If we're going to throw money at the plastic problem let's aim well

Your moment
From straws to toilet paper you can now buy everything in "sustainable" form, but should you?

If you’ve ever attempted a waste reduction challenge such as Plastic-free July or Zero-Waste, you’ve most definitely encountered countless blog postsinfographics, and even celebrities telling you to buy some new products.

These tell you that to reduce your carbon footprint, you surely need a new reusable water bottle, a stainless steel razor, non-plastic straws, recycled toilet paper, reusable period products, maybe a full wardrobe update, possibly a new partner, a new house, a career change, different outlook into your spending habits, move into a different planet…

Some of these make more sense than the others, and some of them have a more positive impact when it comes to doing good for the planet and its inhabitants. Can you guess which ones are the most sensible, effective lifestyle switches?

Before we dive in, and before some of you get very angry at me, the numbers I mention here are mostly anecdotal. They are based on research but also on assumptions. Such as assuming an average person drinks two litres of water every day, thus buys two litres worth of plastic bottles.

So, while the numbers don’t hold a scientific prowess, I believe they provide a good perspective to look at our consumption habits and our impact on the planet.

Here are three examples of lifestyle changes, and my take on their effectiveness

1. Reusable water bottle

The first thing you’re told to get when attempting to reduce waste is a reusable water bottle. These come in all shapes, sizes and price points. But how do they compare with the old single-use when it comes to carbon footprint?

How much water a person needs a day differs depending on factors such as age, height, weight, etc.  For this, let’s take the popular two litres a day as the basis for calculation.

An average one-litre bottle is 70 cents (in the Netherlands), thus if you were to drink the two litres per day, your yearly water expenditure would be over 400 euros. A mid-price reusable water bottle is around 12 euros, so what are you going to do with all that money you save by carrying around your own bottle?

2) Stainless steel razor, non-plastic straws, recycled toilet paper

These are more “luxury” switches compared to the reusable water bottle. Recycled toilet paper, for example, is more than double the price of the regular. And there isn’t enough evidence to argue that using recycled toilet paper would have a significant impact on climate change. Same goes for a stainless steel razor. Do we know enough about the impact of doing the switch that would justify its steep price?

So it’s a good idea to think whether the switch is “worth it.” Is the impact big enough the justify the price? Are we buying these product to feel better about ourselves?

3) Different outlook into one’s spending habits

If you’re already considering a plastic and/or waste-free lifestyle it’s safe to say you care about the environment. When we are faced with large, scary numbers — 500 million plastic straws a day — or heartbreaking videos of animals suffering because of plastic waste, wanting to do something about it is a natural response.

When the urge to do something hits, many people go the plastic-free way. The current hype around this lifestyle switch makes it easy to find information, and the plethora of companies selling sustainable lifestyle products make it easy to purchase all kinds of things.

But is buying more stuff actually impactful, or even sustainable? Is it just another way of feeling good about ourselves?

There is nothing wrong about wanting to feel better about oneself and doing good is the best way to go about it, but the money that would otherwise be spent on these kinds of sustainable goods can be much more useful if we took a different approach.

There’s no research on the impact one can make in the long run by switching to a stainless-steel razor, but you can take the 75E you would spend on that razor and spend it in a way that will have an effect on an urgent issue. How? By donating the money to an organisation that’s working towards a cause you care about.

Yes, you’re doing a good deed by using a reusable water bottle, but how about taking those 300 something Euros you save from not purchasing single-use bottles and donating it to an impactful cause?

I think it's safe to say plastic-free living is a choice for the privileged. So why not use our privilege to support a good cause? Here are some organisations you can donate to that are working hard towards cleaning up our oceans:

  • Blue Ventures is an organisation that is working towards catalysing and sustaining locally led marine conservation.
  • Plastic soup is one of the leading advocacy groups to tackle plastic pollution
  • Conservation International is working to build a healthier, more prosperous and more productive planet through science, policy and partnerships with countries, communities and companies. 
  • The Ocean Foundation supports, strengthens, and promotes organizations dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world.

