Like many people, shopping used to be one of my favourite hobbies. When I was younger, I could not resist a pretty dress or a really good sale. My girlfriends and I would even go to the mall to “hangout”. It wasn’t until the last few years that I realized that I was a shopaholic and this has had some pretty horrible consequences on our planet.
Over the last few years, I realized that I had too much stuff, especially clothing. My closet is never big enough. Each time I moved, I’ve had to put aside bags of clothing to be donated. Even when I switch wardrobes from the winter to the summer, I always have some clothing to get rid of. As I sorted through my clothing, I noticed that a lot of the items were new — I never even wore them! These incidents have forced me to think about why I love to shop so much.
Consuming Ourselves to Death
According to Annie Leonard (Story of Stuff), “consumerism is always bad, adding little to our wellbeing as well as being disastrous for the planet. “[It’s] a particular strand of overconsumption, where we purchase things, not to fulfil our basic needs, but to fill some voids about our lives and make social statements about ourselves.” In my teens and twenties, it was definitely all about making social statements, but now in my thirties, why do I still get that urge to want to buy things? I’m not sure if I have the answer to that but I’ve noticed that when I want something new, it’s usually when I’m a little anxious or stressed out about something in my life. For me, shopping for clothes has been the “comfort food” in my life for far too long and it has had some pretty detrimental effects on the environment. Researchers say that consumers are responsible for more than 60% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 80 % of global water use.
According to EcoWatch, the fast-fashion industry is the second “dirtiest” industry in the world, after the fossil fuel industry. Everything from the manufacturing process of the fabrics, the exploitation of labour, to the disposal of these garments, is unethical. While I like to buy clothes, others like to buy electronics. Based on a 2013 study, “40 million metric tons of electronic waste (e-waste) are produced globally each year, and about 13 percent of that weight is recycled mostly in developing countries” and this is a considered to be a conservative estimate. Furthermore, informal recycling markets located mostly in developing countries shred and burn this e-waste, which leads health risks for those living in these areas and soil contamination. Finally, the minerals needed to produce our favourite gadgets are not just an environmental issue; it is also a human rights one.
In conclusion, shopping or consumerism is a serious environmental issue. Shopping is casually and often joked about as therapy and presented in the media as glamorous. There is nothing glamorous about our planet slowly dying. If we collectively limit our consumerist habits, we could have a greater impact on climate change — more so than taking shorting showers, etc. (not that these little things don’t matter!)
The best fix is to not buy stuff. We all know how hard that is so if we must buy stuff, we should buy more responsibly. What does buying responsibly mean? Here is what I’ve been trying to do limit my consumerist tendencies over the last few years:
- Do I really need it? If the answer is no then I try to walk away. Try to resist your provider’s periodic offer of a “free” smartphone hardware upgrade or splurging on the newest Android device or iPhone when they come out, which is pretty often. When someone is giving away free samples of something (or flyers), say no thanks if you don’t need it.
- If I do need it, I think about whether I can get it repaired instead. Repair cafes are popping up everywhere. The Toronto Public Library hosts FREE repair cafes and you can also check out Repair Cafe Toronto. A student I taught many years ago told me that she tried organic strawberries for the first time and told me that she was initially disappointed because they weren’t sweet. She then told me that she realized that that wasn’t the point. It’s not about whether it tastes better; it’s all about how organic farming allows for sustainability for both water and soil. Why I am sharing this story? Because sometimes the cost of repairing an item might be really high and most people will just say I might as well buy a new one. Think about it: get something repaired and there’s one less piece of garbage on our planet and one less item being produced (which uses a lot of energy, resources and pollutes).
- Can I get it used instead? Check out Bunz and local vintage stores. (I’ll be writing about my favourite vintage places next week!)
- . Is this the most responsible product in the market? Is it made from sustainable materials or 100% post-consumer materials? Is it organic? Is it made locally? Does it include excessive (plastic) packaging? Can this product be disposed of responsibly after (non-plastic, compostable, biodegradable, or recyclable)? When I was looking for a new phone after my old smartphone died, I was really upset because I discovered that many companies are now making their newer products with non-removable batteries or different chargers. This creates more e-waste. In the end, I opted for an older model with a removable battery.
- Is this product well-made? Meaning, will this product last?
- Take good care of your stuff to ensure that it lasts longer. Here is really good video with practical tips to care for your clothing and here is another.
Hope they are helpful!