellers within easy walking distance, but now only the Hudson’s Bay Company remains. HBC is poorly stocked and expensive. the Hudson’s Bay Company was one of Canada’s first trading companies with its colonialist practices.
The local mall has become a high-priced museum with clothes that are not only unaffordable but also that don’t fit me or my husband, both of us labelled plus-sized.
I help get my husband ready for work as he showers. I wash out his plastic coffee mugs, he takes two to work. One is a Tim Horton’s mug, a gift from a fellow bus rider while another we bought from Mountain Equipment Co-Op. He goes to Tim’s daily for a breakfast sandwich and coffee fill up before heading out to the East end by OC Transpo bus. OC Transpo has been having issues with maintenance of the buses, scheduling and employment practices increasingly. It often takes my husband over an hour to get to work and to return. We both chose not to drive and not to own a vehicle. Neither of us travels by plane. Sometimes we take the train.
Some franchises of Tim Hortons fought the fifteen dollar minimum wage increase for employees and eventually with Ontario’s Ford government, that wage increase was frozen at fourteen dollars.
He makes his lunch, placing his sandwiches in a plastic Ziplock bag and placing that bag in a bag made of recycled car and truck seat belts that is pretty cool and has lasted for a long time.
My husband takes his Extra Strength Tylenol dose and puts the rest of his pill intake for the day in a small Ziplock bag. He takes three grams of Tylenol a day and a medication called Pregabalin for neuropathic pain from Shingles, which he got last December. We purchased the medication from our local Shopper’s Drug Mart and it was prescribed by our doctor at a clinic in Ottawa South. We have no extended health or drug plan that covers the expense. We’ve tried using pill bottles and other items to store the meds to take to work, but the disposable bags ensure that he carries the meds in his pocket and always has them on hand. We also have plenty of these bags at home. One less thing to worry about.
We meant to have the Shingrix vaccine but hadn’t gotten around to it. I finally had mine in January. We always get our flu shots. I once posted about the necessity of getting flu shots and one of my friends on FB talked about Big Pharma and said that the shots weren’t necessary. I take mine so that I don’t die from the flu.
Tylenol is a Johnson and Johnson product, a company that has had several recalls over questionable business practices.
After work, my husband will spend the evening with a girlfriend. We are polyamorous and in an open marriage and have been for many years now.
After he leaves, I return to bed, remove my nightgown, which I purchased about a decade ago from Walmart. I was having trouble finding nightgowns in my size anywhere else and I needed a light-coloured sleeping outfit because dark clothes at night make me feel heavy. I have synaesthesia.
I use my Android smart phone to access Whisper, an app where people share things anonymously. Smart phones are full of components made around the world. There are numerous issues with these components from the point of view of the environment and employment practices.
IPhones are no different as far as environmental issues and poor working conditions go.
I use my Womanizer clit vibrator. I hate the name Womanizer. The product came from Germany and is available through a local company, the makers of the We-Vibe. I had issues with the first and second vibes and was mailed replacements each time. The parts are made from hard, durable plastic.
I speak and share pics with men on Whisper for about an hour or so and have an orgasm. I rarely meet these days. I speak to a lot of men from all over the world. Some of them are in Ottawa and most of them are in so-called monogamous relationships. There are groups for those who enjoy cheating on their spouses. Most of the men I speak with locally are from the suburbs: Orleans, Barrhaven, Gatineau. Whisper offers me an opportunity to explore my perverted imagination and talk about taboo acts that I have no intention of engaging in.
I show off my body. I embrace the fat label it has been given by society. I’m one hundred and eighty pounds and five feet one inches tall. I wear anything from a size sixteen to a double X L, all clothes are in the plus-size category. The only local stores that sell clothes that fit me are Walmart, Old Navy and Forever 21. I don’t have the money to get clothes tailored. I have XL breasts,(38 C/43,5 inches; XLL hips (43 inches) and hips (48 inches).
After orgasming, I fall back to sleep for another few hours. I take a shower and use one of two Aveeno shampoos I have on hand. It’s a Canadian company and its site says it doesn’t test on animals. I bought these shampoos at Massine’s Independent Grocery, my local grocery store. I didn’t specifically buy the product for ethical reasons, but because I wanted an effective product for my fine, silvering hair.
