Take It All With You

Marketplace (of NPR) is preparing for a series on sustainable consumerism (oxymoron) by having one of the hosts haul her family’s trash around with her all week. All. Of. It. The project blog is here and contains a link to some other sites for the series “Consumed”. (Hint: The game is just a quiz, and all you win is guilt. And my score was 4 earths. Beat that! No, seriously, please beat that.) I’ll be listening to the series when it airs, and hoping it, being an economy-centerd show, ponders how in the world our consumer driven economy is going to work when people stop buying so much stuff. Now I will ask vaguely theoretical questions, so stay with me. I’m betting there are better questions to ask- I’ll let you know if I come up with any, let me know if you do too- but here’s a start.

Is sustainable consumerism an oxymoron? Is it our social responsibility to support our local/national/global economy by getting stuff? What would the economy look like if people didn’t buy things they didn’t need or at least seriously desire for more than an hour, or even repaired stuff they already had instead of scrapping it for new stuff? We’re mostly a service/consumer economy, so if we don’t buy enough things, who will employ salesmen/cashiers/other retail types? New market sectors will grow of course (maybe we could pay displaced workers to ride bikes to generate power or something, and also solve the obesity problem (I am kidding but just a little) ) but it’ll take time and people could get laid off, and businesses will either evolve or whine, and it is always cheaper to whine. Probably any answer lies in some balance of sensible consumption, or consuming only sustainable things, or a return to a barter system. Or not. This is all speculation until people actually do start changing their purchasing patterns, but it’s nice to have some concept of where we might want to change to.

Meanwhile, back in doing-stuff-about-it-world, (goal for the month) I’ll be reducing the amount of stuff I throw away and the amount of stuff I buy by packing my lunch (in reusable containers) instead of taking frozen boxes. I suspect this will mean a lot of PB&J, but I know that’s made with love and raspberry jelly, whereas I really have no idea what’s in that block of icy “lasagna”, so it should be cool.

5 Responses to “Take It All With You”

  1. 1 arrrrrix September 25, 2007 at 1:13 pm


    Cool blog so far. As I look around my desk/trash can, I notice that my busy (although obviously not so busy today, since I’m reading this blog) work schedule leads me to pick up a new plastic solo cup every time I go to the water cooler. Your “doing-stuff-about-it”-ness is inspirational, so I’m going to start a “one cup challenge,” committing to using only one disposable cup per day. Maybe I could even stretch it and use one cup per week; when does this become a health/sanitation issue? If I get good enough at that, I might make the leap to (re-) using the glasses we have in the office kitchen (although this invites questions of whether it’s more sustainable to produce a new plastic cup or use the dishwasher to clean the glass one…)

  2. 2 virescent September 25, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks! I reuse a water bottle at work that I probably don’t wash often enough- a little hand wash instead of the dishwasher might be the best idea for a reusable cup. I also brought in my own mug for tea- since I’m the only one who uses them, I worry less about washing them fully. Newer dishwashers use less water for a full load than sink washing would, but for just one cup…

    Good luck, let me know how it goes!

  3. 3 Kestrel September 26, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Water bottles and mugs are better, but really, with Solo cups, the only timeline-limitation is structural, not sanitary. As long as that thing still holds liquid and you’re not a slacker when it comes to washing (but gentle!), it’s fine.

    (We recycled cups for Beirut [known as “beer pong” among the illiterate] for over a year with little noticeable effect other than fading)

  4. 4 Kestrel September 26, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    ADDENDUM/CORRECTION: Half a year. That’s six months, folks.

  1. 1 NPR’s “Consumed” « Virescent Trackback on November 20, 2007 at 11:05 pm

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