Conscious consumption: what it is and why everyone should think about it

Things that you have been wearing for years, a balanced approach to food preparation, waste recycling, and other ways to be responsible.

What is conscious consumption?

When you pay attention to your actions, you can notice how much we do out of habit, as if we have no choice or as if “it will do just that.” Whereas a conscious approach to everything that is bought, used, and thrown away can change for the better life of the modern citizen and the planet as a whole.

How fast fashion forces you to buy in excess

Until the twentieth century, fashion was “slow”: dresses and suits were made by tailors. The clothes were in deficit. However, with the advent of factory production and ready-to-wear shops, the opposite problem arose – overproduction.

Every resident of developed countries can walk into a store and buy a cheap polyester sweater, which may only be worn once. This is “fast fashion”, due to which casual purchases accumulate in the closets as a dead weight, and then go to the trash heap. In Hong Kong alone, 1,400 T-shirts are thrown away every minute.

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At the same time, a huge amount of water is wasted in the production of clothing. According to Greenpeace, 2,700 liters are consumed per T-shirt – that is how much one person consumes on average in 900 days. When dyeing fabrics, many harmful substances are used. For example, fluorinated compounds (PFCs), heavy metals, and solvents. All this ends up in rivers, polluting drinking water. The problem is very acute for the countries of Southeast Asia, where many factories are located.

Every year the world produces 400 billion square meters of fabric, of which 60 billion are simply thrown away or burned. The same fate awaits unsold things. The fact that buyers still take home in bags with the names of popular brands also does not last long. But only a quarter of textile waste is recycled.

Even though the fashion industry is costly for the planet, this situation is supported by all market participants.

Manufacturers strive to sell as much as possible. Collections in the mass market are changed several times a season. Each time, a new marketing campaign assures that these are the things you cannot live without. Brands create artificial excitement by limited collections: buy now, otherwise, you won’t get these things! And in the next season, the same clothes are produced.

Shoppers want the quick pleasure. A short euphoria ends with regrets when the consumer gets bored with an item. So there is a feeling of “full wardrobe, but nothing to wear.”

According to Katherine Ormerod, author of How Social Networks Destroy Your Life, social media forces people to spend money they don’t have. At the same time, buying inexpensive clothes made according to the principles of “fast fashion” is not so profitable.

To reduce the price and translate quality into quantity, mass-market manufacturers use the cheapest materials. Such clothes quickly lose their shape, become covered with pills, fade after washing, and the buyer returns to the store for a new one.

Another way to make production cheaper is to pay the workers less and not provide them with decent working conditions. Workers spend hours in inhuman conditions to make new collections for fast fashion brans to earn $100. Why are garment workers protesting in Bangladesh? The main reason is to improve working conditions.

What to do

  • Buy more expensive piece of clothing, but made from quality materials. Instead of buying a cheap item, choose something from a thrift store – there you can find things from famous brands with high-quality tailoring.
  • Buy a pair at a high quality shoes instead of shoes from the mass market, which are lose the decent look by the next season.
  • Do not throw away your old clothes in the trash bin. Give them to your friends, who might be interested in it. You can also donate it to the Red Cross or a thrift store.
  • Throw yourself a challenge. The no-buy challenge is gaining the power, was also supported by fashion bloggers. The goal is not to buy new clothes and cosmetics for at least a year. Instead of showing new purchases, followers talk about getting by with old ones or planning a budget.

How food goes to a trash bin

Overproduction of food is another significant problem that is wasting a lot of human labor and earthly resources. Much of the food we buy in supermarkets just goes to waste. Both half-eaten meals and food that have not yet managed to get out of the packaging onto the plates fly from the refrigerators to the trash can. Moreover, a lot of store products are thrown away even before getting to the buyer. And that’s not to mention the huge waste of food production.

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According to a report by the High Level Panel of experts, the United States throws away about 40% of all food produced. On average, about a third of all food is wasted worldwide – this is about 1.3 billion tons per year.

At the same time, resources are distributed unevenly. About 1 billion people in the world go hungry – and this is happening in the 21st century. To help them, residents of wealthier countries do not even need to restrict themselves. It would be enough to just cut waste by half. Due to the overproduction of food, a huge amount of other valuable resources is wasted: water, land, energy. And all this for the sake of, growing fruit that will get into a trash can.

A careful approach to shopping in supermarkets, storing and preparing food will help not only save the planet’s resources but also save money.

What to do

• Do not avoid thу goods that look a little worse than the rest: asymmetrical and “ugly” fruits, packages with torn labels. All these goods will be thrown away by the supermarket first.

• Start sharing. Do not rush to throw away expired boxes of cereals – you can give it to homeless or charity. In fact, dry goods like rice, lentils, pasts and cereals are safe to use long after the expiry date on the food label.

• Reconsider the approach to expiration dates. They are stated by the manufacturer, based on their research, after the expiry date the product is considered unsafe. However, it does not necessarily become harmful on the very same day. Non-perishable foods may still be quite edible.

• Buy and cook as much as needed. If you are not going in a seven-day camping, and the store is located in the next house, it is better to be slightly undernourished than overeating.

How electricity and water are used

Fossil fuel power plants deplete non-renewable natural resources: gas, oil, and coal. Also, the use of them causes the production of a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Temperatures on Earth continue to rise – especially since 1980 when each of the past three decades has been warmer than the last. According to the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this is largely related to human activities.

The operation of power plants is harmful to our health. For example, in China’s Heibei province, coal-fired power plants are responsible for 75% of premature deaths within one year. Air pollution of this kind leads to an increase in the incidence of lung cancer, childhood asthma, and chronic bronchial diseases. Of course, no one is ready to give up electricity at all. Reasonable consumption of resources is also an opportunity to significantly reduce utility bills.

The situation is not better with the way water is used. It seems that oceans are huge, and there is more water on the planet than land. Nevertheless, more than 40% of humanity suffers from the shortage of clean drinking water.

Its absence and unsanitary conditions are the cause of high child mortality in developing countries, in some regions up to 1.5 million children under five die from infectious diseases during the year. Whereas in countries whose residents have the opportunity to freely use water, 1 liter flows out of a tap per minute. And this is at that moment when, we are brushing our teeth or are simply distracted by something.

What to do

  • Turn off the lights in room when you leave. Sometimes you can get by with natural light, when you open the windows. It makes sense to buy energy-efficient light bulbs that last 7-8 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
  • Replace old electrical appliances that use a lot of energy with more economical ones (again, making a responsible choice – keep the device durable). Do not use equipment in vain: the less time the refrigerator is open, the better, and fill the washing machine and dishwasher to the max. This, by the way, will help save on detergents and cleaning products.
  • Place water-saving showerheads and faucets to save water. There are many cheap ones on Aliexpress. You can also purchase a toilet with different drain modes to use less water.
  • Reuse water after washing fruits and other relatively clean items. For example, for watering flowers (of course, if no detergents were used).

The reasons for a conscious approach to consumption can be different: ethical, environmental, purely practical, and even psychotherapeutic (fast consumption and unbridled consumerism do not make people happy). According to Marie Kondo, author of the book “Magic Cleaning”, a small amount of truly loved and used things brings much more joy and peace than shelves filled with indistinct stuff.

Whatever the motivation is, a deliberate approach is to stop for a second and ask yourself before you buy a product or start using something: what consequences will this have for me and the world around me?


Interesting related article: “What is a Consumer?”