As a teenager in California, I am surrounded by especially environmentally conscious individuals. My friends are mostly vegan or vegetarian as a way to cut back on carbon emissions, discuss saving endangered species of plants, and use reusable lunch containers to avoid throwing away plastic bags. It still isn’t enough. At lunch, half eaten oranges are carelessly thrown away, and cans of soda are left mostly full. We drop our smartphones and buy new ones to replace shattered screens. We buy cheaply made clothes that fall apart, and buy on size per cost rather than longevity. We do all of this without thinking, because that is American culture- buy, break, replace. Most people already know that producing too much waste is bad. Most people have been told to clear their plates, recycle, bring reusable bags, and shower for 5 minutes. However, few of those people actually change their lives significantly enough to create a greater change. Consumerism builds up our society. In an article called “Why Buying Things Makes You Happy,” social neuroscientist and college professor Steve Quartz explains how the things people buy help them create social groups and subconsciously create a sense of self esteem and value (Quartz). But the waste cycle is piling up, and the processes it takes to drive those lifestyles impact the environment in a negative way. In order to create a significantly positive change towards restoring the environment, individuals must take the initiative to change small lifestyle routines. Consumers must modify how they live by reducing how much they buy and throw away to push society towards a less wasteful norm.
Taking steps toward becoming less wasteful is important for those who do not already realize the impact of their overconsumption. There is a small few who go beyond using less plastic and have already successfully converted to producing no waste. On the other hand, a huge demographic of Americans don’t have the resources to prioritize environmental impact. Many of these people already face challenges that force them into buying patterns that are already low or hard to change. However, most people should buy and consume less. By switching small default lifestyle choices, individual consumers can build up to create a block of influential citizens and shift American society into a less consumerist and wasteful culture.
How much does throwing away a moldy apple or stale crackers really matter? A report by the National Resource Defense Council indicates 40% of the food produced in America is left unconsumed, which averages out to 400 pounds per person per year (Gunders). This is a combined fault of methods used to produce and retail food, but data compiled from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology shows almost half the food wasted comes directly from consumers throwing away food (Gustavsson). The change it takes to divert away from these wasteful habits at an individual level looks like purchasing only amounts of food guaranteed to be eaten. Yes, it is hard to diverge from tossing food when the best deals are usually presented in the forms of colossal Costco boxes of food that can never be totally finished. In my own pantry, old boxes of cereal are left uneaten, but new boxes are still purchased. No matter how well I finish the food on my plate, I am still a contributor to the problem of waste. Moldy or stale food typically isn’t so when it is purchased, it just isn't eaten quickly enough.
One of the biggest and most noticeable reasons of waste, however, is abiding to “sell by” and “best before” dates on products. I have seen many people toss food because though it “looked fine,” it had “perished” a week back. According to the US Department of Agriculture, federal law does not require products to be dated (Food). Reducing consumption just by throwing away less food can result in a lesser national average of food waste, creating less need for farms to produce and transport, a process which uses resources like water and fossil fuels. Even simple research to see if the food someone is about to toss is fine to eat can take the amount of food wasted each year to a less extreme amount.
Another huge step towards being less wasteful is the purchasing of material goods. People should not buy unnecessary goods that will need to be immediately replaced or thrown away. Anyone who has witnessed the chaotic rush of Black Friday Shopping deals or attempted to venture into a store days before a holiday can understand that Americans value buying. Store displays change overnight from Fourth of July themes to Halloween to Christmas, always fresh with new seasonal goods. Looking from far away, it’s easy to see the consumerist cycle of buying possessions that fade out in trend and function just as the newest products appear on the shelves. It’s hard, though, to see each individual’s part in this, especially those who swear they aren’t the typical American consumer. However even my environmentally conscious friends buy devices such as phones, earbuds, and charging cables that break and then replace them with the same brand or even model. I’m not saying the solution is to throw away all your devices and live off the grid, in fact I believe the opposite.
Technological advancement can reduce consumption via multi-use gadgets, but in order to responsibly consume one should use devices to the complete extent of their longevity rather than replacing them for reasons of social status. If consumers can shift away from these cycles, less products will end up in landfills. This will lead to less need to deforest, drill for materials, and other processes that hurt people and nature on a global scale.
Many people think that living waste free is inconsequential due to the lack of people willing to make the switch. There seems to be little appeal to the consumer themself, as many people struggle to provide necessities to their families. However, change starts small, and as younger generations become buying powers of the nation, people like my friends can set a new standard of less consumption. The amount of food wasted on average costs “a household of four an average of $1,800 annually (Gunders).” By buying less and using more, one could save that type of money and fund other aspects of life. Beyond money, I know most people value being a good person. Becoming a figurehead of acting against consumption, by just being aware of waste, will help to create a new society of individuals. They will be ethical consumers, and fight against the overconsuming trope of modern society. The more a person can live against the wasteful norm, the more impact they will have in creating a bigger group who will follow suit and force change.
By stepping past the baseline of recycle bins and composting, becoming waste free will change how American society works.On a global scale, it will provide a platform for much needed reform. People should aim to never throw food away, through buying consumable portions and well made goods. There should be more resistance against the plastic world America has made, and the repetitive cycle of buying that follows business-made pushes to buy things with no real value. It all starts with those who initiate the change and spread it on, choosing a conscious lifestyle that could save money and global resources. Overall, each person that makes that change contributes to a larger group of people that sends a louder message. Buying what need, and nothing more, is a simple way to lead to a brighter future. Someday, the cycle of consumerism may be broken, but it will take a lot more than cloth bags and carpooling.
"Food Product Dating." Food Safety and Inspection Service, United States Department of
Agriculture, Dec. 2016. Accessed 29 Jan. 2018
Gunders, Dana. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up To 40 Percent Of Its Food From Fork To
Landfill. NRDC, 2017, Wasted: How America Is Losing Up To 40 Percent Of Its Food From Fork To Landfill. Accessed 29 Jan. 2018
Gustavsson, Jenny. "Per Capita Food Losses And Waste." Chart. Swedish Institute for Food
and Biotechnology, 2011 Accessed 29 Jan. 2018
Quartz, Steve. "Why Buying Things Makes You Happy." News Hour, PBS, 9 Sept. 2015. Accessed 29 Jan. 2018