Conscious & mindful consumerism – our plastic addiction needs a cure

If you are like us, you have been working hard so you can become financially independent one day. To reach this key financial milestone, you are frugal, you strive for a high savings rate, and you invest the money saved in appreciating assets like stocks, businesses, real estate, etc. As a result, your net worth grows year over year. This process is repeated over and over each month.

Part of being frugal means purchasing quality items rather than cheap low-quality items. Take two pairs of shoes, one pair costs $100, another pair costs $20. The $100 pair lasts 18 months while the $20 pair lasts 2 months. From a cost per day point of view, it doesn’t make any sense to purchase the $20 pair. If you purchase the $20 pair, although the initial dollar cost is lower, you will need to get another pair of shoes in 2 months, and maybe again later if you purchase another pair of low-quality shoes. Therefore, to be frugal, it is important to always evaluate the long-term cost vs. the overall saving.

After all, $100 saved today can be grown to over $400 in 20 years with 8% annual growth rate. By buying the lowest cost item that doesn’t last, you are robbing yourself in the long run.

During a lunch conversation about consumerism the other day at work, I began to wonder – while the financially independent journey, are we too focused on being frugal and being efficient that we are forgetting to be conscious and mindful consumers? Are we forgetting to look at the big picture holistically?

Being conscious and mindful consumers

A while ago I wrote about how frugality can prevent catastrophic disruption of life on earth. In it, I mentioned some simple and practical methods that we can use to save money while helping to save the environment. Being frugal not only reduces the money you spend each month, but it also reduces your energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission – a win-win!

As mindful consumers, we have been eating less and less red meats in general. We have been substituting turkey and chicken for red meats. We are also purchasing more locally grown items. Without realizing, we are finding that we are eating more vegetables in our meals; quite often, we would have vegetarian meals for a number of days.

It’s not about just saving money so that we can become financially independent in the near future. It’s about being mindful and becoming conscious of our environmental impact as consumers.

But I think it’s more than just eating less meats to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We can do more than that. We also need to take a look at how food items are being packaged and how this can impact the environment.

A while ago, I came across this video on Facebook, where shoppers are demanding grocery stores to cut plastic packaging.

The video made Mrs. T and I really think about all the plastic packaging from grocery stores like Costco, Superstore, Save-On-Foods, Safeway, Walmart, etc.

Overuse of plastic in grocery stores is a reality in modern society.

For example, oranges, avocados, and onions typically come in mesh plastic bags. What do you do when you get back home and unpack these items? You probably throw the mesh plastic bags in your garbage bin. Did you know that you may be able to recycle these mesh bags? But here’s the problem: although some of these mesh plastic bags can be recycled, not every city will recycle them. If you live in Calgary, you gotta throw out these bags as garbage. Cucumbers, for example, are usually individually wrapped in plastic. Then wrapped together in plastic as a bundle. What’s wrong with not wrapping them in plastic at all? You need to wash cucumbers before eating them anyway, right?

For the most part, items like plastic wraps and plastic bags can be recycled, but they must be dropped off at designated depots. I would guess that most people don’t bother dropping them off at the designated depots.

So many plastic bags and plastic packagings end up going to the landfill as garbage or end up in the ocean, creating the great garbage patches in the ocean.

Even when plastic is recycled, many people don’t realize that plastic materials can only be recycled once or twice. Unlike metals, plastic can’t be recycled infinitely.

After being recycled once or twice, the plastic products eventually make their way to the landfill… or oceans.

Plastic wastes can take up to 1,000 years to decompose!

I’m pretty sure you and I won’t be around by then, but our children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children will be.

Don’t you want to give the future generations a beautiful and serene environment that they can enjoy?

Rather than mindlessly grabbing a plastic bag or throwing out plastic packaging, shouldn’t we be more mindful of our plastic consumption? I think that this is a key part of being mindful consumers and finding a way to reduce our plastic consumption.

After all, being financially independent won’t do you any good if there are plastic wastes everywhere. Can you imagine stepping outside to a pile of plastic waste everywhere? I sure don’t want that to happen.

Reducing our plastic consumption

So, what can we do to reduce our plastic consumption? There are many ways for us to reduce our plastic consumption.

  1. Use a reusable bag when going out shopping rather than using plastic bags.
  2. Purchase food such as cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins, and fill a reusable bag or container.
  3. Use glass or metal water bottles and refill water rather than consuming bottled water.
  4. Don’t use plastic bags in the fresh fruits/produce section or at the checkout. Use paper bags instead.
  5. Ask your local grocery stores to take your plastic containers (for berries, tomatoes, etc.) back.
  6. Don’t buy over-packaged items.
  7. Stop using plastic straws.
  8. Buy items that are packaged in paper rather than plastic.
  9. Use cloth diapers rather than disposable diapers.
  10. When buying things, look at an alternative that isn’t wrapped in plastic.

