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The Greenest Consumer Is the Non-Consumer

We all have heard the phrase: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” But have you ever really gave it some thought?  The progression of this saying is very important.recycle_world We must first Reduce what we consume and use.  To stem the problem we have to simply stop consuming so much.  We produce in a single day, the amount that 12 people from Bangladesh do in an entire year!  The average person in the US uses 120 gallons of water in a Day.

Reuse.  If we absolutely have to consume something, we try to extend its life and make its consumption count.  We make smart purchasing decision about how we can address our needs for the future, not just the immediate.

Recycle.  If we have had to consume something, then we should try to recycle it.  In college I used to get so mad when people would throw a can away in the trash bin at the end of the hall, which was right aside of recycle container.  Recycling is not the answer, reduction is, but if we must consume, it is our job to extend that products life and then dispose of it properly. Today’s post talks about how the best consumer is the non-consumer (for the environment, not big corps).

Reprinted EcoHearth July 2009 Tonya Kay

Bless the well-intentioned consumer. The biodegradable soap, the hemp backpack, the energy-efficient light bulbs—the end products of conscientious consumption—are becoming far more popular and make us feel better about ourselves. But how much better are these purchases for the Earth?

The economic collapse has devastated my household, my community and my industry. Perhaps, however, this is just what we need. As I send ‘hang in there’ balloons and sympathy cards like everyone else, wishing the economy a speedy recovery, somewhere deep—in a secret, sadistic place—I hope it’s not over yet.

Your neighbors have replaced their light bulbs, but have they shut off their lights?  Your family’s traded in its SUV for a hybrid, but has it busted out the bicycles? The most economical choice is almost always the most environmental choice to make as well. Is our obsession with even well-intentioned consumption keeping us poor and environmentally destructive?

If we stopped all manufacturing right now and liberated what we’ve buried in landfills, what’s in each other’s closets and what is currently lining store shelves, there would be enough for everybody for a good long time—without another sweatshop hiring or smokestack puff.

While there is a lot of thought about what happens to our possessions after consumption (those not reused or recycled end up in landfills), if we want to make real change, we need to consider everything that happens before we consume as well. The manufacture and transport of new items, even 100% recycled items, is a far greater environmental threat than the items we don’t reuse or recycle.

We don’t just need better products, we need less of them. “Reduce” is first in the maxim “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” for a reason. Why do we immediately skip to the second or third item in the list? If we don’t purchase it, we won’t have to consider what to do with it after we are done.

There is only one thing better than being a green consumer and that is being a non-consumer. As a non-consumer, I can still purchase things, barter for things and gift things. I just take myself out of the manufacture/consumption cycle by purchasing exclusively reused and making sure my unwanteds get remade, gifted or resold.

No new item will have to be manufactured or transported to replace my purchases. No reusable or recycled item will wind up in a landfill. And, as a bonus, I escape paying sales tax, which saves me 10.25% here in California. What’s more economical than that?  I’m all for a better economy, but let this economic crash not mend until we learn how to value what we have now.

2 Comments
  1. When I lost my home to foreclosure (which I "owned" ?? for 20 years) I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I had accumulated and had to "get rid of". Five yard sales and ten trips to the Goodwill later I still had more than I could take with me.

    It's the best thing that ever happened!! I now live in 250 sq ft and have the perfect excuse for not buying more stuff, or accepting stuff from well meaning friends. I just don't have the room to put it all, and I have everything I need :-)

    I see the stress on the faces of friends and family from all the time and effort they spend accumulating and then dealing with their things. I'm so grateful to have freed myself from that waste of time and resources.

    PS – got rid of my SUV, too… now I ride my bike and the bus, or carpool to shop for groceries (which means more time spent with family and friends – less time alone in my car.)

    PPS – I was devastated at first when I "lost" so much, but now I couldn't be more grateful ;-}

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