“Conscious Consumption to Create Change” by Justin

 

Where does all this stuff we buy actually come from? There are a staggering number of nonrenewable materials and toxic chemical processes that are involved in nearly every single consumer product on the market today. And for all of these things that go into making our stuff, so very little of it is properly disposed of for reuse. Our planet is running out of resources, but the price of consumer goods continues to drop. This is because companies are externalizing costs* so that everyone pays for it, but not just monetarily. The price of most products today, from food to oil, do not reflect their true costs because someone other than the purchaser is paying in some other way for the goods being produced (1). The goods that are being made are created at the expense of the environment, of those in third world countries who are paid next to nothing, and at the expense of the health of every single organism, including humans, who inhabit this planet.

cycle

The current system of consumption our global society has invested in is far from a sustainable one. It is digging us deeper into a hole from which we may not be able to escape.The demand for a variety of cheap products continues to go up as our supply of resources decreases, both of which at exponential rates linked to population, industrialization, and consumption (2). This downwards spiral is depleting the Earth and replacing it with garbage.

When a consumer is ready to buy a new computer, the old one is not sent to be stripped down so that the valuable metals they contain might be reused in the next one. Instead, the old one is chucked in the dump and a new one is purchased. Our linear system of extraction, production, distribution, use and disposal results in tons of perfectly reusable resources such as gold, copper and mercury being thrown into a landfill and sealed up for future generations to deal with.

linear system

Computers and phones both are made with many processes and components containing mercury. The average computer contains as much as 0.7 grams of mercury (3), which is vastly higher than the EPA’s minimum “safe” dose of .1 microgram (4). Investigations are finding that many unexpected products, including children’s toys, contain far more mercury and other potentially toxic compounds that could could have potentially devastating and lasting neurological impacts.

The very things we wear are made of synthetics material that can leach toxins into your skin, the air, and the ground. A common detergent used by many brand name textile manufacturers has been proven to affect sexual maturation and reproductive abilities of both the individuals in the factory working with them, and in the consumers who wash them, releasing the chemicals into the water in which all of their clothes are (5). This is a great example of an externalized cost: the shirt you buy at the mall is sold for less money than its total cost because now included in the cost is the price of healthcare for everyone exposed to the toxins, and the loss of productive workers since people are getting sick and having fewer, less healthy children due to the product design decisions made by the producer. The lesson to learn from this is to look into what may be hiding in the products you buy before you contribute to the system that put them there in the first place.

I hope that all of this scares you because it certainly scares us. The good news is that there is a simple way that each of us can contribute to the solution to ensure that humanity can coexist with our planet for generations to come. In order to stop this destructive, linear system of consumption, we must become more conscious of the products we purchase and of the companies who we patronize. By not buying into the current system, we put pressure on corporations to change their selfish ways, and can encourage smaller, environmentally concerned companies to make greater progress in sustainable goods. Next time you’re looking to buy a new computer because yours is not running the latest software, or a new pair of shoes since the old ones are out of style, consider what went into those products and how it affects the entire world just to make a new one. The only way to conserve the limited natural resources we have left is to buy fewer products, and make the most of the ones you do.

Article by Justin Smith

Some additional resources include:

An ethics index of many well known producers of consumer goods

More information about externalized costs

Information about electronics waste

Discussion about the relationship between world human population and environmental decline

More information about mercury

Article about NPE’s and other toxins found in clothing:

A great book that argues to remake the way we make things:

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

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24 thoughts on ““Conscious Consumption to Create Change” by Justin”

  1. I thought this article was really interesting and very informative about the vicious cycle we are in. We really digging ourselves in a deep hole and it is getting harder and harder for us to get out of it. We do need to be more conscious about our actions and more people need to realize this.

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  2. I was extremely interested in this article from start to finish. It opened my eyes to the corrupt cycle we find ourselves in. More people need to read this article so we can actually make the change we so desperately need.

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  3. This article made me ask myself, how much stuff do I really need? After finding out that I am able to spend more money in order to get more goods at the expense of our environment and people’s quality of life made me question if this was the reason our generations are becoming more greedy, and less content with what they currently have? Its sad fact to consider, but even sadder knowing that these businesses and corporations are okay with producing these negative effects in order to provide themselves with more profit.

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  4. The fact companies care so little about the lives of their workers makes me incredibly frustrated. Corporate greed essentially runs the world and how countries choose to engage with one another. Justin clarified wonderfully the toxic effect America’s production cycle has on the environment and the people who make, work, and buy consumer goods.

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  5. This article was interesting and eye opening. Sometimes, we do not realize the harm we are putting on the environment, and even our health, when we are purchasing products. Companies only care about selling the best new things and disregard the harmful effects. Reading and being informed is one thing. We should act on it as quickly as possible and let others know to be conscious consumers.

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  6. While this brings to light a possible solution for this issue, ” The only way to conserve the limited natural resources we have left is to buy fewer products, and make the most of the ones you do.” Unfortunately, I don’t feel as though there is a way for us to effectively cause s drastic enough change by simply refusing to buy a product. At least- you aren’t going to be able to get enough people to contribute, or in this case, refrain from contributing, to make an effective difference.

