Shop Green By Not Shopping At All

By Jane Mountain | November 24, 2011

Shopping Mall

Ahhh, The Friday After Thanksgiving, the day that everyone in the US is thinking about one thing: shopping. The day that more than 200 million of us will spend about $50 billion on sales that are “too good to pass up” or stuff we “can’t live without”.

And this is a good thing, right? The President is always urging us to shop more and he is ably backed up by the thousands of ads we see daily. Our friends are major motivators too, always looking at us like we’ve gone mental just because we don’t have the new iPhone or we’re wearing last season’s shoes.

Shopping makes the world go round. It keeps the economy healthy. It makes us happy. It’s win win win!


Actually, Shopping Kind of Sucks
There’s a cost to all this shopping that is much bigger than the $199 you plop down for a new iPhone (and I’m not talking about the horrendous monthly data fees).

Everything we buy is precisely packaged and priced to be attractive to our consumerist eyes. Where it comes from, what goes into it, and how it’s made is carefully hidden. No one wants those considerations getting in the way of our decision to buy buy buy.

I’m asking you to let those thoughts in. Today, before you whip out your credit card to take advantage of some once-in-a-lifetime deal, think.

What Is This Made Of?
In the case of a cell phone a staggering number of raw materials – like nickel, gold, copper, zinc, cadmium, coltan, and hundreds (yes hundreds) more – go into the finished product.

Many are extracted from mines that turn once pristine natural habitat into a barren wasteland. The toxins and emissions from mines often end up poisoning air, water, and soil.

Mining for coltan, which is in just about every electronic device you can think of, is quickly killing off the Mountain Gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park.

As if that’s not enough, coltan mining is often done by children in highly dangerous conditions and it’s helping to fund the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lots of the other raw materials in cell phones are toxins, like phthalates and brominated flame retardants. This type of toxin degrades so slowly that they move through air, water, and soil, finally collecting in the fatty tissue of animals (that’s you and me) causing cancer and other fun diseases.

How Is It Made?
Manufacturing uses up natural resources, emits toxins and greenhouse gases, and poisons waterways and soil. Greenpeace estimates that around 70% of China’s fresh water is polluted and the pollution is linked to textile manufacturing. So yeah, your new clothes have an impact too.

Of course, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are also used in manufacturing. One report I read estimated that the fossil fuel it takes to make one cell phone is 800 times the weight of the finished product.

Where Will It End Up?
Once your brand new toy is no longer shiny and the latest operating system has forced it into obsolescence, what happens to it? Ideally, it would be refurbished and reused, or at the very least recycled.

In reality, around 100 million cell phones are thrown away every year in the US. Of the ones that aren’t just gathering dust in junk drawers around the nation, fewer than 20% are recycled. The rest are sitting leaching their toxins into our soil.

How to Stop Shopping
When everything and everyone we encounter is telling us to shop, shop, shop, it can be damn hard to stop, even knowing how what we buy impacts the world. Here are a few more ways to slow down that impulse.

  1. Don’t buy anything that only has one use. If you’re looking longingly at a popcorn popper, an ice cream maker, or a wristwatch, think about what else you already have that serves the same purpose. Like a true revolutionary, why not make popcorn in a pot on the stove? It tastes delicious every time.
  2. Before you buy anything, ask yourself (and answer honestly): Do I need it? Do I love it? Can I afford it? If you answer “no” or “I don’t know” to any of these questions, delay the purchase. It’s amazing how little time it takes to go from “I totally need this” to “what the hell was I thinking?”.
  3. Instead of buying, borrow. If you’re doing a quick project in your backyard that requires a special tool, see if one of your neighbors already owns it. Yes, go and meet your neighbors! Also, don’t forget that there’s this special place called the library that will loan you stuff for free.

And what about the sheer joy shopping brings to you? If you’ve been salivating over the delights of Black Friday all year, I leave you with this: studies show the anticipation of shopping provides more pleasure than the actual purchase. So why bother?

Got a few more minutes? You might like these:

Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.


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  6. Comment by small sized cars

    small sized cars Reply November 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Just wanted to say you have a great site and thanks for posting!…

  7. Comment by Jennifer Bowen

    Jennifer Bowen Reply November 26, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Whoa. I was totally in the dark about all of that cell phone stuff. Thanks for sharing. I will re-think my upgrades from now on. As for the rest of the stuff…people are always shocked when they look i my closet and see very few clothes. I still dress decently though! I have over the last few years hosted parties called Naked Lady or Frock Swap parties where a bunch of gal pals swap what we love but just don’t wear. You end up with a new wardrobe every time and do’t feel like you’ve been scrounging in thrift stores, which some people just won’t do. Anyhow, thanks Jane Mountain!

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM November 27, 2011 at 8:30 am

      A lot of that cell phone / electronics stuff was new to me too. Good timing since I was thinking of buying a new phone and a laptop in the next few weeks. Think I’ll just wait instead…

      Thanks for commenting! J

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