With plastic being found everywhere from the deepest point of the ocean to our own bodies, the topic of consumerism (and the impact it’s having on both people and the planet) has never been more pertinent. In a desperate bid to save the turtles (and, you know, everything else), items like paper bags, glass straws and no-packaging beauty products are all the rage.
The Three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – have become the slogan by which we all should be living our lives. But what does this mean practically? How can you do your part in making the planet a better place?
How you consume – everything from food to products to services – is a good start, in our humble opinion. Read on to find out how to become a better, more mindful consumer.
1. Understand wants vs. needs 💭
The first, and most crucial, step to being a more mindful consumer is to be able to tell the difference between a want and need. This isn’t to say that you should never buy the things that you want – but rather an opportunity to pause, think, and understand the reasons why you feel compelled to make a purchase.
Will the item genuinely make you happy, or is advertising creating a sense of FOMO? Will it (in the wise words of Marie Kondo) spark joy a few days, weeks or years from now? Buy the things that you need and carefully think about the things that you want: chances are you don’t really, really want them after all.
2. Baby steps 🍼
The process of becoming a more mindful consumer can be overwhelming, and requires some (often big) changes. Breaking life-long habits built around convenience will be difficult, so take things one step at a time. Your journey to mindful consumerism is like embarking on a new exercise regime: start small and you’ll avoid giving up after two weeks and eating a tub of peanut butter in the cupboard while simultaneously weeping.
Plot your mindful goals weekly, starting with little changes (like using your own reusable coffee cup, and saying no to plastic straws) and graduating to tougher lifestyle choices (like going vegetarian, shopping organic, or only supporting local).
Lastly, work within your budget. If you can’t afford to swap out to energy-saving lights or to only buy environmentally products just yet, that’s cool. Even small changes will make a big difference over time.
3. Consider the impact 🥊
What went into producing the item? Who, or what, was harmed in doing so? What are the environmental and employee labour policies of the manufacturer? Is it Fair Trade, organic, or eco-friendly? Can the item be recycled or biodegraded? How long will it last? When it’s no longer useful where will it go?
Asking yourself the above questions will help you understand where a product or service came from, and the effect it might have in the future. Choose to spend your money on things that do create opportunity (through ethical skills development, job creation and sustainability) and don’t destroy (lives or environments).
4. Buy to last 🗓
Save up to buy the best quality you can afford. Aim to buy items once, or as infrequently as possible, to avoid unnecessary production and waste.
5. Support local 🇿🇦
Support your local brands, retailers, farmers, restaurants and organisations. Not only are you supporting your own country or community, but you’re greatly reducing the carbon footprint associated with international storage and transport.
6. Don’t fall prey to promotions 🦅
Brands will find just about any excuse to run a promotion or sale. And while the price slashes are tempting, do you really need another black pair of sneakers? Is that inflatable doughnut lilo really going to last more than one summer braai? Will that miracle vibrating ab belt burn calories or just a big old hole in your wallet, and sense of self-worth?
Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s a deal. Think about whether you really need something before you buy it, regardless of its price.
7. Dispose carefully 🚮
Find out where your things go when you throw them away. Do they end up in a landfill, or can they be recycled or repurposed? Think about people who could find a use for the item after you’re done with it. Think about whether it’s really reached the end of its usefulness or if you’re just wanting to replace it with something shiny and new.
8. Be kind 💙
Mindful consumerism doesn’t just apply to the items or services you buy, it also applies to the people you interact with along the way. Be polite and patient with the staff who assist you – the world really doesn’t need any more unnecessary negative energy.
9. Pay it forward 🍃
So you’ve reached enlightened levels of mindful consumerism – you go! Why not help others be better with their purchasing habits? Guide those who are open to change without imposing your views too heavily or becoming overbearing. You were an eco-newbie once too.
Oh, and while you’re at it, give kudos to some local green businesses over at Hellopeter – because sharing truly is caring when it comes to saving the planet.