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How to Consume Less and Reduce Waste

Updated on February 7, 2011

VIDEO: why we must change. . .

It is a simple fact that those of us born into privileged circumstances have been taking and using far more than our fair share for far too long. We have been programmed to keep consuming and wasting, with no regard for consequences. Those consequences are astounding, we already have widespread pollution and billions of people suffering in extreme poverty. If you agree that this must be stopped, then now it is the time to shrug off the brainwashing and take some personal responsibility for our own happiness and security, as well as for the future of the planet and all people living on it. If like me, you are ready to make a commitment to more sustainable living, there is only one place to start: consume less.

Begin by changing your thinking. Separate wants from needs. Don't skip this step, you should write an actual list. Your concept of 'needs' might include: safe shelter; clothing; positive human relationships and interactions; nutritious food and means for cooking/preparation; clean water and air; basic hygiene facilities. Wants can then be prioritized: appliances, tools, technology to make life easier; modes of transport; goods for entertainment or aesthetics; cosmetics. Finally list what you DON'T NEED. Here are some examples, (you will have your own): brand name clothes; unhealthy junk food or other contaminants such as cigarettes and alcohol; the latest gadget, toy or CD; appliances I never use; magazines. Set some specific goals about the changes you intend to make. Each of us is different, so our goals will be too. Once you have changed your thinking, identified your needs and set some goals, you will start to see endless opportunities for positive change. The following are suggestions to get you started.

  • Watch The Story of Stuff and share the video via social networking. Visit The Story of Stuff Project and watch their other videos too. This should really get your thinking and start to generate discussion and ideas.
  • Ignore advertising, if you're told you 'need' it, you probably don't. Cut down on TV watching. Don't get sucked in by 'greenwashing' - it's a con. Reduce your exposure to advertising and other marketing techniques by limiting visits to shopping centres or malls. Consider having a discussion with your children about marketing ploys and bias in the media, to raise their awareness.
  • Seek out good sources of local produce and consequently cut down your support of large supermarket chains. Consider the fuel wasted to transport goods from overseas when you could purchase a similar item made or grown locally.
  • Avoid waste from packaging - buy in bulk, carry your own bags and re-usable containers; choose recyclable packaging where available.
  • Choose items that are second-hand, re-usable, re-cyclable and/or made to last.
  • Avoid buying plastics and styrofoam; stop buying 'disposable'; never buy bottled water again - use stainless steel re-fillable bottles.
  • Be active. Walk, garden, participate in sports or PLAY WITH YOUR CHILDREN instead of driving to a gym or buying unnecessary equipment.
  • Learn to share and teach by example. Join and support your local library. These days, you'll probably find a lot more than just books there too.
  • Cut out clutter, let go of your stuff. Once you simplify, you will be surprised how easy it is to keep your home clean, tidy and organised. You will not miss those 'things' - having loads of stuff has NEVER made anyone happy - you will have a less stressful home without it all. When you take this step, remember that many of your unwanted items may be re-cycled, repaired or passed on to someone else who could make use of them. Don't use a clean-out as an excuse to throw your old stuff into landfill and replace it all with new stuff. this should be an exercise in letting go of our dependence on 'things', not creating more waste.
  • Make your lifestyle efficient: minimise car trips by planning and pooling; conserve water and energy; cook at home; compost kitchen scraps; stop paper mail wherever possible -ask to be contacted by email instead; read the news online instead of buying papers and magazines.
  • Make your home efficient: consider downsizing: collect rainwater which can then be re-used for toilet and washing machine; use efficient appliances & lighting; install insulation and implement 'green' design; install solar panels; have low water & low mow gardens; grow food.
  • On occasions when gift-giving is traditional: give practical gifts that are home-made or recycled/restored. Make a gift of your time or service.

For further inspiration:

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