we are often made to think that by making better individual choices in our own lives that we are also creating a better, more sustainable world. news flash. it doesn't.
maybe boycotting Sabra makes you feel better about not giving your money to a company that sends literal care packages to the Israeli Defense Forces... or not buying Chick Fil A makes you feel better that you didn't contribute to the 1.8 MILLION DOLLARS they donated to lgbtq+ hate organizations...
but overall, these individual decisions do not make up for systematic change.
now karen, i'm not telling you to stop being a vegan and buying hemp clothes because you initially wanted to reduce your carbon footprint or something. DO IT. but if you think that your conscious consumerism is the answer for actually making progress? than you're wrong.
consumerism is the most important part of American capitalist culture. we are always making choices. many which we don't consciously think about. you are bombarded with advertisements all the time. on the tv. on the radio. ALL over fucking social media. and now that we have mf influencers it makes consuming products even more personal. you're friend or role model is recommending the product... not just some rando. even if you are like most sustainable bitch in the world there is probably shit you do without even thinking about it that you are not consciously consuming. lets talk about clothes for example.
the clothing market is so extremely saturated with the US alone producing 25 billion pounds of textiles a year. that makes about 82 pounds per person which out of that 15% get recycled and a whopping 85% goes to an overloaded landfill. it was only recently that the rise of individual and conscious recycling efforts began working it's way into peoples' everyday routines. but textiles only made up 5.2% of all recyclables. these statistics are beyond depressing. and for every person that recycles their clothes or sends them to Goodwill to be reused (and eventually get thrown out anyway), there are hundreds of thousands of other people that throw out their "old" clothes to buy new trendy styles. the only clothing company i know that recycles all their stuff is the Eileen Fisher Renew Collection... but it literally costs $100 for a good sweater so um i'll pass.
fast fashion companies are extremely popular right now. they sell trending and inexpensive clothes that get delivered to your door in less than 3 days. PLUS with less shops and boutiques open because of the pandemic, fast fashion companies like FashionNova are making more money than ever. just FashionNova, which became popular by the influencers / celebrities like Kylie Kardashian and Cardi B was valued at $450 million in net worth June of 2020. god knows how much they'll make in the future. in an article from Alden Wicker, sustainable fashion writer and expert, she describes that it "isn’t your fault for trying to do the right thing: It’s the fault of the relentless trend cycle of fast fashion, which is flooding the secondhand market with a glut of clothes that Americans don’t want at any price."
i want to assure you guys!! i'm really not trying to discourage you from recycling your clothes or making better choices. everyone should be doing that. i just wish that we had better systems that would make it easier for all people to practice these sustainable measures but the truth is that individual change is only part of creating larger change. in order to create a significant difference large corporations and companies must create sustainability laws in order to stop these problems from spiraling out of control. cause um. they already have.
individual efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle also can pose problems because it does not address people who do not have money or resources to access these services.
Wicker mentions this issue of privilege when it comes to individual environmentalism. the recent neoliberal sustainability movement obviously appeals to wealthier people who can "choose" to be healthier or make more sustainable choices. a lot of people don't have the option to just choose to pick a better company or product than another. for example, i get so much shit for shopping at Walmart when i'm at college. obviously i don't go to Walmart because i just looove the way the ambiance or the way they treat their employees, or their incredibleee customer service. but it's cheap and i can buy a notebook there for $1. a lot of other kids shop in town at our cute little bookstore Ben Franklin or the Ginko Art Gallery & Store. while i think those places are great and wonderful, they sell everything at three to four times the price as Walmart. partially because they can (bc Oberlin kids usually have money) and partially because it's extremely convenient to shop on campus. but if i'm spending my own money and i do not have daddy shep refilling my ObieDollars or something then for sure i'm gonna get my ass to the Walmart. this is a pretty silly example but i think you get the point. when people give me shit about shopping there while i'm in school i understand where they are coming from but how does this apply to other people that simply cannot decide to eat "better" or shop "better" because they do not have the money or resources to do so.
let's consider water, for example. the water bottle industry is valued at a little over $16 billion dollars. Perrier mineral water became the first bottled water brand to become incredibly successful due to it's French sounding name and chic look. later, other companies followed and used health and wellness as a marketing strategy such as Evian which bragged about their "natural electrolytes" and perfect 7.2pH balance. afterwards, soda companies wanted to infiltrate the expanding water bottle market inc. Coca Cola's Dasani & PepsiCo's Aquafina... so why do people buy and drink so much bottled water? well the first major reason is our lifestyle. in the US during 2018, 89% of bottled water consumption was done while traveling. this makes sense because Americans are always working hard and playing hard. essentially, it's easy to grab on the road. we have very little accessible free or clean water while traveling to and from work or long distances. i only bring a water bottle to school but it's not in my daily routine to carry one around all the time (which it should be). the other reason is safety. according to the Water Quality Association, "47% of 18-34 year olds do not drink think that their own water is safe; therefore 41.4% consume bottled water regularly (SBDC Net)." Flint, Michigan for example is probably the most known city with a water crisis but it isn't the only one. according to Business Insider from 1938 and 2015, between 9 to 45 million Americans got their drinking water from sources that violated the EPA's standards. some of the cities mentioned in the article with contaminated water inc. Pittsburg, Milwaukee, Detroit, Newark, Washington DC, Baltimore, Dos Palos, Charleston and the list goes on. so what are people supposed to do when their water supply is shit?? buy it bottled.
water is a perfect example of how unaware our culture is towards making environmental change. an average family wastes about 180 gallons of water per week. 180 GALLONS. the EPA states on their website that we can actually save "20% less water if we were to install water efficient fixtures and appliances." and while i would love love to tell you that carrying your hydro flask around is changing the world, i can't help but also think about the ways that millions of other Americans are wasting all the water you've "saved." the point is, we need to change the behaviors of people and that all starts by implementing laws and regulations ESPECIALLY for large corporations. we need to make recycling and making better choices accessible to everyone.
so no, i'm not telling you to stop being vegan or buying hemp clothes or using your hydro flask. cause those are all good things to be doing. i'm just saying that in order to create real change we must think bigger. Wicker writes at the end of her article, "We pat ourselves on the back for making decisions that hush our social guilt instead of placing that same effort in actions that enact real environmental change."
so what should we be doing? Wicker provides some great examples–
Instead of buying expensive organic sheets, donate that money to organizations that are fighting to keep agricultural runoff out of our rivers.
Instead of driving to an organic apple orchard to pick your own fruit, use that time to volunteer for an organization that combats food deserts (and skip the fuel emissions, too).
Instead of buying a $200 air purifier, donate to politicians who support policies that keep our air and water clean.
Instead of signing a petition demanding that Subway remove one obscure chemical from its sandwich bread, call your local representatives to demand they overhaul the approval process for the estimated 80,000 untested chemicals in our products.
Instead of taking yourself out to dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant, you could take an interest in the Farm Bill and how it incentivizes unhealthy eating.
some other ideas i personally came up with could be ways to help change in your community. start a local garden and build a team of people willing to work with you. create an initiative to compost in your development. campaign for a candidate who will prioritize the environment...
so basically conscious consumerism is a morally good movement. it is honorable to put your money into products and businesses that are better than others if you have the luxury to do so. but in order to really create change we need to turn the focus away from ourselves and to making systemic changes within communities. we need to vote people into office who care about the environment. we need to put focus into politics rather than our own interests.
but dude it's seriously okay to buy those fries from McDonalds every once in a while. i know they taste really really good. so slender and so salty... plus anyone who shames you is just a hypocrite anyways.