Consumerism has hidden costWednesday, May 30, 2012 By michelle daniek
With the economy in a rocky state, Americans are more aware of how they spend their hard-earned cash. We are buying fewer unnecessary goods, keeping more in the bank, and schooling our kids to focus on the basics. Just kidding. According to the Bussinessinsider.com, total amount of consumer debt in the U.S. was nearly $2.4 trillion in 2010. This statistic ties in to a more revolting one: each year, one American produces over 3,285 pounds of hazardous waste, (dosomething.org). America is the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the place where one can buy a television at the same store that sells dog food. Americans notoriously spend more than we earn, and consumerism is the center of American culture. In the 21st century, the measure of happiness seems to rely solely on whether we have the latest iPad or designer shoes. But who can blame us? The commercials are catchy, that billboard off the side of the highway demands - not suggests - for us to "eat fresh" at Subway, and the high we feel after buying that new plasma television at Wal-Mart is invigorating. And how can we turn down that “buy-ten-get-one-free” sale at the grocery store? The problem is, while consumers feel good for a while, there is no product that grants eternal happiness. Soon the buzz will die, that pair of shoes will get old, and we'll find ourselves right back where we started: at the checkout counter. Without getting too technical, the underlying truth is, excessive consumerism leads to pollution and waste. Companies strive to reduce manufacturing costs and use cheaper materials so that more people can afford their products. Cheap material doesn’t last and, when the product breaks down, we typically throw it out and go buy a new one. It was so cheap in the first place, after all. The problem? Those old DVD players end up in the same place: a landfill. While the producers of the goods benefit from our unceasing spending, a vital part of our lives is suffering. The environmental damage may be irreversible. Humans are more destructive than any other animal, and if we don't change soon, our ruin may be in the foreseeable future. Before you write that statement off as exaggerated, think about this: according to the New Road Map Foundation, the waste generated each year in the U.S. alone could fill a convoy of 10-ton garbage trucks 145,000 miles long ... over halfway the distance to the moon. These statistics are staggering, but still the endless buying continues. The excessive demand for consumer products has led to environmental imbalances that have already begun to affect different areas around the world. The more we exploit natural resources and accumulate waste and other pollutants, the heavier the strain is placed on the environment. Stuff may seem harmless while in our possession, but both where it comes from and where it goes after we're done has drastic effects on the planet. America makes up roughly five percent of the world’s population, yet we use over a quarter of the world's energy. So that new 64-inch wide screen television may look good now, but will it look as good in a landfill next to all the other things you once thought would be fun to have? We no longer own our stuff, our stuff owns us. It drives what we do, where we shop, and how we live our lives on a daily basis. Although things may look dim for the planet now, all hope isn't lost. Buy local and support the local economy. This will reduce the pollution caused by transportation and help out local businesses. Buy only what you need and spend more on good quality items that last. Don't get lured into the convincing advertising schemes, and base your buying decisions on common sense, research, and what your wallet will allow. Lastly, recycle! Although you may be tired of hearing it, over 80 percent of items in landfills can be recycled, but they’re not. In short, the solution is simple. Make wise choices, buy less junk, reuse, and the environment will benefit.