If overconsumption is not moderated, the planet’s resources will be depleted and excessive wastage will cause further environmental harm.
Why is it happening ?
High consumption of consumer goods such as clothing and food per person is a rampant issue, especially in Western and more developed nations. The growth in consumption of goods is an issue given the impact their production has on the environment and the planet’s resources. For example, to produce one pair of jeans, approximately 15 gallons of water is required and 71 pounds of carbon dioxide is omitted, the equivalent of driving 78 miles. Indiscriminate consumption is not a recent phenomenon, it is arguably a byproduct of our rapidly globalizing world which has made goods and services cheaper and quicker to access. This is shown in our culture of fast fashion and fast food, with a disregard for the true environmental cost of these goods. The problem can also be linked to a culture of excessive consumerism that often starts from a young age. From buying clothing that aligns with the currents trends, to Black Friday deals and sales that begin the day after Thanksgiving—a holiday that encourages people to be thankful for what they already have—this culture has become ingrained in our societies. It shows people that what they have already is not enough and that “more” is better.
Why does it matter?
Overconsumption of consumer goods has far reaching consequences. If the current rate of consumption does not slow down and sustainable alternatives are not embraced, the finite amount of resources that are available will deplete. Ecological foot-printing assesses how much people consume and how many resources are needed to sustain that lifestyle. For example, if the world’s population would want to sustain the lifestyle of the U.S. population, that would require nearly four earths—clearly not possible. If millennials continue to be apathetic to this problem, the massive strain on core resources such as water, soil and raw materials will worsen and not stop until there are no more resources left for exploitation.
It is also imperative to remember that greater consumption also results in greater waste. The amount of food wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people. If this was reduced it would not only alleviate problems of hunger but would save resources that are needlessly being misused. Moreover, the content that ends up in landfills, whether it is food or clothing, continues to have an impact even when it has been disregarded, as methane and toxic gases are released and contribute to global warming. Our generation must recognize the consequences of our consumption and mobilize to change the outcome, otherwise depleted resources and a ravaged environment will be inevitable.
What can you do about it?
While this issue is not being completely ignored, there is still a lot more to be done. State and local governments must make it easier for citizens to make more sustainable and ethical choices. In order to reduce consumption and the strain of valuable resources, schemes and policy to support recycling and subsidize environmentally friendly or carbon neutral, local and homegrown products have to be realized. While campaigns such as Fashion Revolution urge people to pressure big brands to become more transparent and understand where clothing comes from, the government and influential organisations such as the UN must do more to hold corporations, businesses, and organisations accountable.
However, this is an issue that requires everyone to step up, it is not a problem that only policy makers can ameliorate. On a local level, shopping at charity shops such as Oxfam in the UK not only help charities with raising funds but buying second hand items is a way of reusing an item rather than wasting it and opting for a brand new purchase. For food consumption, not wasting food will save money as well as saving and respecting the amount of resources used to produce it. For example, for every kilogram of beef, 15, 414 liters of water are required versus 322 liters for every kilo of vegetables. Moreover, eating fruit and vegetables that are in season is optimal for health, like picking produce that is grown at home or locally either in the supermarket or a local market if possible is optimal for local communities. It is up to each of us to take small steps to make a difference, because each small step really will help alleviate the strain on our planet and our resources. It is our generation that will have to face the consequences, so it is even more important that we are the ones to push forward for change.
Image Credit: Barbara Kruger 1987
Anoushka Raval briefs from Birmingham, UK. She is a candidate for a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations.