Iliya, one of our architects, shares his thoughts on consumer behaviour and how to make more environmentally friendly decisions when it comes to your next purchase.
I can’t claim that I always make environmentally responsible decisions, but I do feel a certain level of guilt every time I throw something into the rubbish bin. Most of us don’t have the time to agonise over every piece of rubbish we discard. I would imagine that for a lot of us it doesn’t even register as something worth thinking about. Really, this is the one thing we should all be thinking about. How do we stop destroying our own environment?
Yes, there are now stainless-steel straws available and we all own re-usable coffee cups. I have four of them and I don’t even drink coffee (that’s another topic of conversation). Paper cups and packaging is one issue. In my opinion, the biggest issue is our consumer behaviour. Often we (myself included) buy because it’s cheap, we buy because of FOMO, we buy because it’s fun, we buy because it’s fashionable, we buy because we are bored, we buy to show affection, we buy to show off, we buy because we think we needed it. This produces a huge amount of waste. I have become very aware of this when my son Max was born almost 3 years ago. As most parents do, my wife and I went out and we purchased a stroller, a new mattress for the cot, toys, blankets etc. We got given a lot of baby things too, but even so we ended up throwing out a truck load of packaging. Then we started to find that the products we bought didn’t last. This week I threw two broken toilet training seats into the rubbish bin, and I knew that somewhere a polar bear flipped me the bird.
Then there were the presents. I like presents as much as anyone, but sometimes you just don’t know what to do with them. And does my kid really need that many toys? My father had like 5 toys when he was a child, he turned out fine. I had a box of toys and a few sets of Lego, I’m also feeling OK. My son has just about a room full of toys. Too many if you ask me. How many will his children have? Remember, you still have to get rid of them when the children grow up. Sooner or later they will end up in a landfill.
When it comes to any purchase, I now try to follow (what I call) the polar bear thought process.
If it’s a gift, does the person you are giving to really need this item? Great if they do, but if you are not sure, maybe it’s better to give food or wine? How about an experiential gift? Cook dinner for them or take them to a concert. Your time and company can be much more valuable to your friends and family than physical gifts.
If you are replacing a broken item, can it be repaired? Yes, these days it’s often cheaper to buy a new one than to repair the one you have, but what’s the better environmental choice? Think of that polar bear.
How long will you likely use this item for? Is it something you can rent or borrow?
If you really do need to buy this thing, is there a quality second hand option? My parents love gifting toys to their grandchild, so I’ve asked them to buy second hand. Now they are saving toys from going into landfill and reducing demand for new ones, all while still enjoying the gift of giving.
If you are buying a new item, do your research. Make sure it’s a good quality product that will last. I still have all my Lego sets from my childhood, I’ve played the crap out of that Lego, but it’s still perfectly usable #LEGOshouldbepayingmeforthis. I’m looking forward to giving those sets to my son very soon.
When you do buy a new item, look after it. I once observed my friend’s father oiling a pair of small pliers when he was packing up his fishing gear. As he put them into a cloth pouch, he told me he’s been using them for over 50 years, and somewhere a polar bear smiled.
It’s hard to be critical of your own behaviour, it’s even harder to change it, but we all have to do it. There are many people doing great things for the planet already. Next time you are looking for something to watch on Netflix, look up the documentary on Minimalism. It is great to see that more and more of us are becoming environmentally aware. I really hope that soon, all of us will get on board in a seriously meaningful way. There is still a long way to go though, so let’s all do something to make a polar bear smile.