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.
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.