Why and How you can break out of the Evil Consumer Goods Cycle
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
Consumerism - the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of products. This might not be a bad idea, if only the things we acquired had an infinite or very long lifespan. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. What happens when that product stops working or when we stop needing or wanting it? Well, it most likely ends up in the landfill, where it stays for years, releasing poisonous gases that foul our air and pollute our waterways. Things don’t have to continue like this, we can change things for the better if we want to. Let’s get into how that is possible.
First, the life cycle of these goods. To create a consumer good, we first need resources. Many times, this means natural resources like crude oil, lumber and chemical elements like gold and copper need to be extracted. Does anybody else see a problem with building things out of finite resources like crude oil, and lumber? Of course, we all do. It takes the Earth years, in some cases, millions of years to create these resources, but we’re burning them through them in seconds. What will be left for the next generation? There’s clearly something wrong with this economic model that prefers cheap to long-term economic and environmental sustainability. Producers in this economic system produce so cheaply, sell at high prices, make huge profits, then turn around to underpay their overworked staff.
Before the natural resources can be used to manufacture the sleek, lightweight iPhone, you’re probably reading this article or the chair you’re reclining on, it has to be processed and mixed with other chemical substances. The result of these processes are toxic substances which not only find their way into the products you use, but into our air and water in the form of toxic waste. If you think this is bad, think about the workers who have face all of this directly. Yet they are underpaid and overworked.
It then must be distributed, meaning warehoused at a place like Walmart for example where surprise, they don’t pay the employees well. Even still the price of our goods doesn’t cover the cost of the pollution it created; the cost of the cancer treatment that factory worker had to pay, the cost of deforestation. These are called external costs and they are imposed on to society-at-large as a subsidy so that our products can be cheap enough to purchase. The item is bought, consumed and then disposed. Most of the items we purchase end up in landfills within 6 months.
So, what can we do about it? A lot!
First, watch less TV. That’s right, there are 16 minutes of commercials shown every hour and some commercials only last a few seconds. Even if commercials lasted 30 seconds each, that means exposure to 32 commercials per hour. According to a 2017 survey, commercials and ads influence 90% of consumers to buy a service. What you don’t know, or don’t see, can’t tempt you. Stop watching ads, or become very skeptical of them while watching. Stop and think, “Do I really need this kitchen gadget?"
Second on the list is buying quality over quantity. Let’s opt to pay a little more for products that stand the test of time and save money in the long run. This also means sewing and mending when needed instead of throwing it out.
Third, stop thinking of shopping as a pastime. There are less expensive and more fulfilling ways to spend your free time. Read a book, playing with your kids, go to the park or work out instead. Leave shopping for the necessities like food and services. Next time you are about to purchase a new handbag, wait! Sleep on it, really consider whether you need it or if you only want it. Don’t get pressured into buying a new coat because your old one is out of season.
Fourth, when you do buy something, choose items that can be composted, reused, made from recycled products, or can be recycled themselves. Avoid items that have multiple parts made of different material and which cannot be recycled like juice boxes. Avoid items that need finite resources to be built like everlasting plastic items and choose items made of renewable resources like plants. For example, bamboo grows one meter per day, doesn’t require pesticides or chemical fertilizers, provides oxygen and absorbs more carbon dioxide than a tree of the same size. Bamboo can be the perfect substitute to many plastic goods, like toothbrushes, sun glass frames and even disposables like straws, cups and plates.
Choose to purchase items from companies that behave ethically. These companies will source from sustainable forests, run their business on clean energy, uphold labor rights, fair trade, make quality products that don’t have a planned obsolescence, and be active in the community working to improve the lives of the people around them.
Do you have any other suggestion? Leave a comment below.