Bless the well-intentioned consumer. The biodegradable soap, the hemp backpack, the energy-efficient light bulbs—and all of the other “guilt-free” end products of conscientious consumption—are becoming far more popular and make us feel much better about ourselves. But in the final analysis, how much better, really, are these purchases for the environment?
The economic collapse has devastated my household, my community and my industry. Perhaps, however, this is just what we need. As I send ‘hang in there’ balloons and sympathy cards like everyone else, wishing the economy a speedy recovery, somewhere deep—in a secret, sadistic place—I hope it’s not over yet.
Your neighbors have replaced their light bulbs, but have they shut off their lights? Your family’s traded in its SUV for a hybrid, but has it busted out the bicycles? The most economical choice is almost always the most environmental choice to make as well. Is our obsession with even well-intentioned consumption keeping us poor and environmentally destructive?
If we stopped all manufacturing right now and liberated what we’ve buried in landfills, what’s in each other’s closets and what is currently lining store shelves, there would be enough for everybody for a good long time—without another sweatshop hiring or smokestack puff.
While there is a lot of thought about what happens to our possessions after consumption (those not reused or recycled end up in landfills), if we want to make real change, we need to consider everything that happens before we consume as well. The manufacture and transport of new items, even 100% recycled items, is a far greater environmental threat than the items we don’t reuse or recycle.
We don’t just need better products, we need less of them. “Reduce” is first in the maxim “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” for a reason. Why do we immediately skip to the second or third item in the list? If we don’t purchase it, we won’t have to consider what to do with it after we are done.
There is only one thing better than being a green consumer and that is being a non-consumer. As a non-consumer, I can still purchase things, barter for things and gift things. I just take myself out of the manufacture/consumption cycle by purchasing exclusively reused and making sure my unwanteds get remade, gifted or resold.
No new item will have to be manufactured or transported to replace my purchases. No reusable or recycled item will wind up in a landfill. And, as a bonus, I escape paying sales tax, which saves me 10.25% here in California. What’s more economical than that? I’m all for a better economy, but let this economic crash not mend until we learn how to value what we have now.