February 2021: Consumption and the World

This month we will be focusing on how society can affect our consumption, and the effects consumption has on the environment and society! We’ll talk about things that lead to unwanted consumption, and the life cycles of what we buy. 

Peer pressure happens more than you think; it’s not just when your friends talk you into going to a movie or a restaurant. It’s also when you feel like you need something because others around you have it, and it’s buying things you don’t want or will never use just to fit in. Do you ever get that feeling when all your friends have new fancy stuff that you also need those things? If you didn’t know, that’s peer pressure. Try not to fall for such things by noticing when you feel that fake need and stopping yourself from buying more stuff!

We are constantly getting hit with influences to buy things from ads, the newest trends, social media, and so on. A great example is that we are expected to buy new things instead of borrowing from a friend or buying secondhand. A great way to determine whether an item will bring value to your life is by implementing the 30-day purchase pause which we talked about in our last email about buying less.

Additionally, some people feel the need to buy things to show something about themselves. Whether it’s conspicuous consumption (showing wealth), virtue signaling (showing that you care about a certain cause), or keeping up with trends, this is another trap that can lead you to expend more money and environmental resources than you want to. Last month’s tips still apply here, and remember that you don’t need to buy anything to be a potato! We all already think you’re awesome!

We now come to the life cycles of manufactured products, which shows us what we need to keep in mind when making purchases. We can then determine what we need to push for in order for this to become a better process.

Collection of resources:  A lot of resources go to waste during the process of collecting resources. Habitats are lost, some working conditions are harmful, and workers are underpaid. We’ll talk more about this more in our next email.

Manufacturing: Waste comes not only from our throwing stuff away, but in large part from the production of what we use. It’s often estimated that only 3% of waste is municipal solid waste (waste from households and small establishments), most of the rest being industrial. Additional resources such as energy and water are expended. For example, it takes more water to produce paper towels than the amount it takes to wash a washcloth. That’s excluding the waste produced from transport and packaging. We also manufacture a lot of stuff that doesn’t even get to the shelves.

Distribution: A lot of waste is produced from transporting products from the place they were manufactured. We waste gas, energy, materials for packaging, and lots more. Even if something is sustainably made, it can still have a huge carbon footprint if it isn’t transported properly or has to travel a long distance. We can reduce a lot of distribution waste by buying from local/small businesses and thrifting instead!

Use: We waste a lot by buying disposable things, buying things we won’t use, and throwing away stuff that still has life. For example, some people buy paper towels instead of using rags, old cut-up clothes, and washcloths they already have that work just as well. Instead of buying new things, think of reusing things you already have for a new purpose, thrifting, and swapping things with your friends!

Disposal: Recycling eliminates the first step, but is very energy-intensive and there are still other issues — there’s transport and energy, incorrectly recycled things are thrown away, and a huge percentage of material is wasted. It’s much better to reduce what you use in the first place, and reuse things as much as possible! When you can’t avoid throwing something away, check your city or county’s website to figure out what can be recycled and if you have commercial composting in your area. And be sure not to let chemicals and materials that aren’t supposed to be there pollute the world; also look up what needs to be taken to a special facility, and what you can’t put in your sewer system.

As you can see from the life cycle of manufactured products, there is so much more to going zero waste than just individual action. We really need to get involved in the bigger picture by putting pressure on companies and politicians by writing letters to ask for better environmental policies. For those that can vote, it’s so important to vote for people you believe will make a positive environmental impact. And by buying only things that we want to see more of in the future and supporting companies that are sustainable, we support them and help them to thrive. On the flip side, by not supporting those that aren’t, we put pressure on them to enact change. This doesn’t mean individual action isn’t important. It’s the best way to start your journey to a more healthy lifestyle, and is essential to spread awareness of this issue. However, we also need to extend our view to the bigger picture.

Here’s this month’s checklist. Thank you for reading, and have a great month!

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