Four easy ways to become a champion of responsible consumption


A pile of T-shirts on sale at a mall. Photo: UNDP

When I was a small child in the early 90s, Mongolia was transitioning from a centrally planned to a market economy. This sudden change brought many uncertainties to our small country. Goods were scarce, so people tried hard to make the best use of what they had. Our family recycled almost everything: soda cans became decorations; clothes were passed down to younger siblings. Fresh milk and yoghurt were sold in glass bottles, which we would return for another bottle.

Nowadays, we have the convenience of supermarkets, shops, and malls that sell a huge variety of food and other product from all over the world.

Unfortunately, we are consuming without thinking of the consequences. The great paradox is that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year, while 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night. If we keep on using resources like this, by 2050 we will need almost 3 planets to sustain our lifestyle.

To reverse this, we need to take bold actions. Governments should adopt laws that promote efficient use of resources, while companies need to lead sustainable consumption through innovation and technology.

But bold actions can also start with small and individual steps. As consumers, we can contribute to making our consumption sustainable by taking these simple steps:

1. Cotton bags for the win: I started using cotton bags several years ago, not because I knew about the environmental damage of plastic bags, but because cotton bags were in vogue. Later, I learned that more than 1 trillion non-biodegradable plastic bags are thrown away each year, and 8 million tonnes of these enter the sea, killing fish and ocean life. Plastic debris have been found in many sea animals. So why not use a stylish cotton bag the next time you shop?

2. Think twice before you purchase that new T-shirt on sale: It takes a massive amount of water to make clothes. For one cotton T-shirt, it takes 2,720 liters - that’s what we normally drink over a 3-year period. For jeans, it’s equal to 285 showers. In the past, I bought many clothes that I wore only once and would just accumulate in my closet. But these days, I am keeping my wardrobe at a minimum. Not only is this financially beneficial, and eco-friendly, but it’s also becoming a smart and fashionable choice. Plus, by doubling the life of your clothes from 1 to 2 years, you can reduce emission by 24%.

Each year, 42 million tonnes of e-waste is generated. Are we doing enough to reduce our consumption? Photo: UNDP

3. Old is the new black: Every year I would wait eagerly for the launch of the latest smart phones, wondering what new features they would offer. But did you know that there are 42 million tonnes of e-waste globally? What’s worse, only 15% of old equipment is recycled, rendering US$52 billion worth of reusable raw materials useless. Try to buy refurbished electronics or replace your current device only when you absolutely need to. Plus, vintage phones are making a comeback.

4. Be realistic when it comes to food waste: Many times, I have bought produce and let it rot in the fridge because I was too busy or lazy to cook. In order not to waste food, I started planning better. Since I cook less when I’m busy, I bought less produce during that time, and would cook in bulk or eat out sometimes. I also researched methods to store my groceries correctly, so that they can stay fresh for longer time.

There are many things we can do as individuals. When it comes to using resources responsibly and efficiently, every bit counts. It was easier to consume responsibly in the past, because things were scarce, but that doesn’t mean that it has be hard today.

Do you have tips for consuming responsibly? Please share with us using the hashtag #ConsumeLess.

Blog post Europe & Central Asia Goal 12 Responsible consumption and production Environment

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