Since consumption is at the root of our environmental issues, our choices can make a difference. When we’re talking about “buying smarter,” we mean looking at not just the economic cost of an item but also its environmental and societal cost, at what it takes to manufacture it, package it, maintain it and dispose of it. Throughout the week, we looked at ways to make smarter choices about the things we buy. You may think that one person or family’s choices don’t matter, but collectively we are the market that companies are targeting so collectively we can help drive that market to adopt practices that matter to us.
The Story of Stuff
Even if you have seen Annie Leonard’s short animated video, “The Story of Stuff,” it’s worth watching again to be reminded of all of the hidden costs of our consumerism and how planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence fuel the production and acquisition of ever more stuff. She details how we have “bought” into the culture articulated by Victor Lebow all the way back in 1955: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” Learn more at The Story of Stuff.
Buying vs Borrowing
One of the first things to ask when you’re thinking about buying something is whether you really need it. Deciding you don’t saves you money and the planet resources. Assuming you do need it, look at other options than buying it new. Raise your hand if your family borrowed from the neighbors when you were growing up. Raise your other hand if you continue that tradition as an adult (and then give yourself a hand for doing so). We’re on the go a lot more these days so it’s not as easy to knock on our neighbor’s door and find them home. BUT what we do have makes borrowing even easier.
Sites and groups like Nextdoor, Buy Nothing Project and our local Everything Blacksburg group are great places to post a request to borrow something and offer to loan something of yours to someone else. Previously, you would have been depending on the small network of neighbors close to you but now you can easily reach out to a wider circle of neighbors. And people are taking advantage of these resources, borrowing tools and other items. If you’re taking this journey with us to buy smarter, first consider whether you need to buy at all. “Libraries of Things” is a new trend happening around the world, but we don’t have to have a physical library of everything because we can use the virtual one. Try it out next time you need something by posting a request for it. This kind of action also helps us get to know our neighbors and builds community.
To learn more, read about the Oxford Library of Things in this fascinating article from The Guardian:
If you just can’t do without something, and can’t find a way to borrow or rent it, look for it secondhand so you don’t have to contribute to the environmental costs of a new manufactured item. Besides being the ultimate resource for borrowing books, movies and music, the Blacksburg Library offers a number of opportunities to buy used books, as well as events to swap for seeds, crafts and other items. They are also looking for DONATIONS for their upcoming sale if you are looking to get rid of some of your overabundance of STUFF. You can drop off book donations at the library inside now that it’s open or even in the book drop.
Set New Priorities
When you need to buy something, even if it is secondhand, prioritize sustainability by considering these factors. Instead of going for cheap and trendy, look for items that are timeless and made to last, that can be used again and again and passed on to someone else when you’re done with them. As we talked about previously, consider whether you need to actually own something or do you just need access to it occasionally by renting or borrowing it. Also look for items with less packaging since that can significantly add to the environmental costs of an item. Reconsider personalization since that will limit an item’s reuse potential. Decorations labeled with the year “2021” are going to be useless next year, whereas something more general can be used again and again for years. Something labeled with your child’s name or initials can only be used later by someone with the identical name or initials and we know how fast kids grow out of things.
Look for Energy Star
Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes it easier to consider sustainability for some items, including many types of large home appliances and even light bulbs, through their ENERGY STAR program. Products that earn the ENERGY STAR label are independently certified to meet strict standards for energy efficiency set by the EPA. Improved energy efficiency results in lower emissions and fewer resources needed for electricity production. When you need to buy a refrigerator, washer, dryer, or other major appliance or light fixtures, including even decorative light strings, do some research on the Energy Star website and look for the Energy Star label to ensure you are taking energy efficiency into consideration for your purchase.
Week 9 starts tomorrow! Join us as we discuss ways to Eat More Sustainably and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook to see daily updates.