Monday, October 19, 2009

No Impact Week: Consumption and Trash

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

I confess that when I signed up for No Impact Week, I was not really anticipating challenging myself. Undoubtedly, I leave a significant impact on the earth due to my lifestyle; however, I am a volunteer who doesn't make enough to be much of a consumer, I already give priority to unprocessed and low-on-the-food-chain groceries, I live close enough to work to walk, etc. It felt a little bit like cheating to even sign up. That's how amazing I am. I don't really need to do these little challenge weeks.


No Impact Week with the Huffington Post began on Sunday with a commitment to lower consumption. "The first challenge," according to the No Impact guide, "is about doing more with less. . . . [When] you kick your shopping habit, you'll save money, have more time to spend with your family and friends, discover more space in your house, and maybe-- just maybe-- you'll discover that less really IS more." Sounds fair enough to me. Like I said, I don't have enough money to go shopping, so that should be pretty easy.

There's a problem, though, and it is one that I have recently discussed with a friend of mine who is a pastor in Oregon. Over lunch, she shared with me her interest in approaching the idea of consumerism as an addiction, as legtimately or seriously as one would consider alcoholism or drug addiction. Truth be told, we have no real idea of how out of control our consumerism is, in large part because it is a cultural as well as individual addiction. I may fancy myself to be holding back when I don't buy a pair of really cute boots at Target, but the truth is that I already have half a dozen pairs of shoes more than I need at home. Forget today-- holding back needed to happen quite awhile ago. Or consider that a movie I thoroughly enjoyed and want to own recently came out on DVD. Reflecting on the DVDs I do now own for that reason, how many times have I actually watched them since buying them? And even more depressingly, how soon before DVDs are obsolete, fading from fashion like the VHS?

Fittingly then, today's theme is trash. "Ninety-nine percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport-- 99 percent of the stuff we run through this production system is trashed within six months," says Annie Leonard in "The Story of Stuff." Ouch. It's easy to convince ourselves that trash is unavoidable, but is it? The challenge is out there. Most of what I'm throwing away, I bought. Did I need to buy it? If I did (unlikely), could I have bought it used or with less packaging? Now that I'm debating throwing it away, have I considered all ways I could reuse it, or fix it if it's broken?

Honestly, considering these things, makes me feel . . . happier. Rather than feeling restrictive, there is something freeing about evaluating my addiction to consumption and beginning to consider ways to pull out of it. There is something oddly comforting about the realization that I don't have to make as much trash as I do. Really, from here, it's up to you and me.

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