Rethinking consumption- our choices can make a difference
The 3 Rs, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, are well known as the mantra of sustainability.
Waste prevention involves rethinking how we do things to avoid producing waste. By reducing the amount of ‘stuff’ we buy and use, we decrease the resources needed for manufacture, transport and disposal. We also cause less impact on the environment where the materials originate, during their transport and where they are disposed of. We also save money by not buying ‘stuff’ we don’t need.
We are now consuming more resources than ever before, and the current patterns of development across the world are not sustainable. Resources such as water, air, metals, minerals, forests, land, food and biodiversity systems are essential for our prosperity and wellbeing, but we are using them faster than they can be replaced.
We are all consumers – we need to eat, we need to work, and we need to travel, but our challenge is to do this within the planet’s capacity. WWF data shows that living like an average EU citizen requires 2.6 planet Earths to sustain us. And in Ireland, we live as though we had 3.2 planets at our disposal. We need to be more sustainable in the way we use these resources by preventing and reducing waste, being more efficient in the way we use resources and using more renewable resources.
Reducing our consumption
As consumers, we can play our part by thinking about our consumption habits and considering the impact of the products we buy.
As more of us think about the impact of the choices we make on the environment and communities around the globe, the more power we have through our purchasing choices. This is the best way for us to send messages to companies, industries and governments; telling them that we support or reject certain corporate practices.
Here are some things to ask ourselves when making consumer choices:
• Do I really need it? This is the first question to ask; wanting something and needing it are not the same thing! We’ve become used to replacing things because we feel like it, not because they’ve worn out; perhaps I can make do with what I have.
• Can I produce it myself, e.g. growing my own vegetables, or have I something I could repurpose or repair? Maybe I could borrow or hire it, or perhaps share it with neighbour/friends, e.g. garden tools.
• Do I need a new one? Check out local charity shops or online platforms such as Free Trade Ireland for previously owned items looking for a new home.
• And when we do have to buy goods, consider what the product is made of. Is the product over-packaged? Does it contain hazardous chemicals? Buy to last; choose products that can be repaired. And when it is worn out, can it be recycled at the end of its life?
• Also consider the initial outlay compared to running costs – sometimes a product might cost a bit more to buy, but may be more efficient to run over its lifetime in terms of water & energy use. This may involve a bit of time to research but it may save money in the long term.
Inspired to make a change? Get started by visiting www.epa.ie/livegreen/wasteprevention for more information.