Small phone

“I just have this phone because I like small phones. It’s not really a good symbol of conservation. Conservation isn’t some huge sacrifice. It doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. I’ve got a nice flat screen TV at home, great furniture, a sauna, sporting goods, and all the clothes I can wear. Conservation just means that you aren’t constantly getting rid of perfectly good stuff to replace it with stuff that you don’t need. A perfect table is perfect for hundreds of years. You don’t need a new one every couple years. Our culture is called ‘materialistic,’ but that’s not even correct, because ‘materialism’ implies that we value our possessions. And we don’t. We get rid of them, then we destroy Africa to get more shit that nobody needs. There’s no more pressing problem right now than the depletion of the earth. The earth can tolerate a lot of punishment, but if there isn’t a change in the way we consume, there is no way it can survive. We will gladly give money help people in need. But we can’t equate the act of conservation with helping billions of people for generations to come.” –Humans of New York

When I came across this post the other day I was particularly struck by the truth in the statement about materialism. We live in the strange dissonance of a culture that is both materialistic and disposable. Our country is built on consumerism. We are taught to be consumers from childhood. Everywhere we turn there is stuff. Tempting us with the lie that we need it. We love stuff. But we also don’t. We love stuff for a time and then happily toss it aside when different stuff comes along. I could get into materialism but I think today I will lean more toward the problem of disposable consumerism, which goes hand-in-hand with materialism.

We no longer buy things to last. In fact, we often can’t, due to a market swamped with items produced for planned obsolescence. We buy stuff for a buck at the dollar store with the idea that when the poorly (probably unethically) produced object inevitably gives out way before it should we can just buy another! We line our pans with foil so we can throw it away instead of just cleaning the pan. As I sit in a coffee shop writing this I see dozens of people who are drinking in but have disposable cups anyway, containers that will spend 40 minutes in use and then sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. We spend $5 on a plastic laundry basket that we will need to replace in 2 years instead of $20 on a canvas one that will last 10 years.

We want stuff: we want it cheap: and we want to be able to replace it with more stuff whenever we feel like it. We care more about the price we pay than the price the workers and environment pay.

We like our stuff, but not enough to keep it, to fix it, to upcycle it when it is no longer functional. All too often it is cheaper to fully replace something than to have it fixed, even more often we don’t even consider fixing it.

There is no away

“Our culture is called ‘materialistic,’ but that’s not even correct, because ‘materialism’ implies that we value our possessions. And we don’t. We get rid of them”

Why should you care about your consumption?

  1. We are depleting our resources and developing countries and the poor are disproportionally paying the price.
  2. We are harming nature and animals.
  3. We are wasting money, time, and energy.
  4. We are creating excessive demand that leads to unethical working conditions for millions of people around the world.
  5. We are called to be stewards of the Earth and we are doing a poor, poor job.

Everyone has heard “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” but have you heard “Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle”? We think the pinnacle of conservation is recycling but how about not buying the object that will have to be recycled? Or demanding our goods are packaged responsibly. What about having less and borrowing more? Sharing what you have so that others can own less.

Buyerarchy of Needs

I love this more alternative list: use what you have, borrow, swap, thrift, make, buy. In that order!


Many people have written about this and done so far better than I. I follow a few pages and blogs that give practical advice on how to consume more ethically and responsibly. However, my experience is that most people aren’t out looking for this information because we think we are doing enough. Most people need a more basic introduction to conservation because they are happy enough to have a recyclable coffee cup and haven’t thought about where it with go after they recycle or throw it away (the ocean: harming plants and animals, parks: littering our green spaces, the landfill: spending up to 700 years before they even begin to degrade, or a recycling center if you’re lucky: being down-cycled into another object that still will not degrade.) Did you know that very little that is recycled actually ends up being recycled? Only 2 in 10 plastic bottles are actually recycled even if you put them in the recycling. Did you know that companies like Nestle and Coke are depleting water sources in impoverished areas to meet our demand for bottled water and pop?

If any of this is disturbing to you try these 5 things this week:

  1. Bring your own cup or ask for a mug at the coffee shop. If you are not a coffee person, buy a reusable water bottle.
  2. Take your own bags when you are shopping, plastic bags are a huge problem in terms of pollution throughout their entire life-cycle. And they are completely unnecessary!
  3. Borrow something this week instead of buying it.
  4. Buy something second-hand instead of new.
  5. Research a product before buying it to see if it is made ethically.


  1. Start composting; food that would degrade in the compost can last hundreds of years in a landfill and emits far more greenhouse gases. (Before composting- eat your leftovers! Americans throw out 40% of the food we buy! 60% of the food produced is not eaten.)
  2. Grow some of your own food and look for package-free alternatives to what you usually buy (Check out bulk stores in your area where you can take your own container for the food you buy.)
  3. Make your own cleaning products (baking soda and vinegar cleans pretty much everything)
  4. Never buy bottled water again! It is energy and water intensive and completely unnecessary (in most developed nations).
  5. Support local efforts to make businesses accountable for their consumption practices.


For practical advice and better explanations on the importance of rejecting our disposable culture check out:

  • The Story of Stuff on Facebook
  • The Art of Simple website and/or Facebook
  • Trash if for Tossers website and/or Facebook

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