Our level of consumption and wastage has reached unprecedented levels, and it is alarming. 

We are taking more from nature than we give back. This is evidenced by what Pope Francis says in his Laudato Si: “the exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits,” and that “others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste, which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet.” We might not have realized it, but we are already living close to, if not beyond, the limits of what Earth can provide us.

Almost everything we do creates waste, and as a society we are currently producing more waste than ever before. What needs to be understood is that every consumption carries with it major environmental impacts. Producing goods and transporting them to consumers use large quantities of fossil fuels and causes pollution, particularly carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

At the end of every consumption cycle is waste - the things we dispose of because they are worn out, used up, or not needed. When these products become waste, they are again transported, ending up in landfills producing methane, another potent greenhouse gas, as they break down, or, worse, to incinerators which generate more pollution when burned.

Our consumer choices have an influence on the industries that drive pollution and overconsumption. Marketing and advertising always represent consumption as a fun, frivolous act, but they never look at the devastating environmental consequences of overconsumption. If we have more stuff in life that we can manage to store, our lives will be spent as slaves to our possessions.

All of us can can help break the cycle of overconsumption. It is not to say that we should not buy things, because realistically, we cannot – and we need things. But we can all do our share:

  1. Think before buying. The moment we open our wallet to buy something, it costs us – and in more ways than we may think. It’s not just because of the price tag and the time it took us to earn that money, but possessions also cost us space in our homes and time spent cleaning and maintaining them. Ultimately, the task of disposing of them, responsibly or not, when we’re done with them is upon us. Our addiction to consumption is a vicious one, and it is stressful.
  2. Learn ‘Need versus Want’. Ask first, “Do I need it or just want it?” Chances are we just want it on a whim. Learning to distinguish between the two is a key step to embracing less buying.
  3. Avoid being an emotional shopper. The ugly truth: we buy because we’re bored, anxious, depressed or angry, and we make the mistake of buying material goods, thinking that they’re treats to fill the hollowness, heal the wounds and make us feel better. The problem is that they’re not treats but rather responsibilities, and what we own very quickly begin to own us.
  4. Buy for the long term. It also reinforces that quality is always better than quantity.
  5. Declutter. Let go. We can all start with the stuff that makes us feel guilty, stressed or overwhelmed when we look at them - the clothes we have not worn in the past year, the toys no one plays with, the books and magazines nobody reads anymore, the boxes and boxes of stuff stored in the basement, garage, everywhere. Get rid of it; recycle it, donate it, sell it on Ebay or OLX. And when we’re done getting rid of it, we can stop buying more.
  6. When it comes to the 3Rs (reduce-reuse-recycle), focus on reducing. Yes, we recycle, but it is best to start wth reducing so that there is nothing to recycle to begin with.
  7. Have a budget and a shopping list and stick with it. No explanations needed.

The list can go on and on, but it is good to start with something simple and doable. During this season of discernment, let’s use the time to reflect on our choices. Actions taken by all of us can change this wasteful system – and step by step, little by little, overconsumption can end with us. In a world addicted with “more,” be the one that chooses “less.” 

Abi Aguilar is the Toxics Campaigner at Greenpeace Philippines.