Convenience culture needs to die
About two years ago, I made the decision to refuse takeaway coffee cups. As part of reducing the unnecessary waste I was adding to landfill, I decided I would only get a takeaway coffee from a café if I had a KeepCup with me.
This commitment has surprised a few. I’ve had a few friends ask why I’d “punish myself” just because I forgot to bring a cup. The thought of having to remember something like that all the time was “so inconvenient.”
We live in a consumer culture that enables a lifestyle of constant busy-ness. Companies have a vested interest in feeding our desire for convenience—when their product is easier for us to use or consume, we’re more likely to buy from them. This is how we get 8 individual plastic bags of potato chips for kids’ lunchboxes, and plastic hand soap dispensers that fit next to the sink, but only hold enough soap for a month.
If we really are going to consume consciously, it’s not just about changing to a different brand—it’s about changing our habits of consumption.
Recently there’s been a lot of awareness of the excess waste we’re producing as a society, and talk about becoming a ‘conscious consumer’—making substitutions like buying our takeaway coffee from a cafe that uses plastic lids made from biodegradable corn starch. But how sustainable is this substitute? If everyone switched to corn starch plastic lids, we’d need industrial amounts of corn which will either be purchased from farmers who were growing it for the food supply, or will necessitate the clearing of huge tracts of land for new cornfields. If we really are going to consume consciously, it’s not just about changing to a different brand—it’s about changing our habits of consumption. Convenience culture needs to die.
Moving from convenience to sustainability means starting to think the way our grandparents did. As much as we may have laughed at the way they endlessly fixed things and “hoarded” for a rainy day, we can learn a lot from them. They had fewer options to purchase, so had to commit to sustaining and improving what they owned.
We’re starting to pay the bill for a generation of easy solutions.
There will be friction and it will be really inconvenient at times. We like options, we like newness and we like convenience because it truly is easier that way. But we’re starting to pay the bill for a generation of easy solutions.
The first step is the most important; it’s also the most daunting. However, organisations like EcoMatters are helping provide easy first steps and resourcing people toward a sustainable lifestyle. There are also bulk refilling stores like GoodFor, The Source Bulk Foods, and let’s not forget good old Bin Inn, making it much easier for us to reduce the waste we purchase. Bea Johnson, founder of the Zero Waste Home movement, went on a “waste diet” and reduced her family’s annual landfill waste to the size of one small jar. Their secret is to “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot (and only in that order).”
My conscious choice to refuse takeaway coffee cups has meant I’ve had to go without more than once because I came unprepared or didn’t have time to sit down. But when I keep in mind the overall waste cost of throwaway culture, one coffee doesn’t seem as important in the moment. Over time, it has just become part of my routine, and it could easily become part of yours too. As the great polar explorer Robert Swan said, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
This blog was written by Jacqui Dickson as part of an internship placement with Maxim Institute through AUT University’s Co-operative Education paper.