(Gibb, W/Green Skills Inc. Denmark Tip Shop, WA)

Goods

Section
2. Reduce Consumption
Page
2.8

Where to start? The Developing World can’t get enough of them and the Developed World is drowning in them. Our Footprint Analysis in 2.1 tells us that they comprise 14% of our personal consumption impact1, ranking just behind transportation. Again, this is largely a First World problem and I am aghast at the seemingly unstoppable momentum of our consumption of goods. There seems to be no ‘off’ button to our desires, and when this is married to the evil twins of overconsumption – advertising and fashion – then the average First World person seems to go into a daze of mechanical consumption without beginning or end. Everything from shoes to kitchens, to food processors, to gardens, must be consumed and then thrown out as new products appear with ever-increasing rapidity. I watched in horror, the other day, the last episode of Monty Don’s excellent television series on garden history in the UK2https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11640272/ – when he visited a massive industrial farm producing plants for supermarkets. Under hectares of glass and plastic, and ringed by conveyor belts, plants were being mass-produced in the hundreds of thousands and sold as cheaply as possible. There’s nothing wrong with this at face value, but these plants, as we all know, are basically thrown away by their purchasers after their flowers die, and, as if to prove the point of their ephemeral life, were being sprayed with glue and glitter to make them shine before going onto the shelves!

The Story of Stuff’ is a splendid introduction to the topic – youtube video 21 mins . To pick but one good of the thousands in our privileged lives in the First World, extensive research has been carried out on the environmental and social impacts of garment manufacture, for example, the humble T-shirt. A good introductory video has been produced by Angel Chang for Ted Ed and can be viewed here (6 mins):

 

https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-life-cycle-of-a-t-shirt-angel-chang

The video follows a lifecycle approach whereby all stages of production and marketing and use are followed, and this can be presented graphically as:

(Buddha Jeans, K. 2014. The Lifecycle of a T-Shirt 3)

 

The environmental impacts are many and varied (detailed analysis can be viewed here: PowerPoint Presentation (openlca.org) ), but are, in simple summary for one t-shirt(ibid):

  • 22 lbs fertilizers (9.8 kgs)
  • .01 lbs pesticides (5 gm)
  • 2 lbs fossil fuels (544 gm)
  • 700 gallons water (3,182 lt)
  • 73 lbs CO2 (2.6 kgs)

The Life Cycle of a T Shirt | (wordpress.com) .

While some of these amounts appear small, it must be remembered that two billion t-shirts are sold each year4, and as Angel Chang informs us, 80 billion garments! Many of these are being sold at ridiculously low prices – a few Australian dollars at some of my country’s stores – and the average ‘wear’ of all clothing is down to 14 times5, (and would be much less for these cheap items – https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-fast-fashion-why-it-problem ). Almost none of this is recycled, or re-used, so there is clearly something very wrong attitudinally, and economically, here. The attitudinal aspects will be explored in Section 3, and economic structures and weaknesses in Section 9, but it is clear that the classic tactic and problem of ‘externalities’ is in play here whereby social and environmental costs are removed from the accounting, making the T-shirts so cheap that using raw materials and creating and shipping a new product is ‘cheaper’ than re-use/recycling. A pea and thimble trick.

Reduce/Repair/Make/Re-use/Recycle

(Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 1993. Bed – Anne Hathaway’s Cottage)

 

Elizabethans of the 17th century knew the value of goods and the desirability of keeping them, even across generations. Famously, William Shakespeare, on his death in 1616, left to his wife Anne Hathaway his “second best bed”. (In today’s world this seems like a mean snub, but then it was a true reflection of value and would have referred to the marital bed rather than the first, ‘show’ bed, for visitors). What a contrast with today where beds and mattresses dot our Nature strips and landfills, changed as often as fashion and desire dictates!

As indicated, this compulsive consumption, almost without meaning and pleasure, will be addressed in Section 3, but it can be noted here that it is possible, indeed has been possible and the standard way of life for human beings for 99% of history, to adopt another attitude; one of quality, not quantity, of pleasure and meaning in making, repairing, re-using and keeping goods, rather than the pointless pursuit of the eternal ‘new’. The coronavirus pandemic kept people out of shopping centres and city centres and confined them to the home and immediate surrounds, and with this came an upsurge in interest in making and doing things for oneself. Knitting, sewing, baking, carving, food production, etc. and so forth, all were ‘re-discovered’, and I have lost count of the number of people who have told me how much they enjoyed them. To assist the process, some places are lucky enough to have groups or centres sharing skills and materials; for instance, the excellent Recreate Centre at Mt Pleasant which offers workshops, materials and community in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia (https://www.facebook.com/recreatecommunity).

