How to Be a More Conscious Consumer 

Asian woman surrounded by neutral coloured clothing, emphasising our overconsumption mentality. Ocean Generation is sharing 5 strategies to become a more conscious consumer in this article.

5 Tips to become a more conscious consumer.

Overconsumption is one of the hallmarks of modern societies. We are quite literally sold the idea that consumption will boost our happiness. Clever marketing campaigns and the media champion this ‘more is better’ lifestyle.  

It can be easy to be caught up in this world of overconsumption. It’s easy to forget the impacts that our consumption habits have on both people and the planet.

We’re sharing a brief overview of these impacts below. Take a deeper dive into the impact of both appliances and textiles as part of our “What we Purchase” series. 

Man in a simple t-shirt and jeans handing off a bag to an extended hand while reaching for a new bag that looks exactly the same. The image symbolises how we over-consume fast fashion. To protect the planet, we need to address our more is best mindset. Ocean Generation is sharing tips to be a more conscious consumer.

The products that we consume impact the environment throughout their lifespans. From the sheer volume of water used in textile production to the generation of vast amounts of e-waste.

Waste from discarded products not only contaminates the environment, but also puts human health at risk. 

Globally, there is uneven distribution of these environmental and societal impacts of product consumption. Most impacts are felt in developing countries which receive exports of discarded products. This is despite developed countries being the primary product consumers.  

We need to start taking responsibility for our overconsumption.   

What we purchase directly impacts the use of natural resources, production practices, and the quantity of waste accumulated.

So, making more sustainable decisions about what we purchase has the power to reduce not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also wider environmental impacts.    

How to be a more environmentally conscious consumer:    

We’re all taught in school to reuse, reduce and recycle but there’s much more we can do to tackle overconsumption.

Our Plastic Intelligence Framework – which breaks down a hierarchy of actions; The 5 R’s: rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle – can be used to guide consumer decision making around plastics

Ocean Generation has developed a Plastic Intelligence Framework that outlines the most impactful ways individuals can make a positive impact and curb their waste generation. The 5 most impactful ways we can address plastic pollution in order of positive impact are: Rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.

The order of these actions is deliberate, with the most impactful change being to rethink, followed by refuse, reduce, reuse, and finally recycle.  

Utilising the 5R framework, we can also address broader sustainable consumption. How? What do these steps actually involve? Let’s start from the top.  

How to be a more environmentally conscious consumer:    

1. Rethink your relationship with products 

To do this, we need to remember that our ‘needs’ may differ from our ‘wants’. Have a think about what items you consider to be essential for your well-being and happiness.  

Advertising and media influence the perception what we ‘need’. It is our responsibility to acknowledge this and form our own opinions about what items are necessary in our lives.  

If you decide that you do really need an item, then that’s okay! The focus of rethinking is to slow down consumption. This is achieved by taking a moment to consider our relationship with items. 

2. Refuse to purchase unnecessary items.  

Female hand trying to force and over-full closet closed. The image symbolises our overconsumption habits when it comes to fashion and shopping.

Is an item of clothing part of a fast fashion trend, destined to be worn once then live at the back of your wardrobe until it is discarded?  

Do you really need multiple devices, or will one do the job? 

Refusing to purchase unnecessary items minimises waste produced.  

3. Reduce your overall consumption. 

If you find yourself needing to buy something, then where possible, opt for quality over quantity.  

If a product is low-quality, it is likely to be less durable and have a shorter useful lifespan. Question if you need the low-quality item. Can you wait until you have the resources to buy a better-quality product; built to last longer?

The result? Less waste. 

4. Reuse products to extend their lifespan.  

Reuse can take many forms.  

In the world of textiles, renting, remaking, repairing, and reselling are all part of the transition to ‘slow’ fashion. Online resale and rental platforms are becoming increasingly popular, along with second-hand shops and upcycled items.  

Explore repairing your damaged items before discarding them. It is never too late to learn how to sew a button. For more complex repairs, such as of household appliances, try checking out a local repair workshop.  

Before buying new appliances, consider refurbished items (products that are repaired/restored to working condition) or remanufactured items (used products that get dismantled, their worn parts replaced, and reassembled to like-new condition).  

Ultimately, reusing items decreases demand for resource extraction and minimises waste. 

We can't recycle our way out of our waste problems. Reducing waste - at its source - is key. To achieve that, we need to rethink our consumer behaviour.

5. Recycle at designated points.  

Remember that while the rethinking, refusing, reducing, and reusing are more impactful, recycling is still a valuable process. This is because again it reduces the amount of waste generated.  

