April 23, 2008

Are consumers really consuming?

con•sum•er (n.)
• One who, or that which, consumes
• A person or organization that uses a commodity or service
• An individual who purchases goods for personal use as distinguished from commercial use

Consumer is a word we use a lot in the branding industry, but is that really accurate? A National Geographic Special, Human Footprint, sheds some light on just how much we consume in a lifetime.

So how much of what we buy do we actually use? Not much. Our per capita trash disposal rate in 2006 was 4.6 pounds per person, per day, and more than half of that went directly to landfills, where trash is buried and unable to decompose naturally. Landfills release one-fourth of all methane, a gas that contributes to global warming and, despite careful engineering, landfills leak liquids into the groundwater.

The fact of the matter is that when you purchase something as a consumer, you are paying for a lot: the energy used to produce it, the cost to package it, the electricity to store it, the gas to haul it, the trash collection to rid of it (a 47 billion dollar per year business in America), and ultimately, the toll its disposal takes on the environment.

So in the spirit of earth week, take these tips on how to be a more efficient consumer:
• Recycle
• Buy less
• Buy local
• Pay attention to packaging
• Buy recycled products
• Donate used items

Stay tuned for Kristin’s post on Visualizing our Human Footprint.

Contributed by: Maghan Cook

One Comment

  1. Betsy Lard   April 23, 2008 10:41 am / Reply

    In the EU, companies are required to recover and recycle a percentage of what they sell/produce. Car companies, for instance, have to take back the cars they sell and recycle 90% of each one. I think this is a great idea because companies will design their products and packaging for recovery rather than the dump.

    NPR had an interesting story last month about zero waste: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89169980

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