The Opposing Forces of Consumerism

I listened to the audiobook of Adam Minter’s Junkyard Planet recently. It’s quite an eye-opening look into what happens to much of our waste, the stuff that gets recycled anyway. The phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ stuck with me (although it’s not new).

To counter the growing amount of waste the world generates we should first reduce, i.e. buy fewer things; second reuse, either ourselves or hand off to someone else who can reuse the item for its original purpose; and only then recycle.

Anyone who has seen the huge amounts of toxic chemicals both required and produced in recycling much of our waste (especially e-waste) can obviously understand why, not to mention the growing pressures with dealing with our waste in general.

toxic waste in living color

The problem is that our economies are built on continual demand for new things. When consumer demand dropped after the financial crash it threw most of the world into chaos. It’s been a long haul back to where we were and we’re not there yet.

So how do you balance these two opposing forces? On the one hand we need to buy less, and on the other we must continue to buy or many businesses will cease to function (and their associated jobs will go). Continue reading