If an item is truly at the end of its lifespan, recycle it at a designated recycling point.  

We don’t have to be perfectly zero-waste or plastic-free consumers to make a positive difference   

However, what we all must do is start making changes. Here are 20 ways to address your daily plastic waste on a daily basis to get you started.

   

The impact of fashion on people and planet: What we purchase

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The impact of fashion on people and planet: What we purchase

What's the impact of fast fashion on the environment? Ocean Generation is diving into fast fashion, textile production, where clothing actually goes when we recycle it and how we can all be sustainable fashion lovers. Image is of three ethnically diverse and fashionable women, looking off into the distance. They're each wearing a power suit.

What you need to know about the environmental impact of the textiles in fashion.

Textiles – including clothing and footwear – are an everyday essential across the world. Our clothes can not only keep us warm in the cold, dry in the rain, and protect us from the sun, but they can also be an invaluable way to express ourselves through fashion. 

Despite their prevalence in our lives, it can be easy to overlook where our textiles come from, and the impact that fashion items have on both people and the planet.  

In this article Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of fashion on the environment. In this image a woman in a bright, flowing yellow dress is at a skatepark. You cannot see her face but you can see her black sneaker resting on the skateboard.

Let’s look deeper into the textile industry by discussing the following key areas:  

  • Overconsumption 
  • Environmental Impacts of Textiles 
  • Societal Impacts of Textiles 

What are the origins of the textiles that we know and love? 

It is important to consider the behind-the-scenes processes involved in textile production and distribution. These are illustrated below. 

Infographic describing the behind-the-scenes processes in textile production: fron fibre production, spinning, knitting to wet processes, assembly and distribution. This article looks at the impact of fashion and textiles on the planet.

What’s the impact of overconsumption in fashion? 

With the rise of fast fashion and increasing connectivity in this digital world, getting swept up in fashion trends has never been easier.  

But let’s slow down for a minute to think about our changing consumption habits. Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production doubled from ~50 billion units to over 100 billion units. This trend is driven by an increasing middle-class population globally and rising per capita sales in mature economies.  

Why are sales rising? Fast fashion is the prime culprit here.  

The fast fashion phenomenon began in the 1990s, with low-priced and short-lived items being generated by cheap manufacturing. Today, influencers on various digital platforms often promote rapidly changing trends, driving frequent consumption.  

On top of this, we wear clothes significantly less during their lifespans. This is not without considerable economic loss, with US$ 460 billion of value lost globally each year from people throwing away clothes they could still wear.  

Hands working with a sewing machine. A piece of navy fabric is being transformed into a piece of sustainable fashion. Shared by Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009.

How do textiles and the fashion industry impact the environment?  

It isn’t just the economic loss that is a problem, however, as textile production, use, and disposal have significant environmental impacts which we’ll explore next.  

In 2018, the fashion industry produced ~2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. This weight is equivalent to that of 350 million adult male African Savanna elephants. GHG emissions are important to consider as they contribute to climate change.  

The textile value chain (the whole product lifecycle) is notoriously water intensive, consuming 215 trillion litres of water annually. This is equivalent to 86 million Olympic-size swimming pools.  

The fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG in 2018; equivalent to the weight of 350 million adult male African elephants.

Overexploitation of our finite water sources can lead to major environmental disasters. An example of this is the Aral Sea Crisis, where water extraction for cotton irrigation desiccated what used to be the fourth largest lake in the world. 

Chemical contamination of textile wastewater is an environmental concern. The textile industry uses over 15,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful to the planet. Toxic substances such as reactive dyes and heavy metals often pollute local aquatic ecosystems.  

Did you know that washing textiles releases microfibres into the environment?   

All textiles are culprits, whether natural (such as cotton), semi-synthetic (including viscose) or synthetic (for example polyester).  

It was found that an average 6kg wash load of synthetic acrylic fabric releases over 700,000 fibres. These microfibres have been found in a range of environments, from the deep sea to Mount Everest, and can be ingested by aquatic organisms including sea cucumbers and hermit crabs.  

So far, we have investigated the impact of textile production and use on the environment.

What is the fate of discarded textiles?

In 2015, just 13% of total material input was recycled following clothing use. Most post-consumer waste is instead incinerated, landfilled, or exported to developing countries to be sold in second-hand markets.

Infographic from Ocean Generation sharing the fate of discarded clothing. Only 13% of clothing is actually recycled - the majority is exported to developing countries, incinerated or landfilled.

