Consumerism is a socioeconomic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. ((en.wikipedia.org))There are many reasons for consumerism to be on the rise. According to Richard H.Robbins, the author of Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism ((Robbin, Richard.Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism. Boston: Pearson, 2005 pearsonhighered.com)), consumerist values and ideas have been imposed onto society through marketing and advertising methods. The way in which products were displayed was altered drastically so as to catch the attention of the consumer and arouse their “free-floating desire” (a term coined by Rosalind Williams) and as a result, the department store became a cultural primer telling people how they should dress, furnish their homes, and spend their leisure time. (Leach 1993). Robbins explains that advertisements also significantly influenced the consumers,“The goal of advertisers was to aggressively shape consumer desires and create value in commodities by imbuing them with the power to transform the consumer into a more desirable person.”((ibid)) Fashion, better services, the notion of ownership and rise in buying power (increase in disposable income and decrease in product price) gave rise to consumerism as well.
Consumerism has several negative effects like misuse of land and water, widening of the socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor, exploitation of resources for personal gain, a rise in obesity and creation of large quantities of waste that is not disposed of properly. A simple exercise of weighing the newspaper over a week produces astonishing results. It is observed that the weight of the newspaper progressively increases as the weekend gets closer and on Sunday, it reaches a high of 0.33 kgs compared to Monday where the weight is a mere 0.10 kg. This is an indicator of the number of advertisements that adorn the pages of the newspaper causing an increase in its weight, especially during the weekends. It reflects the capitalistic world we live in where advertisements for products and services help fuel the newspaper agencies who aim to report news and current affairs but do so by cashing in on the growing consumerist culture. “It is time to tell the world that democracy is sowing the seeds of its own destruction through market expansion and promoting consumerism and terrorism simultaneously,” says Dr.Ramakrishnan Korakandy, an expert in Fisheries Economics. Our society has turned more and more towards disposable, throwaway manner of resource consumption. Why wash a mug when disposable plastic cups are available? Why bother reusing cloth bags when plastic bags can be used and thrown away? There is an implicit assumption of a need for disposable goods. Articles such as bottled water and packaged foods exist for the time-starved, and for such individuals, preparing and carrying things required outside the house also seems too much of a task.((Momaya, Dharti. Cut out the trash (thehindu.com))) The UN Sustainable Development Goals website provides some shocking facts about consumption and waste that puts things in perspective – 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year while almost 1 billion people go undernourished and another 1 billion hungry.; 2 billion people globally are overweight or obese and households consume 29 per cent of global energy and consequently contribute to 21 per cent of resultant CO2 emissions.((un.org))
Thus, the need for sustainable development is indispensable. By making small changes and altering lifestyles to accommodate sustainable thinking, individuals and communities can strikingly better the conditions they live in, while simultaneously making the world a better place for the future generations. The attempt to reduce the amount of trash one creates must therefore also coincide with a conscious attempt to optimise the use of objects we most require. “If we make an attempt at extending the life of the products we use or give it to someone who finds its true value, we as citizens will reduce the demand,” says Prasanna Kumar, an environmentalist.((ibid)) One can escape the ever-reaching grasp of consumerism by cutting down on our consumption, reusing the products we purchase and recycling the material/product that cannot be reused. The prospect of degrading the environment is reason enough to make a few lifestyle changes, is it not? The graceful, unassuming natural habitat that we live in needs to be left as is and sustainability is a recognition of its value, a way in which we can say ‘thank you’.