Does the cost of sustainable products keep people away from living sustainably?
We cannot just keep buying more and more sustainable products just in the name of sustainability. Rather, the idea should be buying products that we can reuse and recycle them
The term 'sustainable development' is quite familiar to us all nowadays. But people are still far away from adopting a sustainable lifestyle. Is it because the sustainable products aren't easily found or because these are pricey?
But before going into that, let's talk about when we can consider a product 'sustainable'. From the extraction to consumption till the final disposal- over its entire life cycle- if a product does not harm the ecosystem and environment while creating economic and social benefits, it is considered sustainable.
For example, using biodegradable bags made from jute or cotton instead of plastic bags is a sustainable choice as plastic is harmful for our environment. Another example is cotton fabric and clothes, especially when it is produced with non-harmful agricultural practices and without polluting water.
But if we compare the price of conventional and sustainable products, we would notice that sustainable products are way more expensive than the conventional ones. For example, in Bangladesh, a plastic polybag costs almost nothing where we need to pay at least Tk15 to Tk20 for a fabric bag. But if we consider durability, non-woven fabric bags are better than plastic bags as plastic is harmful for our environment and also polybags are mostly a single-use item while fabric bags can be reused.
There are some reasons for sustainable products to be expensive- ranging from lack of demand to high manufacturing cost and time. For example, producing a fabric bag involves jute or cotton growing, weaving, sewing, and dyeing.
I often hear that it's difficult to invest in sustainable products because they are more expensive and I also acknowledge that as we talk about sustainability, more products might just appear anywhere, selling the label of sustainability while some of these products may not be sustainable at all. Well, that is how capitalism works and it is also our responsibility to be able to tell the difference.
I strongly believe that anyone can make a sustainable change. In my opinion, it does not require any specific amount of money to refuse plastic straws or plastic bags. These are the kinds of changes anyone can make. I think what's missing here is the psychological capacity to adopt these aspects of sustainability into our own lifestyle.
I understand that some people may not have any other choice but to buy conventional products. For example, not everyone who has to walk a lot or travel a long distance on a regular basis, may be able to carry a sustainable glass or silicone water bottle with them. But it's also true that there are many of us who can afford to make sustainable choices, to invest in the right products. And if we compare the prices also- every single-use plastic water bottle costs Tk15 in Bangladesh, where a glass bottle may cost Tk200. But eventually it saves more as you don't need to buy a new bottle every single day.
Yes, sustainable products are a bit more expensive but nonetheless if we prioritise sustainability, if we have the economic and mental capacity to adopt a sustainable life, I definitely think we should give it a try.
Although sustainable products are expensive, let us focus on why we should still buy them.
If we think deeply, because of their durability, they are actually saving us a lot of money. Sustainable products made out of eco-friendly materials usually tend to last longer and the longer these products last, the less often we have to buy new ones.
Still, I think the high cost of sustainable products discourages the general people from buying them. If the cost decreases, I believe people will be encouraged to accept these products. As per simple economic logic- the higher price results in lower demand and lower price results in higher demand. So to bring people forward to adopt sustainability in their life, the sustainable products' cost needs to be decreased and for that the manufacturing cost needs to decrease, without affecting the quality.
Our government may willingly reduce or withdraw the amount of tax on the sustainable products with a view to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) as well. According to a World Bank report, "investing 1 dollar in preparedness saves 7 dollars in response". And moving towards sustainability is a prevention effort that can save the world from many disasters resulting from unsustainable living.
And again, it's not just about buying sustainable products. We cannot just keep buying more and more sustainable products just in the name of sustainability. Rather, the idea should be buying products that we can reuse and recycle them.
Leading a sustainable life also helps us to contribute to balancing the world's ecosystem, by producing less waste, causing less carbon emission and making the world more livable.
Sabiha Ahmed Diba is a Research Associate at the Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. She can be reached at: [email protected]