In response to the reality of environmental destruction and global warming, businesses, governments, and the general public seem to be seriously considering the impact everything has on the planet. We’ve seen a surge in eco-products, from bamboo dog bowls to wooden board games; recycling facilities are provided in almost all developed countries; and the number of individuals consuming local, organic and vegan produce continues to grow.
Coupled with the onset of global recession in 2008, an increasing percentage of the population is striving to act in a more responsible manner – thinking in an ecological, environmental and ethical way, while carefully spending money. In essence, this is what it means to be a conscious consumer: someone who embraces both ethical consumerism and frugality.
Ethical consumerism refers to individuals who choose and reuse environmentally friendly products, whereas frugality describes a wise use of any resource, as well as the avoidance of waste. A conscientious consumer would therefore purchase environmentally friendly goods in a restrained manner, and resourcefully reuse those already owned.
So, how does one put this into practice?
1. Waste not, want not
Over the past 50 years, consumerism and the growth of technology has created a culture in which individuals are more and more detached to that which they own. Moreover, they don’t buy anything hoping it will last, and instead adopt the mentality that everything is disposable – in time it can, and will, be replaced for something else.
It stands to sense that if someone didn’t waste what they had now they would still have it in the future, and therefore not lack (or want) it. So, when choosing what to buy, bear in mind it’s a lot more cost effective and environmentally friendly to own a durable good. As a result, the overall benefit to curbing our costly habits is two-fold: a reduction in consumption and waste.
2. Efficient use and reuse
While it is accepted that choosing a durable product is a lot more cost effective and environmentally friendly, what happens if it needs to be maintained or repaired? The saying “out with old, in with the new” echoes round people’s heads and with it the old item is all too often discarded. The financial cost of maintenance or repair might be comparable to that of a new product, but the true cost associated with further consumption includes the depletion of resources and environmental impact.
In seeking out efficiency, it isn’t only appliances, clothing and electronics (for example) that individuals ought to be using and reusing effectively. There are plenty of items regularly binned or recycled which could be put to good use – drinks cartons can be used as plant pots; jars can become drinking glasses, and tin cans can hold candles – the list is endless.
3. Reduce and rethink waste
It is constantly drilled into us to “recycle; recycle; recycle” but no less waste is being generated – it is simply put into separate bins. It is a common misconception that recycling is a solution to the production of waste, but it’s merely a response to a problem which, in itself, can be avoided. Of course it is imperative to eliminate landfill waste – most importantly plastics – but it is also essential to reduce the volume of recyclable waste.
Be aware of what happens to the products you bin; think about where they end up; as well as the resources used to process the waste once your garbage or recycling bin has been emptied. The landfill sites may be in another city, country or continent but environmental problems affect us all. Plus, what doesn’t end up in landfill is now transported for miles (if not overseas) to recycling plants to be made into something else.
4. Say “no”
One of the easiest ways to avoid waste is to say “no” and refuse the consumption or use of an item in the first place. One may perceive the convenience, or instant gratification, of saying “yes” to be too important, but if what was consumed was really scrutinised a lot of it would be seen for what it was: unnecessary. It is crucial to be aware of the difference between needs and wants, as it becomes considerably easier to say “no” when one can make the distinction. In fact, a lot is bought and owned these days out of habit or because clever marketing tells us we “need” it.
In conquering our need for instant fulfilment we can take time to find alternatives, as well as simplify our habits, which can be creative and liberating. Altering (or mending) an existing item of clothing, bartering for procurement of a particular product or service, and carrying a reusable coffee cup as well as eco-bag at all times are a few suggestions.
5. Relinquish pride
There are times when something is needed and consumers are completed stumped as to how to obtain it, without falling into old habits. If truth be told, looking for alternatives and thinking creatively is a task that few do well, with most falling at the first hurdle out of pride.
It is best to start off thinking about where that item could be sourced for little or no (environmental or financial) cost. There is an abundance of low-cost and cost-free options available, such as discount bread from the bakery at the end of the day, fruit and vegetables in a supermarket dumpster, and random pieces of furniture discarded in someone’s front yard. These resources are rarely tapped into, even though by embracing these options we save money whilst eliminating waste.
Image Credit: Jennifer Mairéad