In the shower I listen to music on the SONOS system. I play the soundtrack from the film, God Help The Girl. I can’t recall which system we watched the movie on, likely some streaming service we pay for, such as Netflix or Crave, or possibly Amazon Prime. Amazon is linked to the Ogre in the House of White and has a bad reputation when it comes to the working conditions of its employees and is rumoured to have sold its facial recognition software to ICE. Friends on social media thought everyone should ban Amazon during its Prime Days, but we didn’t do that.
I have a huge music collection, much of it has come from ITunes, which is owned by Apple. Its issues with working conditions, ethical practices and privacy abound. I always buy my music, but I also use Spotify and Youtube.com on occasion too. These companies pay musicians very little in the way of royalties.
I put on my Jockey French Cut size 10 white underwear, purchased from HBC. I settled on this underwear many years ago as the only close to comfortable underwear I could wear. I used to buy it from Sears but since Sears’ demise, I have had to purchase it from HBC.
I put on my pink indoor knocking around shorts, I purchased from the Zellers, which used to be on Sparks Street, back in the 90s and my Hanes’ men’s XL grey cotton t-shirt, one of a package of four I purchased from Walmart about a decade ago. Most of my clothes, especially those I wear indoors are ancient. But there’s no doubt that shopping at Walmart is a sin. Their labour practices are abhorrent. And it is likely that those shorts I picked up from Zellers in the 90s were made via child labour in a South Asian country.
I put on my Ecco sandals. A few years back I developed Plantar Fasciitis and had to start wearing shoes indoors. Ecco is a Danish company. My sandals are about a decade old, so I don’t remember where I purchased them, but they are suede, leather which is an animal product with a serious environmental impact.
I make toast in a toaster we doubtless bought from Amazon. The bread is white and mass produced. I put Cheez Whiz, an edible oil product on the toast. I drink Ceylon Burning Sun, a Sri Lankan tea from Tearunners.com. Tearunners is an American company run by a husband and wife team who buy loose-leaf tea from farms all over the world. I don’t know anything about the practices of the farms where they obtain the tea. I subscribed to their monthly black tea box and have had the pleasure of drinking tea from Nepal, China, Japan and Sri Lanka so far. They mail the boxes via Canada Post. I throw the box in the recycling bin.
Today I’ve eaten the crusts but I often don’t. Our building has a compost bin along with its plastic and paper recycling bins stored outside by the back door of the apartment building. Every other day I take the recycling down to the bins via the elevator. If I get lax and wait longer, our tiny kitchen is overflowing with boxes and bottles. We buy a lot of processed food that is packaged quite heavily. We are on the 19th floor. I fear having a load of garbage spread all over the apartment. We don’t compost. There’s a garbage chute at the far end of the hallway where we throw out all garbage except paper and plastic.
I wash the dishes from the previous night’s dinner. Our property management does not allow us to have a dish washer, but dish washers are apparently better for the environment.
I’m here now, typing on my computer, a PC with a Microsoft operating system. Computers last for only a few years before the technology gets old. Some people take their old computers to refurbishing and recycling companies. They get in their cars and they transport their computers. My husband is a tech expert, so he uses them in various ways for storage when he can, but we have a lot of old computer parts in our storage room in our apartment and when the machines have been scavenged for parts, they go to the junk area near the recyclables at the back of the building and are picked up by anyone who wants them. The dumpsters at the end of the month are overflowing with recyclables and the back area contains old couches and bags of junk that people moving out leave behind. Guys on bikes stop by to rifle through for empties they can trade for money at the Beer Store nearby.
I may go outside for a walk, but it’s 32 degrees out and there’s a thunderstorm warning. If I do, I will take the recycling with me. I will stop at a Bridgehead, which is a local coffee franchise specializing in fair trade coffee for an ice coffee. Even though I ask for the coffee for here, they often give it to me in a plastic cup. I will read from poetry book that I purchased via ABEBOOKS.com, a company that is now owned by Amazon as is BookDepository.com, a British book seller that has free shipping.
When I return home, I will do some painting. Of late I’ve been playing with watercolour paint. I bought the paint from Wallacks, a local art store on Bank Street. I don’t remember the brand name. Sometimes I use acrylic paint and I also work with magic markers, particularly Tombow dual brush markers and Sharpies. I’ve read that there are issues associated with toxicity and environmental impact with acrylics and oils, but not with watercolours. Still, I dump the residue on my brushes into the kitchen drain.