If we can all do a few of these steps listed above, I am convinced that future generations can enjoy a beautiful and serene environment.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Chris @ Mindful Explorer
    May 6, 2019 at 8:33 am

    I have been trying to tackle the plastic at the grocery store problem for some time now. It is a very hard thing to avoid even for those of us doing all the items on your list. Grocery stores need to complete change how they are doing things to make a meaningful impact on the plastic waste. For ever person like you are and I that are trying to change there are probably 50 that go through the checkout clearly with zero consideration of their plastic and waste footprint. That being said the more of us that keep sharing the message hopefully the more of us that adopt these practices of reduction.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 6, 2019 at 8:47 am

      Agree that grocery stores need to complete change how they are doing things. It’s so frustrating to come home and pack food items in the fridge and pantry only to end up with piles of plastic bags that you have to throw out. It’s ridiculous!

  • Reply
    Life Outside The Maze
    May 6, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Technically speaking we have solved this problem. There are plenty of bio-plastics or plastic alternatives out there. Economically and politically we have not solved this problem. Plastics are dirt cheap economically without political regulation to curb the waste. Hence I would like to add to your list of things that we can do to get involved politically. Just like the pursuit of equal rights for all, when mentalities shift and policy shifts with it then change happens

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 6, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      We’ve stopped using plastic wraps at home as well. Found a reusable alternative that works just as good. And you’re right, plastics are cheap so we need more regulations to discourage people to use them.

  • Reply
    Joe
    May 6, 2019 at 10:37 am

    We can’t put plastic bags in our recycling bin either. Recently, I heard that a lot of recycled stuff aren’t recycled at all. They just go to the landfill. China is cutting way back on buying these things and many cities can’t find an alternative.

    Also, the shoe example doesn’t sound right. We tried $50 for our kid and they still get destroyed in about 3 months. $15 shoes last just as long. Kids are hard on shoes. For me, my tennis shoes last 2-3 years. I still try to keep it around $60 or so.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 6, 2019 at 1:14 pm

      I read that too, so we are becoming more mindful on what we put in our recycling bin.

      Yea the shoe example is more for adults, maybe it doesn’t make as much sense for kids. 🙂

  • Reply
    Xrayvsn
    May 6, 2019 at 10:44 am

    It is important to be socially mindful when possible.

    I replaced our plastic straws at home with metal straws (with a silicone tip) and actually prefer them to the plastic ones.

    It is tough to have a large movement start unless there is some sort of instigating event. Unfortunately the damage we are doing now will take a long time before it really effects our daily lives and thus most people don’t have the urge to do even minor changes.

    The plastic straw movement is a good sign though.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 6, 2019 at 1:15 pm

      Good for you for making a change! We decided to cut back on our plastic usage. We need to make more daily changes to make an impact!

  • Reply
    Frugal Fortunes
    May 6, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    The little going “green” efforts add up. Thanks for your mindful consumerism. I’ve also cut back on my plastic consumption. I’ve been using a refillable water bottle for the last few years and take it almost everywhere I go.

    ESG investing is a growing trend in equity selection. Mass consumer behavior takes time to change… but it’s starting to change for the better.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 7, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      Little changes do add up, I’m pretty convinced with that. If we can all do our part and make a few small changes in our lives, collectively, we can make a huge change. 🙂

  • Reply
    Dividend Diplomats
    May 7, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    Interesting piece here Bob. Your shoe example resonates with me, as I am going through that right now. I’m deciding between a highly rated $70 pair of shoes and a $35 pair. I know the right answer is the $70 pair, but I’m trying to get over that hurdle here haha

    But you’re right, there is much more we can be doing to cut down our plastic consumption. I recently saw Aldi is pledging to make all their packaging recyclable by 2025. But that’s just their products, not other brands. Years ago I started using a reusable glass for water as opposed to plastic bottles and I love it. I take pride in filling it up in public. I love the machines that tell you how many bottles of water you save. I also think it is nice that some stores offer a “bring your own bag” discount. At Target you can save $.05 I believe for bringing your own bag. The problem is, that’s not going to incentivize too many people to save. That’s nothing. The incentive should be much, much larger!

    Little differences do add up and this article is achieving that by bringing awareness to the issue. Great job writing about it!

    Bert

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 8, 2019 at 10:21 am

      Thank you Bert. I agree, little differences do add up. We can all do our parts to reduce plastic consumption.

  • Reply
    DivvyDad
    May 8, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    We have done a few small things such as taking our reusable bags when we go shopping, getting the metal straws for use at home, and carrying our own reusable water bottles. I’ll admit that we haven’t necessarily looked at the products we buy at the store in an effort to reduce waste, but it will be something to watch for the next time we go shopping.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 9, 2019 at 1:42 pm

      We haven’t tried the metal straws yet… we just decided to give up on straws at home all together. 🙂

      Reusable water bottles is a good idea, especially when you’re out travelling.

  • Reply
    weenie
    May 14, 2019 at 8:07 am

    I recycle as much as I can and thus far this year, have not purchased any bottled water as I’m going to just try to use refillable water bottles when I’m out and about and when I’m travelling (most international airports have drinking water fountains for top up).

    It saddens me to see all that plastic rubbish but tons of it is still being churned out on a daily basis for consumers. When I was a child, there was no bottled water to be purchased and yet no one died of thirst – there’s no need now for it.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      May 14, 2019 at 9:50 am

      That’s awesome of you for using refillable water bottles! I recently read that none of the plastics ever produced have yet to get decomposed. It’s pretty sad.

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