In the last post, I mentioned that our consumption is increasing at an alarming rate. But is this such a bad thing? People need jobs, right? Why is consumption such a big deal?
First, because we are consuming more than ever, we are producing more waste than ever. Most of us aren’t composting our trash. The problem here is that everything we throw away – whether it’s uneaten food, gum wrappers, or paper towels – goes into a landfill. Nothing breaks down in a landfill. Not even those compostable party napkins you bought when you were feeling particularly green. See, organic products need oxygen to break down, and there’s no oxygen in a landfill. Instead, all of your trash, including your compostable party napkins, gets converted to methane gas. This is truly nasty stuff that wreaks havoc on our ozone.
So aside from the mountains of trash we produce, what’s so bad about consuming? Well, most shoppers aren’t satisfied unless they feel they’ve gotten a good deal, but this “good deal” comes at the expense of the most vulnerable. To keep prices low, companies must also keep wages low, terribly low. The average sweatshop worker in Bangladesh makes 13 cents an hour, and the prospects are only slightly better in Vietnam, Indonesia, and China, where wages are between 26 and 44 cents an hour. In developing countries, 168 million children between the ages of five and fourteen are forced to work in sweatshops. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse are common, and workplace injuries occur regularly. This is the true cost of our “good deal.”
So yeah, overconsumption is a problem. “That’s all well and good,” you’re thinking, “but what am I supposed to do about it? This is the world we live in.” Well, it doesn’t have to be. If more of us shopped thoughtfully and demanded ethical products, we might not be in this predicament. Do you really need that new pair of sandals? Unless a shoe thief just raided your closet, probably not. If you’re anything like most Americans, you have enough clothes. You have enough gadgets. You have enough home goods.
Sometimes the best thing to do is just to opt-out. Opt out of the cycle of overconsumption. When you must shop, do so responsibly. There are plenty of second-hand stores full of clothing, home goods, and electronics. If second-hand isn’t your style, do your research. Find out which brands pay their workers a fair wage. Nisolo offers beautiful shoes, and they pay their workers above Fair Trade wages. Everlane provides wardrobe staples while maintaining ethical production practices. Gather and See offers Fair Trade clothing lines from all over the world. The list goes on and on; you have options.
Finally, don’t be afraid to use your voice. Tell stores what you want, and if they don’t provide it, go somewhere else. You are responsible for your purchases. Choose wisely.