Our building doesn’t have central air conditioning. We a yearly additional fee to use our own air conditioners, one is a window a/c in the living room/dining room. Two others are floor units in the bedroom and office. This year we didn’t install the a/c until about June, but sometimes we need it as early as May in the bedroom. In my fifties, I am prone to hot flashes.
We have electric heat. All our utilities are included. According to this site, fifty-six percent of Ontario’s energy comes from nuclear and twenty one percent from hydro sources. Nuclear power has risks of cancer, greenhouse gases cause global warming.
The UN recently reported that we have only thirty years to stop the end of life on the planet by reversing deadly environmental practices that are causing species extinction.
I’m drinking tap water I keep cold in the refrigerator because our cold-water tap runs lukewarm all the time. The water is kept in glass used Pellegrino bottles. When I have an upset stomach, and I get them a lot, because I have no colon and don’t always digest foods properly, causing gas, I drink pop. I was in hospital twice last year due to bowel obstructions. One of the ER doctors recommended that when I start to feel blocked, I should drink Coca Cola. I do that now and in helps. Coca Cola has a deplorable human rights record and is nutritionally evil with its high sugar content, as are other types of soda pop. Canada Dry ginger ale also sooths my stomach. I find using straws also helps for some reason. In the grocery store a box of 200 plastic straws costs $1.49 while a box of biodegradable straws is $14.99 for a box of 20.
I will likely order from Skip the Dishes for dinner. Couriers for these services make very little money. If I order from a neighbourhood Asian restaurant, the packaging will be Styrofoam or black plastic bottoms with clear plastic lids. Even though I ask not to receive, I will get a plastic fork and knife and paper napkins along with soy sauce. I will throw these out in the trash. Only the clear plastic is recyclable in Ontario.
I will probably have a lamb and an eggplant dish because I love lamb and my husband doesn’t, so we don’t eat it together. Since I’m dining solo, this is an opportunity to eat foods that I love. We are both meat eaters.
I may finish watching a movie I’ve started on Kanopy.com, a streaming service available to library users. I will finish the evening with more wanking with the fellas on Whisper and I will read from my Kindle e-book reader, returning to the sin of using an Amazon product instead of a reading physical book and supporting a local bookstore.
The bed we sleep on, which is about five years old, is from Ikea, a Swedish company with branches all over the world, which had human rights issues when German prisoners were used in the making of the furniture, along with other issues relating to working conditions and the environment; even its meatballs were reputed to have contained horse meat.
Much of our furniture is from Ikea. The furniture is low-cost and available for delivery.
My husband will arrive home in time for bed and will fall asleep watching some movie on Netflix or another streaming service we subscribe to.
This is a typical weekday at our household. We are two people in our mid fifties. We don’t own a house or a car. Are we doing our best to adopt ethical living practices? No, we are not.
The pressure is on individuals to make changes while corporations continue to be allowed a free-for-all when it comes to employment conditions and environmentally harmful practices. We are scolded not to not use straws while our government opts for environmentally devastating pipelines. No consideration is given to disabled people who rely on straws and plastic bags for basic living. We’re told to boycott stores like Walmart when that’s the sole option for those who live below the poverty line or for larger people.
We are scolded if we eat meat, even though two-thirds of Canadians have digestive disorders and many of those wouldn’t be able to handle a plant-based environment alone.
And all this scolding is deserved. I feel guilty for every sin I commit every day. There are days when I wonder if my life itself is too great of a cost on the environment and on people who are working at low wages in terrible conditions to provide my computer, my smart phone, my food, my furniture and my amusements. I don’t have any answers, just the feeling that perhaps I am not alone in this feeling of guilt.
For those with money and time and ability, I applaud your commitment to live within as small an environmental footprint as you can, doing no harm to animals and not dealing with unethical institutions, governments or corporations, but it’s a huge challenge. In order to make a difference, we do need to make drastic changes. Those who can live in rural areas, grow their own food and dispense with technology are probably the ones doing the least harm on the planet and on fellow humans. The rest of us do what we can. And if you’re like me, you know this isn’t enough and feel guilty as fuck.
Amanda Earl is a writer and editor from Ottawa, Canada. Image: Screenshot from The Sims 4, Electronic Arts, 2014