More Stories

  • Makeup guru Jeffree Star wants to sell pink vegan cheeseburgers


    American Internet celebrity and makeup artist Jeffree Star wants to open his own vegan-friendly fast-food chain.

    As reported by LiveKindly, Jeffre Star made the announcement during a live stream on his Youtube channel where he speaks to an audience of 11 million subscribers.

    During the video, the makeup guru said that he is "in talks" to start the business. The concept? A vegan-friendly ('that's the real gag") restaurant, selling pink cheeseburgers and cotton candy fries.

    Yes, you got that right.

    As noted by LiveKindly, this is not Mr Star's first foray into the world of veganism. Over the years, his beauty brand Jeffree Star Cosmetics already launched a series of vegan products like Thirsty, a vegan eyeshadow palette, and, more recently, the four festive vegan lip scrubs.

    We'll see whether these business plans will turn out to be something more substantial than a Youtube announcement.

    Meanwhile, we can't help but gladly notice that plant-based burgers and veganism at large are gaining momentum across different audiences.

    This story features:
    Read more
  • These are the 4 most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint

    Your moment

    If we want to save our planet and ourselves from climate apocalypse, we need new policies and governmental action. We're not gonna save the Earth changing our household light bulbs.

    Extinction Rebellion – a burgeoning social movement to fight climate change that is taking hold in the United Kingdom – is asking for just this: governments must tell the truth about the ecological emergency and enact legally binding measures to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025.

    There are no other ways out of this mess: structural change is needed.

    However, this doesn’t mean that as individual citizens we can go on a carbon spree without consequences. Or that all the ways to reduce our personal carbon footprints are equally ineffective.

    Different studies highlight that there are four effective ways to cut on your individual carbon emissions. And no, changing light bulbs is not one of them.

    While we should keep asking for top-down changes, it’s also good to remember that we can start making an impact on the environment right now by adapting our lifestyle.

    1) Eat a plant-based diet

    Plant-based diets are gaining momentum, at least in the media. Many articles published over the past few months emphasize the importance of ditching meat to fight the climate breakdown.

    I enjoy the flavour of meat a lot and I’d find it difficult to go 100 percent vegetarian (let alone vegan) right now. Nevertheless, I can considerably decrease my meat consumption. This is already highly beneficial for the environment.

    Moreover, I can advocate for meat alternatives like plant-based or clean meat.

    2) Avoid air travel

    Flights are a notorious source of gas emissions. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid flying. Many jobs require travelling on a regular basis and even though in many cases a virtual meeting will do just fine, there are still some occasions in which your physical presence is needed.

    How to solve this ethical dilemma? One solution might be to donate some money to carbon offsetting schemes. These projects can go a long way in fighting carbon emissions.

    3) Live car-free

    Research shows that living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (while a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year).

    I’m lucky enough to live in the Netherlands, a country where it's easy to move around without a car. This is possible thanks to an efficient public transportation system and the omnipresent cycle lanes.

    In this case, it’s interesting to notice how my personal decision to live car-free is supported by environmentally friendly public policies.

    4) Have a small family

    If someone doesn’t exist, she doesn’t have a carbon footprint. This reasoning might seem at the same time cynical and stupidly obvious. But it’s also true.

    According to Population Matters, having one fewer child is 25 more effective in cutting carbon emissions than living without a car.

    What else could I do to reduce my carbon footprint?

    Support Cool Earth, a highly effective organization that we thoroughly vetted.

    Cool Earth is not only an offset scheme. It provides grant funding to rainforest communities, supporting community work in rainforest protection and ensures their voice is heard in agreements about the future of the rainforests. At the time of writing, 234,436,540 tonnes of CO2 has been stored as a result of their projects. Their Asháninka project shields millions of acres of forest from loggers, with 901,679 acres saved to date.

