Waste less by slowing down

At every turn, the exchanges we make amongst ourselves and our objects seem to increase at an unstoppable speed. A short visit to WasteLess and it was immediately evident we are living in a space of accelerated consumption. From mobile phones to t-shirts, when is a product considered old? The trend suggests that a product’s life is becoming shorter with each generation. When in a time our grandparents considered a t-shirt old at 15 years, today’s generation considers it old at six months.

Our desire to replace or upgrade our phones and t-shirts presents a behavior that invites more conscientious awareness, but perhaps accelerated consumption requires a more investigative look; maybe our smart phones and t-shirts are just the tip of the iceberg? Are there other “fast” consuming habits that may not yet be immediately noticeable? With 1.25 billion people living in India, perhaps this country is an incubator for accelerated consumption? Consider the basic need to wash one’s hair – most reading this might purchase a bottle of shampoo that lasts one or two months. In India, the same bottle may be too expensive or the purchaser may need to share the entire bottle among their community depending on the cultural expectations within a particular village. As a result, major brand marketers have responded to this need and created the single-use packet — affordable and readily accessible in the market square the day it is needed. Unfortunately, this approach is not limited to shampoo, but single-use packets are also produced to meet other daily needs such as laundry, body and dish soaps among other daily needed products.

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But what makes up the composition of these single-use packets? We must peel back the layers in order to take a closer look and see the unseen. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as a piece of plastic readily available for recycling. According to Ribhu Vohra at WasteLess, the design is composed of a multi-layer foil or laminated packaging film which includes not only aluminum but is also composed of very difficult to process plastics such as Termo and Termoset plastics. And because the metal component causes additional challenges, the single-use packets are not currently being recycled!

And it begs the question, where do all these packets go once the product inside has been used? If they are not being burned in a landfill, they often end up on the side of the road or worse, clogging drains possibly leading to increased cases of malaria and dengue fever.

It is becoming more evident, there is a seriously large problem contained in such a little package. Individuals wish to address their immediate needs, and corporations wish to increase their bottom line. The sale of these packets accelerates revenue while also accelerating the amount of waste in landfills, accelerating disease and pushing aluminum into water systems that may accelerate yet to be identified health problems. Furthermore, by meeting the immediate needs of individuals, brands are enabling the acceleration of thought to happen so swiftly that people no longer think through their purchase activity. By way of convenience, many brands have simplified our thought processes expediting our rate of plastic consumption.

Where do we go from here? The question at hand requires major shifts in not only how we think about the products we consume but also the space in which the life cycle of those products occupy. This is not a problem isolated to India. This is a global challenge — a challenge for us all to slow down, reflect and act consciously about our product consumption habits.

Alexa Newlin

 

Internal economy of Auroville

eco economy

Auroville attempts to distance itself from the conventional sense of economics by having implemented their own debit card system. The Aurocard, as it is named, serves to eliminate the use of cash in everyday life transactions. The philosophy behind it seems to be that by eliminating the use of cash and thereby reducing the negative visual/psychological impacts that money can bring. The way it works is that you visit Auroville’s financial center to charge your card whenever you need it. This money can then be used at any of the enterprises that are a part of Auroville. For the Indian people I am sure that this has it’s positive impacts. But for me as a foreigner visiting Auroville, the use of the Aurocard essentially just replaces the card I use back home.

To further distance itself from the conventional economy, Auroville has a few cooperatives to encourage a deeper sense of community. One is in the form of a sort of supermarket store where people who want to be a part of parallel/alternative economic system contributes a certain amount on a monthly. This enables members to shop entirely for free without ever seeing a price tag on anything. It works by encouraging and building on a recognition of needs before greeds/desires,. This means that people that are a part of the cooperation shifts their thinking more towards a needs based economy. People are also encouraged to contribute by donating excess products for others to consume.

It is an interesting social experiment of sorts where conventional consumerism is questioned by actually initiating reflection on the origin for the different products that comes from your own community. It makes one think more carefully about the production process and that you actually contribute your money towards your own community. This was a very interesting initiative that contrasts with the intense consumerism culture back at home where most people don’t think that much about the origin of the things that they buy. Perhaps there will bemore similar initiatives all over the world to bring us back to a point where we no longer over-use the resources which are far from contributing to a sustainable future.

//Joel Hellström

Linnaeus University Sweden