This is not to mention the pre-consumer waste comprised of new, unworn, or returned clothes that fail to be worn by consumers. The result? The accumulation of enormous quantities of textile waste.  

What are the societal impacts of textiles?  

While textiles are undeniably harmful to the planet, their production, use and disposal can have negative impacts on people too.  

The untreated textile wastewater that pollutes aquatic ecosystems also harms the communities using contaminated water systems for fishing, washing, and drinking.  

Breaking news: Plastic has been found in our lungs, blood, and even breast milk. Ocean Generation - experts in plastic pollution - share facts about plastic and the harms of plastic on human health.

Microfibres released into our waterways infiltrate human diets via tap water, beer, sea salt, and seafood, and have even been detected in human lungs.  

Textile waste exported to developing countries is sorted for sale in second-hand markets by low paid workers in unsafe conditions.  

The impacts of the textile industry are unevenly distributed, with the brunt being taken by developing countries where textile and garment manufacturing occurs. This is despite consumption primarily occurring in developed countries.  

Sounding familiar? The fate of textile waste mirrors that of both plastic and electronic waste.  

Global clothing production doubled from 50 billion units to over 100 billion units between 2000 and 2015. Fast fashion facts shared by Ocean Generation.

So, what is being done to repair the environmental impacts of the textile industry?  

There has been progress at reducing the environmental impact of the textile industry at various stages, from treating textile wastewater using plants to the degradation of textile waste by enzymes produced by bacteria and fungi.  

While these innovations are exciting, further development is needed before wider use.   

In the meantime, increasing awareness of the negative environmental and societal impacts of the textile industry has resulted in rising interest of new business models. Reselling, renting, repairing, and remaking increase product lifetimes, and this is a vital step in the move towards ‘slow’ fashion.

What is my role in the future of sustainable fashion – specifically, textiles?

You, as a textiles consumer, can drive change.

Here’s what action you can take:

  • Try to rethink your relationship with clothes. Some helpful tips on how to become a slower, more mindful consumer can be found here: How to take the fast out of fast fashion
  • Have a think about whether you need and will value that garment before making a purchase.  
  • Browse a second-hand shop before buying new.
       
  • Refuse to purchase unnecessary or low-quality, less durable clothes where possible.  
  • Think before putting your clothes in the wash. If possible, air out clothes or hand wash to remove specific stains. Try to avoid tumble drying too.  
  • Look into washing machine filters or washing bags designed to catch microfibres. 
  • Explore renting, leasing, updating, repairing, or reselling textiles to extend their lifespan. 
  • Try your hand at simple textile repairs, such as sewing buttons or patching up a hole, either by teaching yourself or attending a local repair workshop. 
  • If your garment is truly at the end of its lifespan, recycle it at a designated recycling point. 


The impact of fashion on people and planet: What we purchase

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The rise of e-waste and what we can do about it: What we purchase.

Old TV set in a wheat-field. Ocean Generation is sharing facts about the rise of e-waste, the environmental impacts, and what we can do about it.

What you need to know about the environmental impact of e-waste.

Appliances are a marker of technological advancement and play a significant role in many of our lives. While they can be beneficial, it is important to consider the impact that these appliances, as e-waste, have on both people and the planet.  

Imagine your typical day, what appliances do you use? Do you work using a laptop or browse social media on a phone? Maybe you use a washing machine to do your laundry? Or perhaps you listen to music using headphones or use a refrigerator to keep your food fresh? 

Globally, the consumption of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) is rising by 2.5 million metric tons (Mt) each year (excluding solar electricity panels). This is due to higher disposable incomes, more people living in towns and cities, and further wide scale development of industries.  

In this article Ocean Generation is sharing facts about the rise of e-waste, the environmental impacts of e-waste, and what we can do about it.

What is e-waste

Despite increasing government influence over how discarded electronics (known as ‘e-waste’) is dealt with, and innovative e-waste recycling strategies, the sheer quantities and hazardous contents of e-waste remains a concern. 

We will discuss three main areas of interest when it comes to the impact of appliances:  

  • Use of Natural Resources 
  • Creation of E-waste  
  • Impact of E-waste 

What kind of materials can be found in appliances? 

Many materials are used to build the appliances that we know and love.  

From precious gold to hazardous mercury, up to 69 out of the 118 elements from the periodic table can be found in EEE.  

Depleting these limited natural resources is an issue in and of itself, not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions associated with resource extraction which contribute to climate change.  

The variety of materials in appliances also make it much more difficult to deal with e-waste, and we will return to this issue after discussing how e-waste is generated.  

How is e-waste created?

