Can One’s Trash Truly be Another’s Treasure?

OMG the new iPhone just came out, do I really need it? Of course I do! I have a perfectly good working iPhone 7, but it’s not the new iPhone X. It is just a cell phone what’s one more to the environment, no harm there right? I mean there are only 50 million tons of e-waste generated annually (Kamal, 2017) and me buying a new phone is only 4.55 ounces of that, so what’s the big deal?

As a consumer who enjoys new gadgets, I find myself having the above debate with myself each year, once Apple announces its latest product. I wonder what is the environmental impact of waiting another year? Truly, who knows, who cares?

Well I hope someone cares. Sometimes I believe companies intentionally design their products to last a limited amount of time, enticing us to buy a new one on their timeline. Would they actually do something like that?

So no iPhone for me this year, maybe a new car instead? I was really thinking I could use one of those. My car is a gas-guzzler, I could save the environment some carbon emissions by upgrading to a brand new hybrid, or how about one of those trendy electric cars?

I did pass a used car dealership the other day that had a 2014 Nissan Leaf – a smart purchase. I could repurpose a perfectly fine asset that isn’t being used. On second thought, it wouldn’t have that new car smell, which I quite like and someone else drove it before me. I just can’t do it, I work way too hard to drive someone else’s leftovers, and what would the neighbors think?

I would rather just keep my massive carbon footprint till I can afford something green, whoops, I mean ‘new and green’. So what exactly am I going to buy? I need that immediate gratification that comes with a new purchase. Maybe some new clothes, everything in my closet is so last year. Vintage is in this year, there is a thrift shop up the street maybe I’ll check it out, then I can make use of items that someone else is no longer using. I could even take my old clothes to the thrift shop. Hold up, you mean I can buy clothes that someone else has already worn. I shudder thinking about it, gross. I mean I can just buy new stuff that looks old – that’s my kind of vintage. As for my clothes, why donate, I mean I really can wear them again once they come back in style, then I can have real vintage items without having to go to a thrift shop and wear someone else’s old stuff, so at least my items won’t be joining the 84 percent of unwanted clothes that end up in landfills or an incinerator (Jacobsen, 2011) – well at least not yet.

We’ve all heard it before and despite comments similar to these being a comical parody, they are part of an ugly reality that the middle and upper classes of society are trashing more items now than ever before. As a result, we as a society are literally reaching a critical irreversible point where excess consumption is adversely affecting the sustainability of our planet. We live in a time when the concepts of reduce, reuse, and recycle only drive the majority of consumer behavior when it is fashionable and convenient vice merely out of an attempt to preserve our precious environment. A change in consumer behavior is critical to prevent massive amounts of garbage being sent to landfill, ultimately taking up space, which we are rapidly running out of, not to mention the deadly air emissions that are released into the atmosphere from landfills through the biodegradation process (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). This results in Methane emissions that are often times as, if not more, dangerous that than carbon dioxide, as well as, present hazardous concerns to our global water supply. We are no longer our parents environmentally oblivious generation; since we were children, we have been told and understand the importance of waste reduction, reusing items, and recycling, but though we thoroughly understand these concepts, seldom do we practice them. To obtain a clean earth we must reduce energy, limit out waste, reuse our products, and recycle to enable the preservation of our natural resources. As corporations continue their attempts to increase their profits by selling more not less, we have to be cognizant enough about the environment and the individual effect each one of us can have on it without buying into marketing ploys that would lead us to believe that we can just buy our way to a greener environment. So when you are contemplating buying your next treasure, remember that with a few exceptions, most often buying nothing at all or someone else’s trash is better for the environment than purchasing ‘new and green’.



Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, April 14). Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from United States Environmental Protection Agency:

Jacobsen, J. (2011, September 08). Fast Fashion: Cheap Clothes = Huge Environmental Cost. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from EcoWatch:

Kamal, B. (2017, September 27). Where do 50 Million Tonnes a Year of Toxic E-Waste Go? Retrieved November 13, 2017 , from Inter Press Service:



4 thoughts on “Can One’s Trash Truly be Another’s Treasure?

