None of our choices or the products we buy exist in a vacuum. The things we buy don't magically snap into existence and, when we're done with them, snap out again.
Understanding where our things come from can help us to make more sustainable choices. But giving thought to our purchases, and how they affect those around us, can take a big mental shift.
For example: Smart phones contain a mineral known as tantalum, which is mined in areas like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many countries where this and other rare minerals are mined are poor and the mining is not well regulated. This can lead to child labor violations, violent conflict, and forest destruction, removing crucial habitat for species such as gorillas.
When upgrading to a new phone, we can make sure to recycle our old one to help reduce the demand for these conflict-ridden minerals by keeping what we have in circulation.
And in the meantime, we can make your phone last as long as possible. Companies encourage us to replace our phones every two years for the "next big thing" but if we can break that habit by stretching the phone's life a bit longer, we can decrease the need to these minerals significantly
For most of human history, we mended what we had until such time as it could no longer be used.... and then we usually found another use for it.
Clothes that survive in museums from as far back as the fourth millennium BCE are testaments to the lasting power of well made clothing.
The trend towards cheap clothing, that can be easily discarded for new when they begin to show wear, has pushed the concept of mending our clothing (and anything else of ours) from the forefront our minds.
But learning to mend what we have is very empowering. It saves money, resources, and is an incredibly valuable skill to have.
One technique of mending clothes embraces visual mending and is called Sashiko. The tutorial below is a great place to start.
And if the mending is beyond our scope (such as a TV or appliance), bringing our custom to a local repair shop stimulates the local economy, can save money, and keeps material out of the landfill. Many wins in one!
One very easy way to be sustainable is to buy used!
Buying used means that no new materials are being utilized for what we are buying, we are keeping that item in use and out of the landfill, and we are most likely saving money in the bargain.
Check out these websites for many convenient "buy used" options!
Fast fashion refers to many things, but in essence it describes the move from quality clothes that are mended and last for years, to cheap trends that change at a faster and faster pace. Production of these clothes are often outsourced to poorer countries with lower manufacturing and labor costs. Materials are cheap and the clothes themselves are meant to be worn a few times and then discarded for the next trend.
This mindset shift has swollen the global fashion industry into a $2.5 trillion giant.
Manufacturing this clothing involves high water requirements, contributes to higher CO2 levels, and most use man-made fibers that do not biodegrade. Nearly 200 million pounds of clothes end up in New York City land fills alone, every year.
So how do we start to alter this mindset and shift this industry's momentum in a more sustainable direction?
It's always good to start by asking ourselves what we really need. We can examine our wardrobe and see what we wear and what we don't. What is good quality, practical, and timeless in style? What is low quality, trendy, falling apart after a couple of wears?
If there are things we don't use and can be distributed to others responsibly, do so. Now we can practice pausing before adding anything else to our closet.
Each time we start to purchase something we can ask ourselves: Will it last? Do I love it? What is it made of? Is this company one I want to give my money to?
"Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want." ~Anne Lappe
Buying less and less often, but buying higher quality from a company that aligns with our values means our clothes will last longer, work better and less will go to the landfill. We can feel better about our choices and our wardrobe.
No, not our end of life. I mean the things we buy.
Where does it go after we are done with it?
Does it go into a landfill? Can it be reused, re-purposed, composted? And if so, does it need to be dissembled in order to make that happen?
Thinking about "end of life" of our products before we buy is a game changer in breaking our mindless consumption mindset. Of course there will be things that we buy that will pretty much have to be thrown away, immediately or eventually. But thinking about where that item goes when it's served its purpose may help us make a better choice.
For example, I need a new dish scrubber. I could just grab a plastic one from the store on my next trip, but no part of it would be recycled after I am done with it. However if I decide to research and then invest in a wooden dish brush with compostable heads, I am buying a product that aligns with my values, which will last longer, and that will not contribute to our waste culture
Some companies, such as the Package Free Shop, will actually do the research for us and list how each part of the product can be responsibly disposed of when finished.
True minimalism is not for everyone, but making use of the mindset can be very helpful in breaking the "mindless consumer" thought process.
We can ask ourselves these questions before our next purchase:
Making more thoughtful choices about our purchases means we will have less stuff around us and the things that are there will be more useful and will bring us more joy.
Have a question? Ask A Librarian.