Consuming is easy for us; we live in a society that is built on consumerism, always encouraging us to buy more and more. But the ease of consuming doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do. Excessive consumption can lead to a number of negative consequences, such as drained bank accounts, excessive waste, and increased demand, straining precious resources. Mindful consumption, however, can help not only us, but the planet around us as well. When we consume more mindfully, there can be a number of benefits, including but not limited to:
- greenhouse gases are reduced
- less air pollution
- better neighbourhoods and higher living standards
- improved public health
Consumption affects us so much that it is actually one of the UN’s Sustainable Development goals. So, let’s dive right in and see how it affects us and what we can do about it!
Our modern-day consumption habits
The food industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses worldwide, and this is mainly due to mass consumption (and, as a result, mass production as well!). 45% of greenhouse gasses from the food industry is due to production, while the rest is due to storage, preparation, consumption, and transportation. Many consumers end up spending more money for food than they need to as a result of throwing out food that could have been used. Annually, around 1 trillion US dollars worth of food is wasted — either by consumers, retailers, or manufacturers. Some factors that contribute to food waste are overbuying and bulk buying, particularly of perishable goods, as well as poor food storage, which leads to food spoiling sooner than expected.
Food waste is inherently bad for the environment — it accounts for an estimated 30% of the world’s energy consumption! It takes a multitude of resources to produce the food that is found in supermarkets. Wasting food leads to a drain in resources, contributing to environmental degradation and the effects of climate change. By reducing the amount of food wasted, we could lower production costs and increase the efficiency of our own food systems.
Water is something that many people don’t even think twice about. Yet water waste is also a major issue and should be considered when adopting mindful consumption. Water is heavily consumed, not just in private homes but also in farming, industry, and even hospitals.
This is a growing concern as water is very much a finite source and should be consumed sparingly as the world population grows. While climate change plays a major part in this, so too do our own consumption habits.
Fashion is a major contributor to global overconsumption. Not only is it heavily focused on fast fashion nowadays, but there is also a major issue of exploitation of workers. Fast fashion facilitates the kinds of throw-away consumption trends that have become common over the last few decades, with global brands focusing heavily on constant cycles of mass production. We are always buying the next style, when what we already have functions perfectly well.
The fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. It also leads to the scarcity of clean water as water sources become polluted. Though textiles are cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer than ever before, we don’t keep them for long: In the UK alone, more than 1 000 000 000 kg of textiles end up in landfills every year!
Waste from electronics is often overlooked. It is a major contributor to pollution, making up 5% of global waste.
While this phenomenon has increased partly due to the increased availability and usage of smartphones, tablets, and other handheld electronics, there is so much more contributing to electronic waste: everything from household appliances like toasters, ovens, washing machines, to electronic equipment in the workplace such as laptops, printers, fluorescent lights, etc. Many electronic products these days have relatively short life spans, resulting in the rapid growth of technological and electronic waste.
Electronic waste is harmful for the environment, and this is only made worse by the fact that electronic waste is often not disposed of correctly. This causes certain harmful chemicals (like those used in components such as batteries) to leak into the environment. As recycling electronics is a rather costly endeavor, these piles of waste are exported to landfills, especially in third world countries, and simply left exposed rather than being disposed of correctly. This is a major problem because these hazardous waste releases toxins, which are then emitted into the air to contaminate the surrounding land and water. Prolonged exposure to these types of hazardous materials can lead to severe health problems, such as:
- failed pregnancies
- disease of the lungs, liver, and kidneys
What is mindful consumption?
Mindful consumption is defined as:
“being conscious about the different implications and consequences of consumption. To be mindful about consumption is to care about how your actions affect not just you but your community and nature around you too.’”
Generally speaking, the practice of mindfulness focuses on improving our awareness of ourselves and our surroundings. This means paying attention and being present while practising compassion and empathy.
More specifically, mindful consumption means shifting our behavior as consumers from being mindless and wasteful to being more compassionate towards ourselves, our community, and our planet. By consuming mindfully, we become more aware of our consumption needs, purchases, usage, and the way in which we dispose of used goods.
In short, we should not consume just because we can. So, how can we become more mindful as consumers?
Becoming more mindful
In order for us to have a more sustainable economy and approach to consumption, there are two things to consider:
- moderation, which means controlling greed for things you may want but don’t really need.
- reasonableness, which simply put, means being aware of what you’re doing and why.
An essential part of being a more mindful consumer is making mindful decisions. Mindfulness here means not getting caught up in impulsive thoughts or decisions and making decisions with full attention. Ask yourself a series of questions to help in your decision-making:
Ask yourself why you are buying the thing you’re about to buy: Is it essential? Do you already have something like it? Is there a way to get it from a more ethical, sustainable source?
When it comes to mindful consumption, create a shopping plan first. Look through your current inventory in your kitchen. Think through what it is that you really need and create a detailed shopping list that you follow carefully. Note which items you often tend to throw away without fully using their value. This way you will avoid buying unnecessary items that cause you to contribute to unnecessary waste. It can also help to prepare a list of the dishes you plan to make during the week so that you avoid buying perishable food products that you won’t end up using for those meals. These sorts of practices will help not only the environment, but your wallet as well. Practicing mindfulness with food can also boost your health by helping you to make more conscious food choices.
With your electronic products, aim to get them refurbished or repaired when necessary, rather than throwing them out. Not only does it extend the lifespan of your device, but it requires less money than switching to the latest device every two years. Aim to only purchase new devices when it’s critical, rather than just for the sake of having them.
If your current device is still functional when you buy a new one, consider reselling it or gifting it to someone else for reuse. Otherwise, dispose of them responsibly by recycling them. Many electronics stores will take back your old devices and handle the recycling process for you.
When it comes to clothing, keep some mindful questions in mind. Do you really need something new right now, or are you just buying on impulse? Before you purchase, consider trying to upcycle old clothes – turn them into something else and give them a new life. You can also consider giving them to someone else who might enjoy wearing them. If clothes and other textiles are not reused, or recycled, they end up in a landfill. The issue is that textile cannot decompose. However, this issue can be reduced by reusing and recycling old garments.
When you do buy new clothes or any other consumer products, consider where you can get them. Do a bit of research and see which companies employ ethical production and manufacturing practices. Try shopping from second-hand or vintage shops so that functional clothing is reused rather than unnecessarily ending up in landfills.
By being more mindful of our consumption habits, we get more out of our investment in the goods we buy, we reduce the burden of overconsumption, and we help our surrounding environment.