Waste, packaging and pollution: Whose problem is it?

When it comes to responsibility for waste, packaging and pollution, we need to shift the burden away from consumers and regular citizens. When we often can’t even get the average person to recycle or compost, it’s clear that we need to enact change at the governmental level.

When the only way for someone to get some plastic-free greens and vegetables is to wake up early on a Saturday, and take the bus to their local farmers market, with their own reusables containers in tow, it’s clear that we have a problem.

We need to make circular, sustainable systems the norm, not something that requires an exorbitant amount of effort from the regular person who has more pressing things to worry about.

Therefore, we need change to come from above. From the companies, and the governments regulating their actions. Some may say that this will make us uncompetitive, to enact broad regulations prohibiting packaging or forcing companies to retain control over their products. It might make goods more expensive, again placing a burden on the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

However, I think it’s also important to consider the flip side of this argument. Rather than thinking of what we might lose from these policies, we ought to think of what we have to gain. To be a leader in sustainability and environmental issues. To keep more plastic and trash out of our natural environment. To improve our health by not drinking or consuming all of the microplastics that are currently being released into our waterways and ingested by beings lower on the food chain.

There’s a lot to lose. But I think there’s even more to gain. We need to step up and convince corporations and our governments that these are issues that we care about and start implementing changes sooner rather than later. Because though individual actions may help, they can’t solve these issues on their own. Whose problem is it? It’s all of ours.

Can the subscription and sharing economies decrease consumerism?

“Click here to subscribe and own less stuff!”

Not a tagline you usually see. But is it true that the increasingly popular subscription and sharing economy business models could help reduce consumption and excess consumerism?

As more products are treated as services, many people are finding they don’t need to own as many things, but can instead pay for the right to use what they need. We see this across a number of domains, including music streaming, car and bicycle sharing, tools, or even designer handbags. What people are willing to pay for is not a product in and of itself, but for a solution to their problem.

The common denominator is that many people are choosing to own fewer things, and electing to pay for use on an as-needed basis.

Whether a shift to this business model alone will be enough to curb consumerism remains to be seen, but I see the change as a positive one regardless. In general, there seems to be a trend towards buying solution and experiences, not things. When people no longer feel the need to accumulate shelves full of music albums, a garage full of seldom-used tools or a closet full of designer clothes and handbags, we may find ourselves producing and consuming less stuff.

There are some cases where that mentality will certainly be harder to change. For some people, buying their first car is a right of passage, and likewise owning an expensive car may be a status symbol that some are unwilling to give up.

There are also some couple counter-arguments against the ability of the sharing economy to slow consumption. Some argue that those using these services may be a different segment than those who might opt to buy these objects in the first place. For example, the rental of designer handbags opens up the market to those who would not have purchased one in the first place, and some people who take Ubers might have walked, had the option not been available. These scenarios demonstrate how the sharing economy has the potential to increases the size of the market as a whole, thus increasing consumption.

Nonetheless, I see reason to be optimistic about the new opportunities created by the sharing and subscription economies. The shift away from direct product/object ownership can be seen as positive, supporting the more efficient use of resources, and hopefully providing additional benefits in terms of impact on the environment and the planet.