What happens when appliances are no longer used?  

Disposal of ‘obsolete’ appliances contribute to e-waste. This is one of the fastest growing solid waste streams in the world, with 53.6 Mt of e-waste generated globally in 2019 and expected growth to 74.7 Mt by 2030.  

To put this into perspective, the weight of e-waste that we produced in 2019 is equivalent to that of 53,600 blue whales, with an expected increase to the weight of 74,700 blue whales in 2030.  

Image of a blue whale in the the Ocean - Earth's biggest mammal. The text reads: The weight of e-waste produced in 2019 is equivalent to the weight of 53,600 blue whales. Facts shared by Ocean Generation.

What is causing growing quantities of e-waste?  

You may have heard of the term ‘planned obsolescence’.

This refers to goods being produced with intentionally short useful lifespans, encouraging consumers to buy a replacement sooner than they should have to.  

Planned obsolescence is one of the big contributors to the rise of e-waste, and examples can be found throughout the tech world, from the deliberate slowing down of smartphone processors to companies frequently creating new models to make old ones seem unfashionable.  

This new ‘normal’ perception of appliances having short lifespans fuels unnecessary consumption.  

What’s the environmental impact of e-waste? 

But why does it matter that e-waste is on the rise? In short, e-waste is problematic because of low recycling rates, export to developing countries, and the environmental and human health risks associated with improper e-waste management.  

Below is the fate of e-waste generation in numbers:  

Infographic from Ocean Generation. In 2019, 17.4% of e-waste generated was formally documented as collected and recycled. 82.6? of e-waste had an undocumented fate.

Many disposed appliances end up in landfill or incinerators in developed countries or are exported to developing countries.  

Ocean Generation shares an infographic asking what happens to the 82.6% of undocumented 
e-waste? In 2019, 8% was landfilled or incinerated and between 7-20% was exported to developing countries.

The lack of e-waste recycling means more raw materials are extracted to meet the growing demand for electronic products.  

Additionally, as seen with plastics and textiles, the export of e-waste to be dealt with by informal sectors (unregulated economic activities outside government control) in developing countries is a major issue. 

Out of sight, out of mind? No longer.  

Despite the efforts of the Basel Convention to restrict the transport of hazardous waste between countries, e-waste exporters often exploit loopholes, such as by labelling shipments as “charitable donations” or by claiming that the e-waste is “repairable”.  

The consequence?

Informal sectors in developing countries are dumped with large quantities of e-waste. Low paid workers in unsafe conditions process this e-waste using rudimentary techniques including manual disassembly, open incineration and acid dipping. Their aim is to tap into the literal gold mine of valuable resources hidden amongst this waste.  

Did you know: Up to 69 of the 118 elements in the periodic table can be found in electronic e-waste.
Infographic shared by Ocean Generation.

However, while there are valuable materials to be retrieved, e-waste also contains many hazardous substances which endanger the environment and humans alike.

Pollution of soil, air, and water with flame retardants and heavy metals (such as lead, copper, and cadmium) negatively impacts a variety of organisms, including reptiles, fish, crustaceans, and birds.  

Not only is wildlife impacted, but these dangerous substances also harm humans both through direct contact with workers and by making their way into the food and water that civilians consume.  

For example, the levels of lead and cadmium in polished rice from an e-waste recycling area in Southeast China were found to be 2-4 times higher than what is considered safe. Drinking water in this area was also contaminated, containing levels of lead up to 8 times higher than the local drinking water standard.  

So, what is being done to tackle the environmental impacts of e-waste?  

While 71% of the world’s population was guided by some form of national policy, legislation, or regulation to govern e-waste in 2019, this equates to less than half the countries in the world.  

This means that there is still much progress to be made until e-waste is sufficiently managed across the world.  

Interestingly, valuable materials can be extracted from e-waste using bacteria and fungi, but these recycling techniques still have some way to go before they can be scaled up.  

How can I become a conscious appliance consumer   

Having a responsible relationship with appliances is possible.  

  • Remember that a ‘want’ may differ from a ‘need’, so question whether you actually need that appliance before purchasing it.  
  • Refuse to purchase unnecessary or low-quality appliances where possible.  
  • When purchasing appliances, investigate refurbished items (products that are repaired/restored to working condition) or remanufactured items (used products that get dismantled, their worn parts replaced, and reassembled to like-new condition) before buying new.  
  • If your appliance breaks, consider repairing it yourself or booking a certified repair service.  
  • If your appliance is at the end of its lifespan, recycle it.


The impact of fashion on people and planet: What we purchase

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