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Breaking the Chain: The Hidden Consequences of Global Overconsumption

In our era of relentless consumerism, the impact of overconsumption on the environment has reached alarming levels.

One often overlooked or unknown aspect is the environmental fallout of clothing donations to charities ending up in Ghana. Shockingly, only 20% of our donated clothes end up being sold, while the rest are bundled up and finding their way into the hands of for-profit aggregators overseas. This process has made Ghana the world's largest importer of used clothing, with Kantamanto in Accra housing the largest second-hand clothing market.

Traders in Kantamanto pay $120-200 for a bale of donated clothes, but a staggering 40% of each bale becomes waste due to low quality materials and damage. This results in 100 tonnes of garments being discarded daily, with 70% ending up in illegal dumps, ditches, and drains. This textile waste eventually flows into the Odaw river, Korle Lagoon, and the sea, causing severe environmental damage to these ecosystems.

The global statistics on overconsumption are equally alarming. We now buy 60% more than we did 15 years ago, and a clothing item is worn, on average, only seven times before being discarded. Meanwhile, 68% of people admit to being overwhelmed by their clutter.

Author Vironika Tugaleva aptly points out, “Our culture has bred consumers and addicts.”

The fast fashion industry, in particular, exploits garment workers who endure grueling conditions, working 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with only 2% receiving a living wage. This not only perpetuates a cycle of human exploitation but also contributes to the loss of biodiversity as pollution from dyes contaminates streams and rivers, ultimately ending up in the oceans.

Fast homeware production further exacerbates the problem, utilising cheap and unsustainable materials. Shockingly, 22 million smaller homeware items end up in landfills each year. Even giants like Ikea, known for their affordable furniture, contribute to deforestation by using 1% of the world's wood.

So, how can we break free from this cycle and shop more sustainably? Here are five tips to start making a small but meaningful impact:

  1. Buy Second-Hand: Opt for pre-loved items to reduce the demand for new production and extend the lifespan of existing products. You can find some amazing find on sites such as Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle & Vinted.

  2. Implement a No-Buy Week, Month or Year: Challenge yourself to refrain from purchasing non-essential items for a designated period. This helps break the habit of impulsive buying and offer up the opportunity to be resourceful. Cait Flanders wrote an amazing book on this called 'The Year Of Less’.

  3. Reuse / Borrow: Make a conscious effort to use what you already have or borrow from others. Could you borrow a power washer to clean your patio instead of buying one to use occasionally? Could you up-cycle or restyle a summer dress from last year to give it a new lease of life for this year?

  4. Repair: Support the growing trend of Repair Cafes where skilled individuals help fix broken items, promoting a culture of repair and reuse. These are usually run by a local charity and offer affordable repairs or just ask for a donation. Search 'Repair Cafe' and the name of your town to find one local to you.

  5. Consider Environmental Impact: Before making a purchase, think about the environmental consequences. Choose products with sustainable materials and ethical production practices. If you are buying a new t-shirt for £5, the likelihood that something is happening within the supply chain that is unethical is high. Instead of buying 5 new items at a low price, consider buying 1 item that is made from natural materials sourced sustainability, produced by a independent business that ensures their workers are paid a living wage and importantly, purchase something you will use, wear, keep for a long time.

In conclusion, our insatiable hunger for material possessions is causing irreparable damage to our planet. It has become more difficult to ensure we are buying items that are kind to the planet, with larger companies employing 'greenwashing,' and our environment isn't set up to make it easy to make the right choices. If we all pledged to buy less, buy better, and buy secondhand, our small choices can result in significant change.

Written by:

Shannon Murphy - Accredited Professional Organiser / Founder of Simpl Living Co

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