If it’s broken, don’t fix it, buy another one… A throwaway society has been with us for years, and we haven’t noticed how far we’ve gone into it. Impulse buying and overspending is something millions of people are aware of but simply cannot go without. But lately, along with the reusing and recycling trend, a tendency to non-wasting has become more and more vivid. For some companies, however, those changes in social moods, are just something to diversify their sources of income. And they happily earn on both trends – the more hedonic, and the ecological one.
Of course, when we buy more and more, the economy can go forward. That’s why limiting people’s expenses is not necessarily welcome by the rich and the powerful. And this is why marketers create artificial needs so willingly. Will we be that determined to quit our spending habits to relieve the planet despite them?
Why we buy what we don’t need
Well, this may be rather difficult. It’s because possessions let us feel that we are free, or even alive. Buying things keeps us excited for some time – often we do it out of boredom. But first and foremost – to please and comfort ourselves. “I consume therefore I am” – novelties and gathering experiences, is crucial for our culture. We’re changing phones, clothes, employers, and places of residence faster than ever. If you stay put others will probably think that your life is boring or empty.
People hear on and on to never stop progressing in terms of personal growth. But in fact, this means consuming – buying new things, new services, new courses, and new equipment. You only live once, live your life to the fullest, don’t be afraid to change, you deserve more, dare… That’s what we hear daily, and not only in adverts. We’re all immersed in consumerism, transmitted through various channels.
History of the throw-away society and spending too much
We may see the beginning of the throwing-away times in the postwar era. This was the time when consuming and spending too much, together with the dissemination of short-lived products began. What had been seen as modern was often made of plastic. More convenient, hygienic, and time-saving – this is how brands marketed their plastic products and how consumers saw them.
Customers were literally taught how to waste and get used to single-use items. How to switch from paper bags to plastic ones, use plastic cups and cutlery, desire new models of equipment. Plastic packagings and kitchen utensils, paper napkins, single-use diapers, etc. have obviously made the lives of millions much easier. But this initial fascination with disposable items, popularized after WW II, turned out to be very shortsighted.
Within years, plastic has conquered new lands and bridgeheads of retail. Its major victory was introducing plastic shopping bags and bin bags and making them a globally widespread solution. For the sake of greater convenience people stopped using old-fashioned paper and textile bags, including netted ones.
When plastic was still “fantastic” marketers convinced people they needed stuff like plastic straws and bags for cooking rice. Milk, meat, water, vegetables, cosmetics, medicines – it turned out that almost anything goes in plastic. And fairy anything can be made of it, including various kinds of electronic equipment, and home appliances. Some of them are refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines, kettles, toasters, food processors, and air conditioners. The bottom line is that plastic particles are simply everywhere. Including in human and ocean animals’ bodies.
The end of the throw-away era?
The western economy’s constant growth paradigm says it simply needs to sell more and more stuff. Thus, apart from convincing people they need this and that to feel content, companies shorten the product life cycle. The fashion industry is a great example – of both creating throw-away habits and adapting to new ecological times. Many brands’ new clothes collections still hit the market a few times a year. They are often of poor quality, made of synthetic fibers, and land in waste bins soon. In kilograms per person per year. And the clothing industry is definitely one of those most harmful to the natural environment.
But there are at least three trends regarding fashion that bring hope this will finally end. The first one is a clothing ban. It’s about taking up a challenge not to buy clothes for a given period, like a year. Within this time, we may use clothes swaps, get particular items from friends, or people moving abroad. The second trend is creating a Capsule Wardrobe – the set of a limited number of classic, classy clothes. Made of quality textiles and by reliable manufacturers, they will not age fast. That means spending more money per item but not losing it on unnecessary cheap pieces within constantly organized sales.
The third trend is the innovative trashion – fashion and home items made of trash used materials and elements. They might have been thrown away and found, redone and repurposed, but also bought at vintage, second-hand shops. There are even some major brands (like Zara) that used items from former collections to create new clothes. And Adidas took advantage of ocean plastic to manufacture one of its sports shoe collections.
Spending too much: you can step out
As we can see, the zero-waste philosophy is getting stronger and stronger. It concerns not only food but also other resources and materials, like textiles, plastic, glass, paper, and so on. One of the most recent examples is IKEA that is going vintage selling used furniture and also hiring it. And Lego announced that instead of plastic it will use recyclable paper for inner packagings of its bricks. McDonald’s, in turn, replaced plastic straws with paper ones. There are, of course, many similar initiatives.
Many retail chains stopped selling plastic plates and cutlery launching more eco-friendly alternatives. Others introduced biodegradable bags instead of disposable ones. Companies like Carrefour, Kaufland, Tesco, and Lidl have pursued such eco-friendly steps of various kinds and degrees. And there are countless initiatives like coffee refills or ‘bring your own mug’ available in millions of takeaway places.
H&M reuses clothes and gives discounts to clients who bring old textiles and leave them in special boxes. Apple, in turn, offers environmentally friendly, free recycling of its used products. Clients may bring or send them to a given address. In some countries, also credit towards the next purchase is possible in the cases of eligible devices.
What’s important, home and office electronics like TV sets, monitors, or dishwashers are to live longer within the EU. Since 2021, along with the European Commission’s regulations those appliances are to be more durable. And not to break down right after the warranty period ended. It seems that we won’t have to throw away the old and buy a new item after 2-3 years. Manufacturers will have an obligation to make their products longer-lived, and easier to fix. However, marketers will probably still claim we lose so much when we don’t buy the newest model possible.