Thursday was Earth Day and just as I suspected, every article that popped up in my Google or YouTube feed was a montage of the various ways I could help save the planet…often by buying whatever the person was selling. I wish I could say that we’ve never fallen for green marketing but that would be a lie. We own a bidet now (thanks to a plethora of YouTubers touting their awesomeness). We use zero waste toothpaste, recycled toilet paper, and compostable dental floss. We only buy certain brands at the grocery store. And yes, we have all the right light bulbs.
I usually make a post for Earth Day, showcasing ways we’re trying to make a difference, but I thought long and hard about it this year and decided I just couldn’t make myself talk about “going green” or making “sustainability swaps”. While I still believe that individual changes toward a greener planet are great, I just don’t think switching out the light bulbs is going to do much to turn the tide on climate change. And I feel that way because right here in my town:
- We are building gigantic single-family homes on every available plot of land you can imagine. Just across the street, 3 houses are going up in what once was someone’s front yard.
- Where we’re not building homes, we’re building shops and restaurants…despite the fact that 2/3 of the strip malls already located here have multiple vacant storefronts.
- Even with the “tremendous growth” that our local government keeps proclaiming, we have nearly zero walkability here, outside of the downtown area, and no public transportation. At our previous apartment complex, we lived near more than 25 shops and restaurants but had no crosswalk to get across a 5 lane road to them. The only way to get to Panera (0.2 mile away) was to drive…or risk being hit by a car (a single-passenger car, most likely at that).
- Shopping is still a major recreation. We walk 2 malls every other week (as a side hustle), making note of the number of people shopping. At one mall, during out 45 minute walk, we counted 3,400+ individuals over the age of 18. They were lined up outside of shops like Louis Vuitton and Apple, as if it were Black Friday.
- Waste is absolutely ridiculous! I’m not even talking about the dumpsters at Aldi (which could, and often do, feed a lot of people). I’m talking about the trashing of all the consumer goods that folks just had to have when they were lining up at the mall. A few weeks ago, we saw this in our apartment’s trash compactor:
It’s hard for me to write about ways to live a low-impact life when all around me I find so much evidence that few people actually care! We are destroying our planet at an alarming rate. There’s no reduce, reuse, recycle. There’s only consume, trash, repeat; and remembering to bring your cloth bags to the store isn’t going to change that.
The problem is stuff.
- The production and use of household goods and services is responsible for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- 90% of fossil fuel companies’ emissions are a result of the products made from fossil fuels.
- Across its life cycle, the average product results in carbon emissions of 6.3 times its own weight.
- Only 1% of “stuff” is still in use six months from its purchase.
I’m the first to admit that we the consumer are not all to blame for this problem. We live in a country that encourages (and measures) prosperity based on the buying and selling of goods and services. It’s how things are done and we often feel powerless to stop it. I know – I’m not beyond the struggle myself. I still want things, and I still make impulse purchases (though it’s mostly food these days). But I still feel like we, as a consumer society, have so much room for improvement that if we all took even just one small step back towards less consumption or more mindful consumption, we might actually make a difference.
So how can we be better consumers?
- Learn to live with less. Happiness can’t be bought at Walmart and the latest and greatest gadgets do not come with an app for contentment. This is something we have to find on our own, and until we do, none of the rest of these things will matter.
- Buy used, when possible. Buy quality when it’s not.
- Join a local buy nothing group.
- Consider the origin and carbon footprint of the item you want to buy. Does it support child labor? Is it made of materials that have a large environmental impact?
- Pay cash when you can. You are more likely to buy unnecessarily when using a credit or debit card.
- Stay organized. Knowing what you already own can help keep you from buying things you don’t need.
- Take care of what you already own. Repair it, when possible, or find alternative uses for it when it’s not. We use socks for dust rags, chipped bowls as planters, old toothbrushes to clean, odd strings to tie plants, and old shoes to walk in the garden.
- Donate stuff you no longer want. This is another great reason to join a buy nothing group. No child’s toy should ever end up in a trash compactor when there are so many other little hearts and hands that would love to play with it.
“Have good stuff (not too much), mostly reclaimed. Care for it. Pass it on.” ~ Sandra Goldmark