The Cougar Chronicle

Ethical consumerism isn’t feasible at a consumer level

Kody Cowell, Assistant Opinion Editor

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We need to talk about consumerism and the ways we’re slowly being taught to be responsible at the consumer level.

You know, things like veganism or waste-free living. “Ask for your drink without a straw,” and “don’t buy leather,” or even, “only buy things that don’t come in non-recyclable packaging.”

It’s the little things that make a difference, right?
Sure, but why aren’t we looking at the bigger picture? Why are we blaming the consumer, and not the corporations that produce our consumables like that in the first place?

I do want to add a disclaimer here: I greatly respect people who want to live more conscientiously towards the impact they have on the world around them. I am not discouraging such practices. But what I want to remind you of is that we need to keep some perspective on this sort of consumer-level activism.

A 2013 statistic on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website says the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day. That’s an ugly number. It’s not sustainable.

If you think you can feasibly reduce that number for yourself (and your friends, your family…), then fantastic! But focusing on what you can do takes the weight off the shoulders of the true source of the problem.

You, as the consumer, are not responsible for this change in our consumer lifestyle.

That falls on the big corporations, companies like PepsiCo and Nestle’, who sell their goods wrapped in 4.4-lbs-per-person of cardboard, plastic and paper packaging. We don’t produce the waste, they do. It just gets handed down to us.

This system is not sustainable. We cannot keep producing waste at this rate.

The level of waste and pollution that massive consumer companies produce is insane compared to what any American household could produce. They are the ones that could affect the greatest change.

Shifting the blame from manufacturer to consumer works against us. Major companies save a lot of money if they don’t have to worry about sustainability or waste-management. Blaming ourselves for the results of their irresponsibility lets them continue unchallenged.

Shift the blame back to them. Do what you can, but remember that you are not the problem.

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3 Responses to “Ethical consumerism isn’t feasible at a consumer level”

  1. Maya on March 15th, 2018 6:33 pm

    While we may or may not have realized it, the corporations running the economy have pushed the blame of waste management from their producer to the consumer. The media and green activists are always pushing for people to make eco-friendly decisions throughout their day whether its recycling or “ask[ing] for your drink without a straw.” However, Cowell notes an important observation that this level of change at the consumer level is not going to improve the waste management and climate of the globe enough to make our level of consumption in the United States sustainable. The responsibility must be placed upon the massive corporations producing the waste.

    In our market economy, products are placed by supply and demand. The corporations and government aim to produce items for as little cost as possible to maximize their market exchange rate and profits. To do this, they are exploiting resources like plastic and petroleum from other countries at an unsustainable rate and simply labeling these materials and labor in third world countries as externalized costs. Those in the undeveloped and developing world are forced to work in factories with toxic chemicals, provide cheap labor, and pollute their air so that corporations can keep their prices low. Ultimately, in order to make the corporations responsible for their waste, these costs would have to be included in the product which would drive the prices up and the economy down. Therefore, the government is almost submissive to these massive companies so it is unlikely that they would pass such a law or policy at this time.

    While this is true, the government will be required to make strict laws regarding waste management much closer into the future than they would find ideal. In just the last decade alone, the United States population (5% of the world population) has exploited 1/3 of the Earth’s natural resources and produced 30% of the worlds waste. If every country was producing and throwing out as many goods as America, we would currently need 3-5 planets to match this rate. This is largely the result of the U.S. creating a system where our value is defined by our role as a consumer for the things we purchase help the whole system continue. However, this insane rate of consumerism is limited as eventually we will pollute the planet to a life-changing degree as well as run out of resources and land to discard waste much quicker than the global economy would like. To mitigate this inevitable drastic economic fall would be if the government slowly imposed regulations on these corporations sooner than later as the damage goes far beyond the public’s responsibility to be eco-friendly. Although it may seem arbitrary, we must actually turn our attention towards the government rather than the corporations.

  2. Polly on March 16th, 2018 12:18 pm

    I am someone who always recycles and brings my own bags to the grocery store but don’t go too far out of my way to be eco-friendly. Society always tells us to be as green as possible but it is extremely accurate that change at this individual level is not going be enough. We MUST make corporations pay the price. Maya, I found your comment really interesting because I always figured that corporations avoid these costs to make as much money as possible with no care for the environment. I never really thought about how charging these costs on companies would increase the price of the product and drive the economy down as you said which is obviously something the government wouldn’t want. However, I must counter argue you and wonder how you are going to get people to support a cause that will make them lose money because their favorite cereal or clothing brand will now be more expensive. The government and customer are clearly supporting the same goal that the economy is in good standing which charging these companies would disrupt. I think its a super important issue that has to be solved because this rate of consumerism/waste is not sustainable as you said, but we would have to be clever in finding a way to convince a large group of people to join the movement.

  3. Maria on March 16th, 2018 2:58 pm

    I agree that The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) fail to hold corporations responsible for environmental waste nor do they pass strict laws with them because the corporations drive the economy. For the most part, consumers control what happens to a product. Activism prevented millions of lead toys from reaching consumers by stopping the products from reaching distribution centers. This has a lot of potential because consumers can essentially deny producers (companies) a market for their goods and limit access of wasteful products. The mass media are very influential tools for raising public awareness and connecting people as a whole which can further benefit the cause of managing waste.

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