Mindfulness, as a practice of relaxation, encourages us to focus our mind on the here and now to contemplate on our surroundings, our thoughts, and our feelings. Implementing the notion of being mindful about our planet is more than just stepping back and trying to recognize what’s going on around us! It also allows us to ask ourselves how we can make positive changes to the planet and how we can protect what we have.
Currently, the planet’s resources are being consumed at an alarming rate, one that is unsustainable for our ecosystem. Continuing to over-consume at this rate has already led to the deterioration of our natural environment in many areas, and will ultimately lead to more loss of precious resources! While conscious consumption cannot turn back the clock on pollution and deforestation, it can hope to mitigate further damage and at least slow the rate of climate change.
Conscious consumption isn’t the only solution, but a practical approach that we can incorporate into our daily lives, one that’s not only beneficial to our environmental health but also to our holistic health as a whole. It’s a growing social movement that aims to inspire us, as individuals, to become more aware of the impact of our consumption and our powerful influence as consumers.
Say Yes to Sustainable Fashion!
Fast fashion was a term coined by a popular clothing manufacturer back in the 1990s. Their aim was to have clothes in stores only 15 days after their design, which meant that catwalk-inspired looks were accessible on every high street. This materialistic mass consumption of newness, and the desire to keep up with the latest trends, sent clothing companies into overdrive to feed these new needs. Combined with a lack of knowledge about the impact of consumer industries on the natural world, this has seen the fashion industry to the lofty position of being the second most polluting industry worldwide.
Managing to keep up with a fashion-hungry world that wants cheap clothing immediately is absolutely unsustainable for the future, but it has taken time for the negative impacts on the environment to become widely known and understood.
Fast fashion is known to be the second-biggest polluter of water in the world. Besides polluting the water, just making fabric and clothing is also a water-intensive process, taking 10,000 liters of water to make one single pair of jeans. In comparison, it would take a person 10 years to drink that much water. Fertilizers and pesticides used when growing cotton run off into local watercourses, which can be damaging to wildlife and people who live nearby. Textile treatments like dyeing, stone washing and leather tanning also use chemicals which should be disposed of incredibly carefully, because of the damage they could do to the ecosystem. Unfortunately, the disposal of said chemicals isn’t always as conscientious as one would hope it to be, especially in the fast fashion world, where pure quantity is emphasized over anything else.
E-waste: A Growing Issue
Used to describe the internal components of everything from cell phones to hard drives, E-waste is a big problem that doesn’t look like it will be reduced anytime soon. Very little of this kind of waste ends up being recycled, and so along with fashion, our love for ever-advancing electronics is also causing significant pollution issues.
The problems with e-waste can come from the toxic metals that make up parts of the components as it makes them hard to recycle, and if they’re not disposed of safely they can cause pollutants to leak into the ground and water. In a world where richer countries ship their waste to less well-off countries, it’s these poorer which suffer from the negative after-effects of other people’s consumption. We all share one planet, so the eventual effects of this waste will be felt by us all, wherever we live.
How Can We Make an Impact? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The first step we can take towards conscious consumption is through our choices; the way we pick our clothes and electronics, and what we buy in general, that we already own. Do we need another pair of blue jeans? Or another phone upgrade? Could we make use of what we have? Repair something broken instead of throwing it away? And if we need to make a purchase, can we put a little extra research into the product, so we know enough to enable ourselves to choose the sustainable option?
Clothes and furnishings that are no longer in style, but in good condition, can go to much better places than a landfill. Buying pre-loved items, and selling or giving away your own, can extend their life. Refashioning and altering clothes that you already own can mean a new and conscious wardrobe without buying anything. Did you know that there are jewelry pieces made of discarded phone parts? Buying items that are sustainable, recyclable, and made to last means that there can be a circular life cycle for fashion and no incineration is necessary at the landfill. We can all be wearing some stunning individual pieces, too!
Forests play a huge role in mitigating the effects of climate change because of their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide, one of the gases responsible for global warming. Less forest equals more pollution. Deforestation is life threatening, and not just for us. Unfortunately it also equals the loss of habitat for plant and animal species which aren’t present in any other areas on earth.
With items like furniture, the direct impact on forests is easier to see: trees get cut down to make physical items which can be used and reused. However, with food and cattle, the impact isn’t as obvious. The majority of deforestation is linked to meat, soy, and palm oil. Space for cattle grazing has led to the destruction of approximately 2.1 million hectares of forest a year, while oilseeds – including palm and soy – account for less than 1 million hectares. Soy is grown and used mostly as feed for animals, so while we might not be its direct consumer, we’re certainly a large part of the food chain! Being more mindful of our food intake and pursuing more sustainable alternatives for our daily meals is yet another effort we can all make.
Products like palm oil, however, are a little more complicated. Palm oil is found in almost half of the packaged products we buy. It’s a very efficient and productive crop compared to other vegetable oils, so it’d be counterproductive to stop using it completely. Switching to products that use sustainable palm oil, though, couldn’t be easier. A lot of countries have a certification that can be added to packaging for products that contain sustainable palm oil. This makes shopping sustainably and stopping the destruction of habitat and the species that live there a little easier.
Choose the Outcast, Choose the Odd
When we pick out fruits and vegetables at the supermarket most of us check to see if they’re in good condition. Items with flaws normally won’t make it into our basket. Assessing quality based on outward appearance is what most grocery shoppers tend to do, regardless of budget. Supermarkets know this and cater to this demand for the ‘‘ideal’’ carrot or banana. Since fruit and vegetables aren’t renowned for their ability to replicate themselves perfectly over and over, roughly 30% of globally produced food is either wasted or lost due to big supply chains.
While some of this wasted food can be rooted back to poor preservation methods, some of it is perfectly good and nutritious. It just looks a little different from what’s considered the norm. It’s a little – or maybe a lot – uglier or odder. Many retailers now market this odd produce at a cut price and you can even have a box of it delivered to your door. Less food waste means less wasted resources, and if there’s less waste, that means more food to go around globally. As individuals we can also address our own personal food waste by making small changes, like meal planning, to ensure we use all the ingredients in our fridges so they don’t get wasted either.
Making a conscious effort not just to buy less, but to buy consciously and sustainably, is a step we can all take. Individually, it’s a small change, but if more people contribute to the cause, and make their own changes, we can all take another step together towards bigger changes, ultimately leading to a greener and healthier future for all.