Consumerism plays a big part in our modern lives but has it gone too far? Blogger Miyuki McGuffie thinks so.
Do you consider yourself eco-conscious? I do. But despite my awareness of the environment and my passion for doing my bit, I still find it easy to slip into the same old habits, or rely on the safety nets we as a society have put in place for our wasteful ways of life.
Most of us are familiar with recycling. With free kerbside collection in most cities and towns, even if you don’t care about the environment it is still economically beneficial for a household to recycle.
Those of us who do care are ardent followers of the recycling commandment. Never tossing a receipt or bus ticket, bringing things home for collection (like paper bags from a bakery, a can of coke from a vending machine), rifling through the garbage for misplaced recyclables … well, that’s me anyway.
I think we rely on recycling a little too much though, and more care could be taken to follow the other commandments: reduce and reuse. We hear these terms bandied about all the time, but how easy is it to put them into practice? I say very. Most of the time being kinder to the planet is just a matter of remembering to, and remembering why.
Reducing and reusing are old-time values, ones that don’t necessarily fit in with our modern way of life where affluence is more important than thriftiness. This is slowly changing though, as we become more environmentally aware and people go back to living more traditionally—eating more fruit and veg, shunning processed and packaged foods, making things from scratch and reducing consumption in general.
The pattern of consumption that we currently live by is unsustainable, but it is a lifestyle many of us have been brought up on. Corporations and businesses want us to buy, buy, buy, because if we don’t, they can’t survive. But when we buy, it’s not forever, because we always want newer, better, different, more, and all that extra stuff has got to go somewhere.
Reducing is relatively easy: buy less, treasure what you have or find alternative ways of getting the things you like (ie downloading music and movies instead of buying cds and dvds).
Reusing can go in all kinds of directions. You can reuse things you have acquired yourself, like plastic bags or old containers; other people can reuse the things you no longer want or need if you sell or give them away; and you can reuse other people’s things by buying secondhand.
When I think of reducing and reusing I immediately think of food, probably because food is the one thing I buy on a regular basis and the one area where my resolve is most likely to waver. Two other areas where these principals can be applied are clothing and electronics. Beware of planned obsolescence, where a product is designed to have a short lifespan by going out of fashion or becoming outdated by a newer model. Companies deliberately incorporate this into their goods so you feel like you have to buy more.
One risk when reducing consumption (as with any restriction in behaviour, dieting being a good example) is the risk of binging. In an effort to reduce my waste, I don’t buy packaged things like bread, frozen foods, yoghurt or chocolate bars. When I want something that might be wrapped in plastic, like a pair of tights, I seek an alternative product. But I find that when the pickings are slim or I have gone without something for a long time I sometimes let my wasteful inclinations get the better of me and I buy up a packaged storm.
In these situations, a good thing to ask yourself is: Is my enjoyment of this product worth the time it or its packaging is going to spend on this earth?
I think the key is to be informed and do what you think is right. Be sceptical of advertising, because most companies don’t care about you, they care about their bottom line, which is your dollar. I’m not trying to smear all businesses because I know they’re not all like that. But in order to make the most difference, we need to rethink the way, the amount, and what we consume.
A great resource for the issue of overconsumption is The Story of Stuff. From extraction to disposal, this 20-minute clip looks at the underside of how our stuff is made and what the real cost of our consumption is. It contains some US-specific stats but the story’s still relevant to us in NZ because of our participation in global trade and our shared capitalist systems.