Consumerism is second nature to all of us in one form or another and the words "great for the economy" are constantly thrown around - but how much growth can our economy take before it bankrupts itself or us via poor political choices and blissful ignorance?
"Treat yourself", a phrase that many of us have heard or perhaps even said. The notion of having whatever you please because you simply want it and believe that because you work hard, you deserve it. It's an idea most common to developed countries but when you break it down, it's actually part of our consumer conditioning. As an elder millennial - I have been marketed to since birth - I still remember Nescafe and Bisto adverts from when I was 4 years old - this consumer conditioning is hard to shake off, even for the woke!
The need for stuff because it's trendy, new or better is something that any zero waster has to come up against and for some it can be hard to shake off - simply replacing products for compostable alternatives isn't always the answer. So much of what we believe we need, own or consume is unnecessary in the first place; tackling our own personal feelings of why we feel we need or want these items is imperative; we must ask ourselves; what do they mean to us and how would they make our lives richer?
Advertising is a form of brain pollution that has us in a perpetual fog of ignorance, we can no longer tell the difference between a genuine recommendation and affiliate marketing. When you are out of this cycle, it is easy to see it for what it is - keep people addicted to stuff and feeling like they need to work harder to earn more to pay for said stuff and the world's industries piggy backing off the profits which help fund lobbies to governments to ensure the cycle keeps going and the rhetoric reinforced (for the good of the economy).
The Guardian article, written by Andrew Simms
"Extensive scientific research shows that, when exposed to advertising, people “buy into” the materialistic values and goals it encourages. Consequently, they report lower levels of personal wellbeing, experience conflict in relationships, engage in fewer positive social behaviours, and experience detrimental effects on study and work. Critically, the more that people prioritise materialistic values and goals, the less they embrace positive attitudes towards the environment – and the more likely they are to behave in damaging ways.".
When trading as a zero waste shop, Earthkind's inbox was regularly inundated with emails from companies offering wholesale prices on their "eco" products which they believe "fit with the ethos of our brand". Three emails that inspired this post were so far removed from what zero wasters believe in, I had to write about them...
The first email was from a company in Scotland who had created pre-made convenience risottos in compostable packaging - I agree, risottos are a fantastic and fast meal, taking no more than 30 minutes to prepare, the production of compostable packaging for such a product therefor is a huge waste of resources and only perpetuates the need for fast and convenient food. The original Italian peasant food costs mere pennies to make from scratch, meaning these food pouches are also a waste of consumers money.
The second email we received was from a company in Canada selling organic cotton produce bags for CA$99 per set. Produce bags are very simple to make, they need no sewing experience and can be easily made from scrap fabric, old clothing or bedding. The huge price on these products only goes to show that companies are viewing sustainability and ethics as trends from which to capitalise.
The third email inspiring this post was from a well known protein bar manufacturer who were "proud to have produced their quality bars in compostable packaging". Having never eaten a protein bar, it's confusing to understand why such unnecessary gimmicks need to become eco when a simple and sustainable outlook leaves these types of products and companies behind in the dust. Do we need protein bars and convenience food in our lives? I'm sure there is an argument for both in that people have busy lives etc. etc. however if that risotto company had been truly thinking about sustainability, why not create a dry mix to sell to bulk food stores that you can just add water to - this would reduce the need for any packaging at all.
When will industries catch up? People don't want or need like for like swaps - we can handle change, what we need is greater transparency and accessibility to bulk food options in supermarkets and local shops as well as less green washing with words like "eco" and "degradable" which mean nothing if not backed up by sustainable practices and an openness towards how ethically sourced their products are and whether their packaging is home compostable or not.
Zero wasters are in it for the long haul, we are prepared to give up our favourite foods, our exotic tastes as well as our need for items that many still think of as basic or necessary, so that we can give the planet a chance to recoup and replenish. We do this with open hearts because we know our parents, brothers, sisters, colleagues can't, and in most cases because this is the only thing we can do to gain some sort of control after finding out the scary statistics around climate change. What we don't need though, is convenience foods in compostables, we need companies to take responsibility for their part in consumer conditioning and for them to take a stand in helping the public shift away from traditional consumerism towards conservation.