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  7. I find it incredibly frustrating to talk to people who brush off these facts about reducing their impact on the environment because they claim that it’s too late to make a difference, it takes too much time and effort from the things that “really matter,” or they simply don’t care about the harm that is being done since “nothing that bad will happen during their time on Earth.” I think we need to try to do what we can to reduce if not prevent anything bad from happening; nature will revolt sooner than many people seem to think. Concern for the harm done to the environment should be high on every global citizen’s priority list. Consumers have the power to let companies know that we cannot stand for this. The hardest task is raising awareness and mobilization among consumers.

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  8. I find it very concerning that the government, especially the EPA are allowing these unsafe practices to continue. The fact that it is known that some children’s toys have high traces of lead and mercury is scary. Its even more scary that these products are still able to be sold to consumers.

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  9. Its frightening to think that anything from laundry detergent to kid’s toys can be harming to our bodies and that the corporations behind them are getting away with it! I believe that is never to late to make changes to how we dispose, reuse, or conserve certain products. It only takes a few small changes in our daily lives to make an impact. And while that impact might be small, or local, if we get enough people on board, we can ultimately make our environmental impact smaller.

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  10. This article made me feel that I need to stop consuming so many goods because I didn’t realize the effects that it has on our world. The problem with our society now is that we are selfish and don’t think about how our actions now will affect the generations to come. I agree that we do need to consume less and appreciate what we do have because the effects it has on our health and our environment are severe.

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  11. society does not realize the affects that our actions have on the future. we need to conserve our resources and limit the amount of products we buy. many of the products we buy are so harmful yet we still continue to purchase them. it is scary that these products are allowed to be sold.

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  12. I wish there was a way for everyone in America to read this article, but every movement must start small and gain momentum. It is not only inhumane to be taking these natural resources from countries in poverty, but the workers are in horrible conditions as well. This article makes me wish we could have some kind of recycling available on college campuses for the amount of cracked iphones and old computers that everyone just gets rid of by throwing in the trash. It really opened my eyes to getting my money’s worth out of every product i buy.

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  13. It’s a sad topic to think about especially because so many people are unaware of this issue and continue to use and support products being made by companies who could care less about their customers and even less about their workers. Also I found it interesting what was mentioned about the poisonous materials being used in everyday products, I wasn’t aware of that at all. It’s weird realizing how little we know about items we use almost everyday and makes me feel like I should really start researching those things.

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  14. This video is absolutely amazing. It is extremely informative, and I actually showed it to my entire family after I watched it. It made me realize that maybe some of the things I think I “need” are really just things I want. It is also sad to see how we give less developed countries all of the work that we don’t feel like doing.

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  15. We over consumer things as consumers. We have become greedy and want more things at a cheaper cost to us the buyer. But who has to pay for our benefits. We need to become aware of what were are purchasing because what we purchase a cheap price comes at a greater cost somewhere else.

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  16. This article was extremely eye opening. It provided insight to the areas of production that the average consumer fails to recognize. I honestly never think about the toxins and dangerous chemicals that are in commonly sold products, bu thanks to this article, I am more aware and want to make a change

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  17. This article was extremely interesting. It reminded me a lot of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring where she mentions the idea of human impacts on the environment, and how the unnatural chemicals due to production have led to negative affects on the Earth’s natural cycles.

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  18. This article really opened my eyes, often times I feel vital parts of education are left out of the school system, sustainability included. But, this article really opened my eyes that we contribute to this cycle without even trying, we are so accustomed to having the newest and best thing that going out to the store to “pick up the new iPhone” is routine and we don’t even realize the damage being done.

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  19. The fact that this “cycle” of use and reuse is more of just a line is a serious issue. When people recycle, they expect whatever was disposed of to be put back into use one way or another, so knowing that it is basically the same thing as just throwing something in the trash is disturbing. Also, people caring more about the prices of goods and going to these toxins in order to achieve that needs to be stopped. People shouldn’t have to sacrifice their safety in order to save a few dollars here and there.

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  20. I really like how the beginning of this article addresses not only the cost of over-consumption to humans, but also to other organisms on this planet. It made me realize that our actions are not only affecting us and this planet, but other species as well. Species that, for the most part, have no idea what is even going on or have any kind of protection against our harmful actions. It is one thing for humans to suffer the consequences of our own environmentally destructive actions, but it is ridiculous that we expect the millions of other species and organisms who call this planet home to suffer with us as well.

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  21. There is no doubt that many of us are wasteful and this article makes me want to be more conscientious about being so. Not enough people are aware about this cycle we have put ourselves into. We are killing our own environment rapidly and dangerously. If something isn’t done the world is in for a rude awaking and harsh realization as a result of our harmful actions.

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  22. I think this is a scary thing happening to our planet where it has essentially a dumping ground. The problem has gone unreported, because we don’t see our wasteful ways, because all of our trash ends up in dumps far away from residential zones that are camouflaged with grass and dirt. The rest of our trash ends up in the ocean or in dumping grounds in Africa and Asia. To stop this we need to act radically to remove plastics from our society and reduce waste overall.

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  23. To stop the destruction of our environment, we need to find more ways to be able to consume a product and get more uses out of it. Companies, big or small, need to take more responsibility for the world that they are ultimately destroying and help to clean it up, reduce all of the toxic chemicals in their products, and recycle the materials out of their older products to help create their newer products.

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  24. This is a very important article because many people don’t realize that the earth isn’t going to last nearly as long as we think if we keep living the way we do. Big companies take advantage of their workers and they will continue to do it too if more people don’t make a stand.

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