Epidemic of Consumption? When is too much enough to stop?

Re-reading a book from graduate school I came across the following quote {we live} “in an epidemic of consumption that links us to the poverty of others around the world, and links us to the growing ecological crisis that threatens the very existence of life on earth.”- Rethinking Globalization.
I had highlighted this passage years ago. It must have spoken to me then, as it speaks to me now. I held onto the book, even though I purged most of my other school books. I guess I knew I would need the book someday; that it would provide me with inspiration.

Last week I shared a post from another blogger about “bringing down the holidays a notch” to my personal page. A lot of my friends and family commented, liked, and shared the post. It spoke to the “over consumption and unrealistic expectation fests” that many of our holidays have become. It clearly hit a nerve. So many of us feel the over-consumption epidemic, maybe we can’t put a name or a definition to it, maybe it’s just a feeling of disappointment or dread, but it’s there it exists and we feel it. It’s not just about stuff either. It creates unnecessary pressure and competition among parents. If you don’t participate are you hurting you kid? If you do are you hurting your kid?

Over-consumption is consuming something to excess, beyond the environment’s ability to sustain that something. Over-consumption has environment and economic effects.

In my modern American mom world over-consumption looks like the plethora of plastic toys and trinkets that exist in, and constantly get purged from my home. Like the multiple bags of plastic wrapped candy, plastic trinkets (like random hearts), stickers, and little toys that my kids got for Valentines Day this year (as they do at every other holiday and birthday party). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful, I appreciate the thought that the other parents put into putting these gifts together (and I’ve done it too!). Yep, I've been the plastic goody bag mom. I spent hours putting the bags together with ZERO help from my children. I realized later that I did it all for ME, and when I really dug deep I had to admit it just to impress the other moms. That's a hard reality to accept. Our kids don’t actually need any of this stuff (or really care), it junks up our homes, makes them hyper, and ends up being a waste of money and time. Not to mention the fact that Valentine's Day is just one holiday, out of the many that get similar (if not more) treatment, birthday parties, drive through trip, and trips to the store where we get more!

plastic toys are everywhere

One of my kids received multiple plastic hearts in his Valentine's goody bag. The hearts don’t actually do anything; one was just a hard red heart, another was like a treasure box that you could open-but really too small to hold anything, another was pink and glittery. I’m sure the hearts were only pennies to purchase and probably came in a large packet that was a dollar or two. They were most certainly made abroad, perhaps in China, or maybe Bangladesh.

If I could trace those little hearts from the factory that made them, across the ocean, to the store where they were bought I’m sure I would be amazed by the amount of hands that touched them. The production of cheap goods like the hearts is the definition of globalization and our ever increasing addiction and desire for cheap imports only fuels the globalization more, and not in good way.

For those that manufacture this stuff our desire for it creates a “race to the bottom”. That means that in order to win the contracts to produce random plastic hearts factories have to be the lowest bidder, because Western consumers demand cheap prices. After all, who is going to pay a lot for a plastic heart that is nothing more that goody bag filler. Being the lowest bidding factory often wins a contract and cost is passed down onto the workers.

The environmental cost to produce the little hearts can’t be ignored either. Plastic is made from petroleum, a fossil fuel. Which is non-renewable and can carry a high cost to extract and refine. Plastic is not biodegradable and that little heart will hang around in a landfill for upwards of half a millennia, and that’s if it makes it into a landfill and not the ocean. If it ends up in the ocean it will break down into “mircoplastics” which will probably be ingested by a sea creature, like a fish or turtle. It could kill the creature or even end up in our bellies if we eat the fish who ate the plastic. It’s all super gross. Oh, and then there is the mass amount of fossil fuels needed to power the ships, airplanes, and trucks that will bring the little plastic hearts from the other side of the world into my kid’s Valentine’s Day goody bag.

plastic trash pulled from the ocean

We need to stop. Stop buying this stuff and stop the cycle of over-consumption. From a time saving and money saving perspective it makes sense to stop. From the perspective of not spoiling our children or giving them unrealistic expectations it makes sense.

Finally from an ethical and environmental perspective it makes sense. Think about how all of our purchases big or small, expensive or cheap affect not just us, but those we share this world with. The culture of consumption is not sustainable. It hurts us, it hurts others, and it hurts our planet.

Keep it simple, take a page out Grandma and Great-Grandma’s book. Send you kid in with homemade paper cards. Host a play-date at the park, where the only favor is everyone spending time with another. The things in our lives should nourish our bodies, minds, and souls. So should the things we give one another. Things should have substance and true purpose, they should be sustainable with consideration given to their end of life.