Reduce Overconsumption

When Madonna sang Material Girl: Living in a Material World, in 1984, it was all about glamour and not garbage! Given the material world we live in, especially here in the U.S., we need more awareness - including Pop Culture music - for the peril that we’re all in! Just in the U.S., we overconsume the world’s resources and generate too much waste affecting our shared Planet Earth. Just like intoxicated alcoholics, most of the commericals advocate we need more STUFF to make us happy.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA, “With less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. was responsible for about one-third of the world’s total material consumption in 1970-1995.” This report continues that the U.S. consumes: 33% of paper, 25% of oil, 15% of coal, 17% of aluminum, and 15% of copper. In addition, the U.S. produces the largest percentage of waste.

The key message of Conserve & Pro$per, is to show how we can do with much less material consumer products in our lives by making the most of what we have which brings more happiness!

While I claim no great expertise about garbage, waste and recycling, I’m just another concerned citizen of the world we live in by wanting to express my opinion. I never gave much thought much about garbage until I attended Guilford College (1976-1980). In 1979, I got a summer job at a waste water (sewer) treatment plant in Greensboro, North Carolina to perform lab chemical analyses. The City municipal landfill existed on the adjacent land just downstream of the water treatment plant. I learned that water pollution coming from the landfill was entering the same river that had just been cleaned up! I wrote a senior thesis and presented my results at a professional conference — they were amazed at what a college kid could learn! I took my results to EPA in D.C. and they were surprised I had access to get samples when they were being blocked by local governments. This made me question how effective EPA regulations would be in solving waste generation and disposal problems.

Also, around this time my oldest brother, a mechanical engineer, showed me his home trash compactor in 1979. This became replaced with garbage trucks that compacts trash.

Plastic waste is especially problematic. I visited India in 1995 and learned that many foods sold on the street had been for centuries wrapped in banana leaves but that plastics were being introduced causing a huge litter problem. In addition, to the U.S. overconsuming materials and products, we’ve been sending lots of waste and recycling to Asia and as China says they will no longer accept plastic this is putting pressure on Southeast Asia! The news is full of stories about plastics in the ocean affecting marine life and washing up on beaches.

I believe that we need a national campaign and grassroots organizations, like Alcoholics Anonymous AA, to fight consumer intoxication and waste in the form of Public Service Announcements. We need to find ways to reduce and reuse material items.

Perhaps companies should be responsible for recycling shipping containers and boxes when items are purchased by consumers. I take recycling to the local municipal center (combined with other trips to town) rather than paying extra for monthly pickups. It became a hassle that the company wanted every type of item separated in separate containers before pickup. A group called Recycling Across America has a great idea to improve recycling where you can purchase labels for each bin.

Please share your comments or send us an email on this or other topics.