  1. Okay, so I think can safely safe your attendance on this course isn’t being supported by Apple or any of the major car manufacturers…….You’ve hit the nail on the head and the dilemma that many face ‘of to have or to hold’……. So whilst I don’t expect you to have the answer to the question I keep thinking of is how do we get the likes of Apple etc to help us ‘hold’ rather than to ‘have’ ? They have shareholders to please and market share to protect. However, that shouldn’t mean we don’t have the conversation. I’ve recently seen photos out of Japan where a minimalist trend is being increasingly reported in regards to having very few material possessions and they seem so happy with it (I’m not sure if that includes the latest smart phone or not). Maybe there is something in it to consider ? I’m sure the new iPhone X will have a great inbuilt resolution to view the photos on it whilst you research it 🙂


  2. I couldn’t agree more, you’ve summed up the dilemmas we all face very well.

    As someone concerned about sustainability it is very hard to reconcile the need for urgent action to tackle climate change with the rampant consumerism that is the cornerstone of our economy and our way of life. Is it realistic to expect people to consume less and, in any case, would that solve the problem?

    Consuming less with an ever increasing population certainly appears hugely challenging. So embedded is consumerism within western culture that attempts to reduce consumption will likely meet huge resistance. However, the rampant consumerism that now typifies western economies is a relatively recent phenomenon. As recently as my grandparents generation there was a far stronger emphasis on ‘make do and mend’. Shopping wasn’t seen as a leisure pastime in its own right. Furthermore, over the longer term lower consumption is ultimately inevitable as we cannot exceed natural planetary boundaries ad infinitum. Eventually the inescapable ecological limits of planet earth will take hold. The only real question then is do we wait until it’s too late or do we attempt a managed transition to a low carbon economy in which we attempt to live within planetary boundaries. For me, the latter is the only viable (though undoubtedly difficult) option. Kate Raworth’s book on Doughnut Economics provides a blueprint for how it can be achieved. Raworth calls for a rethinking of economic and political theory so that the unabashed pursuit of GDP growth is replaced with a vision for a regenerative economy that is distributive by design. She argues we should be agnostic about growth and recognise that the health of the economy is inextricably linked to the health of the natural environment. A point illustrated in Tony Juniper’s book ‘What has nature ever done for us?”

    This challenging of economic orthodoxy is essential if we are going to move to sustainable lifestyles. This is not to underestimate the huge challenges, but with economics underpinning many of the assumptions of our current economic system, doughnut economics seems a good place to start.


  3. Hi Calvin, Interesting thought. We do risk turning into “green consumers” but over-consuming all the same and never stopping this cycle. You make a very good point -perhaps buying nothing or buying used is much better than buying new and green. As a reader, I would have found it useful if for example there were some stats on the environmental impact of for example, using an old car vs buying a new leaf or a new Tesla – I know, because of the batteries, that electric cars bizarrely can have a much larger footprint and therefore.. when does it become actually better to use an electric car? What info can I take as a reader to better inform or better calculate the pros and cons when making a decision next time?


  4. You raise some interesting points, Calvin. As I have increasingly come to realise, consumerism is fuelled by inherent perceptions that buying more expensive toys is a reward for working hard. The iphone, which is seen as many as the ultimate status symbol has been marketed to signify the survival of a brutal economy. Indeed, waiting in an Apple Store the other day, I could not help but observe that iphone owners belong to this unspoken secret society of people who visibly fall apart when the dealer informs them that it will take a minimum of two weeks to replace a faulty hardware part. And so, while sustainability must start with us, we may want to explore the fact that we must first start with the communities and societies within which we exist, and the messages they are allowed to reiterate and reinforce.

    We must also acknowledge that emerging markets are merely just catching up to the culture of consumerism, mostly because it may be argued that they are being thrust into it much faster than the markets in the developing world did. For example, while it took over 62 years for automobiles to garner a significant number of consumers, it took a little over 3-5 years for all things social media to take the entire world by storm. And of course, one needs to have the latest piece of hardware to post the glossiest pictures, and videos. Like they say these days, we are not keeping up with the Jonesses; we ARE the Jonesses! So buying from companies that hawk the sustainably sourced and produced rhetoric is not enough. We must go ahead to teach our children why they are sustainably sourced and produced, so that maybe they can be our saving grace.


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