    You too can help to save our planet. A more liveable Earth is just a click away 👇

    Read more
  • We vetted 5 celebrity charities to see whether they’re doing any good


    It’s known that many celebrities support noble causes. After all, if you’re a celeb, you supposedly got the visibility and the money. So, you’re particularly well-suited to help other people.

    Some VIPs go the extra mile and found their own charitable organization.

    But are these celebrity-powered charities effective? Or even: are they doing any good?

    To answer these questions, we picked five charities founded by celebrities and ran them through our Kinder Vetting Framework. Let’s see what came out.

    The charities

    Our selection of charities below isn't based on any scientific criteria. We browsed lists of celebrity founded charities and tried to pick out a balanced list 

    These are the charities that we picked:

    • The Lopez Family Foundation. Co-founded by journalist Lynda Lopez and her sister singer Jennifer Lopez, the Lopez Family Foundation “advocates and invests in policies and programs that make a positive, measurable impact on communities and makes quality healthcare and health education available for underserved mothers and their children.”

    • Born This Way Foundation. A charitable organization created in 2012 by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta “with the goal of creating a kinder and braver world” (we can’t help but sympathize with such aim).

    • The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Created in 1998, the foundation was established with the mission of protecting the world’s last wild places.

    • The Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation was founded in 2003 by Angelina Jolie as a “conservation and community development program in the Samlout Protected Area” (Cambodia).

    • The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls is a nonprofit boarding school that provides “education and leadership opportunities” to disadvantaged girls in South Africa. 

    The Kinder Vetting Framework

    At Kinder, we developed a vetting framework to assess the performance of charitable organizations. At the moment, it’s made of two steps but we’re working to add another two in the near future.

    The first step is called Initial Screening. With it, we examine the transparency and accountability of charitable organizations by evaluating their official websites.

    In particular, we evaluate the charities on five parameters.

    • First off, we check if potential donors can easily contact the organization they want to donate to.
    • Then, we see if there’s relevant information about the organization's staff readily available online.
    • Third, we check if the organization makes its financial statements public.
    • We do the same for the organization’s strategic plans: can donors easily understand how the organization is planning to use the money raised in the future? 
    • And finally, we check if the organization has been involved in any scandal in the past. If yes, we want to see how it explained the scandal(s) to its donors.

    This is a fairly low initial threshold. To pass the Initial Screening, you need a score of 95.

    The second step is called Organizational Competence. With it, we try to determine whether a charitable organization is competent and well-suited to solve the problems it’s addressing.

    If an organization fails the Initial Screening, we usually don’t vet it on its Organizational Competence. Our aim in the next months is to start reaching out to all the organizations that fail the Initial Screening, share our results with them, and ask if they’re willing to improve their score.

    The results

    So, to start with, we just wanted to see whether the five celebrity-run charities passed the Initial Screening.

    I asked our in-house research team to have a look. This is the screenshot that they shared with me:

    Again, to pass the Initial Screening you need to score at least 95. None of them did.

    Quite discouraged, I read the notes the research team attached to the screenshot.

    All charities with the exception of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation lack relevant information about their strategic plans. At the same time, DiCaprio’s organization needs to improve on other parameters like publishing its financial statements.

    The Born This Way Foundation’s website was deemed “quite minimalist” by the research team, lacking information about key staff members and financial statements. Similarly, the Lopez Family Foundation should expand its website to include financial statements, strategic plans, relevant information about key staff members, and contact information (they don’t even have a contact form).

    Obviously, the fact these five charities don’t pass the Initial Screening doesn’t mean that they’re inherently inefficient. It just suggests that they should work more on their online transparency and accountability.

    In general, Kinder is not in the business of bashing charities and we would never share an organization’s poor results without discussing them with the relevant stakeholders beforehand. In this case, we made an exception since these five charities are exceptionally well-backed.

    And if you’re Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, or Angelina Jolie and want to improve the Initial Screening score of your foundation don’t hesitate to drop us a line at davide@kinderdonations.org

    Header Image: The Wolf of Wall Street © Paramount Pictures

    Read more