The no buy zone
Lets be honest, I like stuff, in particular stuff that is well designed and well made. I have been known to aggressively join the scrimmage at a good sample sale. I have a horrible weakness for books (I’m a danger to myself in the cookbook section). And lets not even discuss the damage I can do in a kitchen wares shop! But as of today I am entering the NO BUY ZONE — or at least attempting it.
The need for this no doubt torturous experiment was brought home to me when I was reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. Royte is a fellow Brooklynite who spends a year cataloging and tracking her household trash: finding out all the places our junk goes after we throw it ‘away’. Its really interesting, and alarming, to read about all the places that are filled with, and poisoned by, our rubbish. But what makes the most impact is not our direct waste at all: it is the mountains and mountains of material that gets discarded when the stuff we buy is made. Consumer trash accounts for only about 2% of the nations waste stream. For every pound of waste I generate, 32 pounds of waste were made ‘upstream’ creating the sources of my trash. There are various numbers depending how you count them, but the truth is the same: we only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what gets thrown out.
And what that means is that by far the best thing we can do to help the environment is to stop buying more stuff, slowing down the river of manufacturing before it gets to us. There are some groups that actively promote the non buying agenda – I’ve participated in buy nothing day in the past (though as the group’s website points out, our lives are so entwined with consumerism that even if we don’t enter a shop we continue to consume through our water meters, mortgages and other buying pipelines). And there certainly does seem to have been a return to crafting and homesteading as people attempt to step outside the consumerist norms. But as a society we’ve got a long way to go.
And that’s what brought me on this sunny June 1, 2010, to the NO BUY ZONE. I will see if I can go a month without buying any new stuff… I’m not including food, or basic ‘necessities’ like laundry detergent. I am also going to allow myself to get anything I want on freecycle or craigslist’s free section if its available. If I do land up buying anything ‘necessary’ I am going to do penance by trying to thoroughly analyze the life cycle impact of the product from the first mining of the metal to the dying gasps of the offgassing plastics. So, stay tuned, and wish me luck, I’ll let you know how it goes by the end of the month!