Tag Archives: Consumption

Our Material Selves; We Are Over-Stuffed

Forget the Christmas turkey; we are the ones who are over-stuffed. Our lives, homes, bodies, businesses, shops, backyards are filled with stuff. We are part of a tsunami of consumption. As we drown in the masses of objects and products we bring into our lives we fail to see the environmental impact of the resources we are using.

The earth’s natural resources are finite, which means if we use them continuously we will exhaust them. Evidence is that at the present rate of growth in their use, we are near peak extraction for many sources of energy and materials. Peak oil has had the most attention. No one knows whether we are at peak oil now, or within another decade or so, but it does not have an infinite horizon. Peak does not mean that we run completely out. It means that we can no longer extract at an increasing rate. After hitting peak, the annual draw of any virgin material cannot support continued growth in its use. Indeed, assuming two percent annual growth in use, even iron ore will hit a peak within 50 years.

The air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we need to grow food are all impacted by our desire for stuff, but we continue to accumulate and to make room for more or newer stuff we dispose of stuff.

Author James Wallman , Stuffocation: Living More With Less (2015, Penguin), writes that Western countries are “stuffocating” under the weight of our possessions, he writes that we have more possessions than we need or use, and this stuff is not only cluttering our lives but it is stressing us.. it might even be killing us.

Many of us can relate to the feeling that James Wallman writes about, ““Stuffocation is that feeling you get when you look in your bulging wardrobe and can’t find a thing to wear; when you have to fight through piles of stuff you don’t use to find the thing you need, and when someone gives you a present and your gut reaction isn’t ‘thank you,’ but ‘what on earth makes you think I could possibly want or need that pointless piece of stuff?’

James Wallman is promoting The Experience Revolution to help people be happier by nudging them less stuff and more experiences. He believes that individuals, businesses and governments have a part in this revolution.

Do we really have too much stuff? Yes. Everything from shoes , toys and just stuff. We have lots of stuff. Imagine the average American household is filled with over 300,000 things.

With all these things you may wonder if there is room for actual living. U.C.L.A. researchers tackled the question of when does all the things stuffing our homes become too much. The anthropologists were given access to 32 “ordinary” middleclass families to document how they lived. The study produced the book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors” and a web series called “A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance”

Consumerism is not new in our culture but many factors have created the hyper consumerism we see today. “The Empire of Things : How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth to The Twenty-First” by Frank Trentmann documents the history of consumerism as he writes of the many reasons that our society is moving faster with consumption accompanying the faster pace. As The Program Director for The Culture of Consumption project , a program the consisted of 26 projects that looked at the changing dynamics of consumption, past and present, and the implications for the future. Included in the programs presentations was a short overview of 4 ½ Lessons About Consumption

Frank Trentmann ,Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London believes we can learn from history and that history can prove how we can create change. His lecture recorded at The London School of Economics and Political Science is well worth listening to.

There may be no silver bullet to save the day, but we can all work harder at changing our habits and behaviours. We can learn to reduce and support others to change. We can become more mindful of the impact of our material selves.

Is supersizing creating more waste?

We associate the term “supersize’ with the portions at fast food restaurants, and the 2004 documentary by Morgan Spurlock, Super Size Me., but  are the portions we are consuming and waste becoming supersized?

In the early 2000’s health officials raised the alarm about the correlation of increased portion sizes and the increase of obesity. We are now become more aware of food waste issues as well.

North Americans spend nearly half their food budget, and consume one-third of daily calories, from foods prepared outside of home where portion sizes have increased greatly.

According to WRAP results of a survey of 5000 restaurant customers in the UK to explore “why people leave food when eating out”, two-fifths of customers left food because the portions were too large.

Doctor Lisa Young and other researchers  also point out shoppers are also confused about appropriate serving sizes. The current labelling on food products are often out of date and no longer depict realistic serving sizes.

Serving sizes at home and restaurants are not matching our recommended Food Guide servings.

To hold our supersize servings, plates have increased in size. Grandma’s china dishes of the 1960 with plates of an average of 9 inch diameter must be replaced with newer plates that are 11 to 12 inches in diameter.

Consumers frequently complain about purchases being over-packaged. Today, an average person living in Western Europe or North America consumes 100 kilograms of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, between 22 percent and 43 percent of the plastic used worldwide is disposed of in landfills.

In 1960 Barbie dolls were packaged in small boxes with cellophane windows and while today’s doll travels the same distance the packaging has drastically increased.

The original concept behind packaging was to protect the product from damage and to aid storage and transportation. Today much more is involved in the careful design of a product package; it is now a marketing tool to motivate us to buy the merchandise.

We have become supersize shoppers. The Daily Mail reports that women in the U.K. buy half of their body weight in clothes each year, and the average woman in England has 22 unworn items in her closet.

To house our growing collections of stuff, we must build and buy bigger homes. The median size for newly constructed house today stands at 2,478 square feet, up from 983 square feet in 1950, even as family size has shrank during those years. Construction waste is a significant waste directed to landfills.

Municipal Solid Waste ( MSW) is expected to double by 2025; current global MSW generation levels are approximately 1.3 billion tonnes per year, and are expected to increase to approximately 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025. This represents a significant increase in per capita waste generation rates, from 1.2 to 1.42 kg per person per day in the next fifteen years. OECD countries produce almost half of the world’s waste.

Landfills have kept pace with the amount of trash generated—they’ve just become larger, more efficient and more environmentally safe.

Our Supersize mentality of consumption and waste is reducing the resources we will have for the future. It is time to reduce our portions of everything we consume and discard.