The modern society of consumerism and rampant ‘development’ is destroying our world. The biggest problem with consumerism is the fact that people do not realize that there is a problem. If we continue consuming resources at this rate, we will need 3 Earths to sustain by 2050. We are currently consuming resources worth 1.6 earths, which is causing mass environmental destruction and social problems across the world. There are 2 main reasons that consumerism, driven by the increasing population, is having such a negative impact on the earth

Extensive Usage of Materials

We obtain raw materials and energy from nature to produce our goods and services. Many of these resources are not renewable or regenerate very slowly. As the demand for goods increases, the increased supply leads to exploitation and extraction of these natural resources at alarming rates. 27 million hectares of forests, the size of New Zealand have been left behind barren due to the extraction of Palm Oil, an extremely versatile oil used in almost every product from pizza, doughnuts, and chocolate, to deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, and lipstick, even used as biofuel in some countries. This is a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the Orangutan, pygmy elephant, and Sumatran rhino. We are already consuming resources at a rate quicker than our planet can replenish which is leading to pollutant emissions, increased land use and deforestation, loss of biodiversity, water shortage, and accelerated climate change.

 

Waste Generation

Another simple reason to consume less is that the more one consumes the more one wastes. Almost everything we produce has a certain lifespan after which it is waste and as a society, we are currently producing more waste than ever before. Every piece of plastic ever made, still exists in our homes or oceans or landfills, and more is being produced and used.

Yearly households produce 2 billion tons of waste, this is only 20% of the waste generated by producing commercial goods and services. Producing and transporting consumer goods uses large quantities of fossil fuels that pollute and when these products become waste, they are transported again—usually to landfills, where they produce methane as they break down—or to incinerators, which generate more pollution as they burn.

Source: Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

Another problem with consumerism is known as planned obsolescence where products are manufactured not to last. This happens as companies make products with a deliberately short life span so consumers have to re-purchase more frequently. Furthermore, another trend that causes excessive production is fast fashion. This is a highly profitable business model where replications of the most recent fashion trends are mass-produced at a low cost. Clothing production has doubled as clothing companies have gone from releasing only two fashion lines a year to 6 or more. More of us tend to buy cheap clothes that are trendy but don’t last, which leads to more wastage and excessive use of natural raw materials like cotton, wool, and silk. This leads to unsustainable agricultural practices and unethical use of labor.

A plausible solution to this, is the concept of circular economy. It is a systemic approach to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. Looking beyond the current take-make-waste, extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to produce systems and products that have a plan for the end of its life, allowing resources to re-enter at production stage. It aims to remove waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. However, this approach will take time to implement so until then make a change today by reducing materialistic possessions, increasing recycling, and raising awareness in your community.