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Shop 'Till We Drop

Published: 1997

We're such suckers. The rubbish we buy is unbelievable. The guy on TV wearing the lab coat and the woman with the sexy voice tell us that a product is newer, better and more convenient, and we swallow it all.

When we go to the supermarket, how do we decide which products to buy? Do most people think at all about where a can of air freshener came from, what processes were involved getting it to the supermarket, whether there's a cheaper, safer and more effective way to have sweet-smelling homes? Even though we know that advertisements are often full of s**t, we still believe them. Even with what we know about the damage we're doing to the Earth, we're still not thinking about what we buy. The green movement came and went, and we're not a hell of a lot better off.

Convenience Products and Other Nonsense

Cardboard milk containers now come with plastic screw-on caps. Really, how much easier is it to remove the cap than to fold open the cardboard flaps? If you ask me, I don't think it is easier. But people think it's easier, because the man on TV said it is. So how much more plastic is being dumped in landfills for the sake of this "convenience"?

Do we really need to use fabric softeners on all our clothes? I've never used it, and my clothes are quite comfortable.

The introduction of the "Reach" toothbrush in the 80's launched one of the most ridiculous on-going fads of modern times: toothbrush technology. I'm all in favour of a more effective toothbrush, but this is R&D gone mad. Watch the ads closely... does that new contour design and rubber grip really give you "more control"? Is that flexible handle really safer for your gums? (When's the last time you accidentally pierced your gum because you had a rigid toothbrush handle?)

"Beauty products" are a big one for me. To put it briefly, I don't see any harm in a bit of makeup or whatever, sometimes it may even be a good thing. But the ads on TV get right up my nose. Perpetuating the idea that beauty can (and must) be achieved by having clear, young, wrinkle-free skin is simply exploiting people's self-image doubts for profit.

As for diet products, don't get me started on them.


Packaging in general is one of our biggest downfalls. Everyone knows about excess packaging but most of us still fall for it.

Look at the "individual serving" catfood tins. Every single cat meal uses a new tin can. Do you think your cat can really tell the difference? Even if it could, would it be worth the wastage involved?

Do we need a paper or plastic bag with every single purchase we make? Most shop assistants don't ask you, they just slip your new ball-point pen in a bag all of it's own so you can leave the shop, remove the pen, and throw the bag in the nearest bin. Look at the rubbish bins outside McDonalds and see how many of their paper bags are in there. Was it necessary for all those people to transport their Big Macs from the counter to the footpath in a bag?

Recycled Goods

Plenty of people are taken in by such lines as "made from a renewable resource" or "recyclable". I don't suggest that these are false claims and I would generally prefer to support such products. But just because something has one of these labels on it, doesn't make it an environmentally sound product.

There may still be all sorts of dangerous chemicals and pollution resulting from the manufacture of greeting cards, despite being made from "renewable" trees. And just because the tree can be replaced, doesn't necessarily make the forest sustainable. While we're on the subject, is the production of greeting cards the best use of a resource as valuable as a forest?

There's an obvious difference between "recyclable" and "recycled". There's not much point in a recyclable plastic bottle if you throw it in the rubbish. Also, recycling it doesn't make it all okay — it still has to undergo industrial processes.

The point here is that we're not going to fix everything by purchasing recycled products. We have a much bigger problem than that. We need to completely rethink our lifestyles — look at what we purchase and why.

Society Will Eat Itself

We are consumers. We've become so used to that label that it's lost it's meaning. Think about it — we're consumers. We consume stuff. The whole emphasis in our society isn't on producing or contributing, it's on consuming. We idolize people who have the means to consume more than we do, we aspire to be able to consume more and more and more. It's a cultural obsession which is endangering the lives of our descendants.

Maybe we really are going to shop 'till we drop.