Waste generation is about more than not knowing how to reuse or recycle, as it is caused by people on a daily basis. Even if you are an avid recycler, chances are there is more you can do reduce the amount you buy and end up throwing out. More and more, people are starting to question what the relationship is between their consumerism and waste generation.
There is a very close relationship between consumerism and waste generation. On the whole, we live in a society where buying things occurs based on what you ‘want’, and not what you ‘need’. This leads to people on a large scale, buying excessively, replacing items prematurely, which means they end up in landfill.
But when it comes to the planet, every bit helps. So read on to learn about how consumerism leads to waste, and maybe we can take these first steps together in learning about responsible purchasing!
Consumerism is a sales game
Companies know that their consumers (most of the time) are using disposable income on their products. Naturally, these companies want their consumers to make frequent purchases so that they make the largest profit. This leads to companies purposely designing their products to break down after a certain amount of time so that their customers have to keep coming back.
A good example of this sales game is washing machines/dryer machines. Just several decades ago, washer/dryers were designed for the purpose of being long lasting and satisfying the customer for years to come. Today, whereas that same sales pitch may be what’s being used, washer/dryers are designed with the notion that consumers need this item. Meaning, if it breaks, they have to come back and buy a new one. Companies are purposely designing their products to start to break down after a certain amount of time (often 5-10 years) so that their customers come back. hese products then end up in landfills and directly impact waste generation all for the purpose of making a larger profit.
Consumerism is largely based on cheap cost prices for maximum profit
The idea around consumerism is that the cheaper the product, the more people will purchase it, leading to the maximum profit attainable for the company. This is why we see large scale companies selling items at a lower price, than something of equal value but is handmade by a local business. Large companies that are widespread know that they will reach more people, so they can charge less and attract more buyers.
Another key factor to this consumerism formula is that companies know that creating products out of recycled materials is more expensive than creating products from virgin resources.
Buying convenience items which generate waste
Convenience items such as plastic water bottles and one time use coffee cups create numerous tons of waste every single year. Consumers want ease-of-use products, things they can purchase and not have to store anywhere, leaving these disposable items in the garbage, headed to already over-crowded landfills.
With this in mind, companies create products that are designed for one time use, which keeps their customers coming back for more.
If we were to take away that sales game and find ways to go about purchasing convenience items using items that are not disposable (such as reusable cups and reusable bags), we would not only reduce waste generation, but we would change the game of consumerism and companies would start investing in the creation of multi-use products.
Along with disposable food items, single use plastic bags or storage containers also significantly add to waste generation. It is simply more convenient to not have to remember to bring reusable grocery bags to the supermarket and instead use their single-use plastic bags that end up in the trash. The same concept applies to the small plastic bags used for produce in grocery stores. They too end up in landfills as they are often non-recyclable.
Consumerism reduces resourcefulness
Consumerism is a science and sales scheme designed to give the consumer what they want regardless of the cost to the planet. If the customer wants it, they get it and they get it in a way that keeps them coming back for more. With convenience products such as the ones mentioned prior, or even food from the grocery store being so accessible, consumers are not required or inspired to put in the extra effort to reuse, recycle, or even grow/compost their items. This lack of resourcefulness relates to waste generation as consumers use their product and throw it away without a second thought.
For example, with plastic bags being readily available in the grocery store, consumers are not forced to remember their reusable bags. The plastic industry loves this concept because it means grocery stores will continuously order their product for their customers. If we were to eliminate plastic bags or even charge consumers for them, they would be more likely to remember their reusable bags instead of using plastic ones that end up in the trash.
Disposable income leads to buying more than needed
Disposable income is defined as any amount of income that does not have a designated purpose, meaning it can be used for anything you desire. Unfortunately, consumerism often leads to this money being used on things that lead to waste generation including but not limited to:
- New clothes
- The latest technological devices
- Excess food that gets disposed of
- Convenience items
Consumerism and waste generation directly correlate, as consumerism is designed around the idea that the more we have, the more we spend. With this in mind, companies want to create products that consumers have to buy again and again, raising their profit margins along with waste generation statistics. The two are an unfortunate partnership that can only be broken by companies and consumers deciding that the environment is more important than their personal wants, desires, and comfort levels.
The stigma against secondhand technology
Technology products are among the items that significantly impact waste generation simply because nobody knows what to do with their items when they upgrade to the latest device, which is an absolute necessity in the eyes of consumers. The reason being this necessity exists is due to a similar stigma to the fashion industry. Those who do not have the latest in cell phone, laptop, music, or any of form of technology are deemed as “uncool” or “financially struggling”. The same concept applies to the purchasing of second-hand tech products.
Instead of saving money and helping the planet by purchasing second-hand tech gear or choosing to keep the item you have regardless of whether or not it is the latest device, consumers fear this stigma and contribute to waste generation by tossing their items in the trash.
The stigma around second-hand clothing items
Unfortunately, there is a significant stigma around the purchasing of second-hand items. This is largely promoted by the media and has led companies to partaking in this side of the consumer sales game as well.
The stigma around secondhand items has promoted this fear of being judged or looked down upon by consumers. It promotes the idea that if you purchase second-hand items, you are limited in income and deserve to be shamed, which is of course, not true at all. However, the fashion industry wants you to continue to feel that sense of guilt or shame because it leads to the purchase of their brand-new pieces of clothing.
These items are created using an abundance of fossil fuels that pollute the earth and ultimately end up in secondhand shops anyway, and if they are not purchased, they end up in landfills, adding to waste generation. On the flip side, there has been a recent rise in the popularity of second hand shops. Facebook ‘Buy Nothing Groups’ have started to become popular, and people are often seen checking out the tip ‘Buy Back Centres’. This shows that a little can go a long way in making responsible purchasing decisions to help the environment, while also saving yourself some of your hard earned money.
What we hope is that you now have some great information to empower you to think twice before you buy. What new actions will you take, starting from today?
Want to learn more about how to help reduce waste? Read some of our other articles such as ‘What are the Benefits of a Chicken Coop Compost Method‘ or ‘Upcycling and Recycling: Your Useful Guide‘