Consumerism has taken over the majority of American lives. This is a side effect of capitalism, where profit is prioritized over the quality of human life and the environment. People are coerced into this system, and indoctrinated to feel more connected to material objects over other human beings.
Take this recent experience Valentine had as an example:
Valentine bought a screen protector and phone case to protect from any possible damage, yet despite these insurances against destruction, the phone sustained cracks and damage to the screen. Her phone fell on Tuesday, the upper right side contracted a crack that caused damage to the screen, and the next day the phone was unusable due to the impairment the fall caused. To fix the screen, the cost would be $270 (due to the curved edges of the screen on the Samsung Galaxy S8) or to replace the phone, say on Amazon, would cost $380.
Valentine talked to her mom whose first response was to buy a new phone, likely a newer model, even though it did not make economic sense—the phone operated perfectly fine despite the screen. After changing her mom’s immediate “replace it” conclusion, Valentine decided to get the screen replaced, with low disposal.
This is especially important because properties of refined coltan is a vital element in creating devices that store energy or capacitors, which are used in a vast array of small electronic devices, especially in mobile phones, laptop computers, pagers, and other electronic devices. Foreign multinational corporations have been deeply involved in the exploitation of coltan in the Congo, leading to conflict domestically and in the region. It is also tied to worker deaths and child labor. Refusing to purchase a new phone means you do not individually support this or contribute to it.
This “replace it” conclusion is not just specific to Valentine’s mom. Consumerism has become so ingrained in our culture, where those who are affluent immediately result to replacing a broken object rather than repairing it. These devices are imperative to our society and should be made to last a long time. This experience is applicable to everything that can be purchased today. Nothing is made to last, as most material objects have a main purpose of disposal.
Quality should be considered rather than a low cost. Yes, a jacket that is $20 may be cheaper, but the shelf life is about six months, and requires another purchase when it falls apart or is out of style. A video, The Story of Stuff, provides excellent information involving how things are made, why products are so cheap, and where these products eventually end up. It incorporates many issues involved in our extraction to production to distribution to consumption to disposal system we have become complacent in.
One specific example that implements the strive to prefer quality over low price is buying a Patagonia jacket. These jackets are meant to be durable and long-lasting. Our local outdoor wear store, Mountain Sports, holds fix-it events where people can bring their jackets to be fixed and kept in use. Flagstaff also offers its own fix-it clinic that is free to the public and allows for the repair of a variety of materials. This option directly opposes our current consumerist attitudes–it is more economical and reduces waste.
However, we understand many products that are made to last are not accessible for many Americans. People of low economic status are oftentimes forced to purchase items that contribute to waste due to low up-front cost and lack of options as a result of larger systemic issues. Straying away from our immediate radical solution to this issue (rethink the necessity of capitalism), we believe that it is necessary to make sustainable products more accessible to all people. This is an important issue, and one we are planning on making an entire blog post on.
In order to dismantle the consumerist mentality, you need to take individual action as well as action within your community. Does your city have a fix-it clinic in a store or provided by city council? If not, why not ask your city council to include one or to talk to a local store that can provide this low-waste service to the community?