(Recreate, 2021. Sewing Workshop, Mt Pleasant, SA)
(Recreate, 2021. Men’s Shed Activities, Mt Pleasant, SA)

 

In addition, there are many old and new sharing opportunities obviating the need for new purchases: libraries for books, toys and tools exist, as do various forms of trade and swapping through local markets and centres.

(weekendnotes.com, 2014. Lane Cove Toy Library, Sydney)

 

It is encouraging, too, that more and more landfills are operating so-called ‘tip shops’, where items are removed from the waste stream and sold or exchanged, such as at Denmark, south-west Western Australia.

(Gibb, W/Green Skills Inc. Denmark Tip Shop, WA)

 

When, finally, an item cannot be re-used or repaired, it should be able to be recycled (for more thorough examination of this topic, see Section 10 ‘Wastes’), and there are innovative centres like Transmutation at Robe, in South Australia – Transmutation – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – where everything from canvas to car tyres, to plastic bread-bag ties, is recycled into new items, like shoes, bowls, doorknobs and pens.

(Transmutation, 2021. Recycled Plastic Doorknobs)

 

(Ways to reduce consumption of goods – clothing – is explored further on webpage 3.7).

 

1WWF. 2020. Living Planet Report 2020 – bending the curve of biodiversity loss. WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

2 Don, M. 2015. The Secret History of the British Garden. BBC, London, UK.

3 Buddha Jeans, K. 2014. The Life Cycle of the T-Shirt. Evergreen Design Co. The Life Cycle of a T Shirt | (wordpress.com)

4 Matthias, W. 2012. “T-Shirt Blues: The Environmental Impact of a T-Shirt”HuffPost. July 3rd.

5 Crumbie, A. 2021. What is Fast Fashion and Why is it a Problem. Ethical Consumer. https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-fast-fashion-why-it-problem

 

Explore Other Pages Reduce Consumption

2.1 Context and Clarifications

“I consume, therefore I am”   Poor Reneé Descartes couldn’t have known how wrong he was in 1637 when he penned “I think, therefore I am”. I am not being facetious at all when I write the above; I really think that the majority of the worl...

2.2 Consumption Fever

This is Albert, the Magic Pudding, ‘magic’ because: “A peculiar thing about the Puddin’ was that, though they had all had a great many slices off him, there was no sign of the place whence the slices had been cut. ‘That’s where the Magic comes in,...

2.3 Introducing Ecological Footprint Analysis

Dealing with the natural world is daunting, such is its size and complexity. Getting a fix on humanity and its blizzard of activities and effects, is similarly daunting. It’s no wonder, then, that it is so hard to get any sort of perspective, any ...

2.4 Using Ecological Footprint Analysis

Hopefully, webpage 2.3 has introduced the ‘Footprint’ concept sufficiently well to enable readers to be ready to apply it, both personally, and to cities, regions, countries or sectors, of interest. Footprint’s ‘home base’ is the Global Footpri...

2.5 Food

While webpages 2.1-4 have attempted to provide some overview on consumption, it is time now to focus on specific significant areas. Food, accounting for up to a third of our consumptive impact, well and truly qualifies as ‘significant’. On clos...

2.6 Housing/Shelter

The next, ‘big ticket’ item, is housing, or shelter, which – depending on the measurement system – ranks alongside food as the major personal consumptive impact. Shelter consumes enormous resources in its construction, maintenance and operation, b...

2.7 Transport/Mobility

Global Footprint Analysis tells us that, worldwide, this accounts for 15% of our personal impact1, and this is much higher in First World countries. At its simplest, it comes down to: How far we travel By what means we travel ...

2.8 Goods

Where to start? The Developing World can’t get enough of them and the Developed World is drowning in them. Our Footprint Analysis in 2.1 tells us that they comprise 14% of our personal consumption impact1, ranking just behind transporta...

2.9 Other Scales: Institutional, Governmental, Corporate

It has oft been stated that T10 focusses, or at least starts, at the personal scale, for reasons of understandability, but it would be irresponsible to ignore the importance of consumption – and drivers - at larger scales. Domestic consumption is ...

2.10 Consumption Myths

It seems a strange thing to do to finish the section on consumption with a word of caution about the topic. The last thing I want to do is to undermine this vital area of impact and agency, but it must be said that it is an area of considerable sm...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...