Sylva Spoon

Owner vs Consumer

Thomas BartlettComment

This was posted on Facebook recently by The Post-Landfill Action Network. It's on a topic I feel is important, and as the average Facebook post only lasts on people's feeds for about 3 hours I wanted to add it here to hopefully help it last a little longer.

What’s the difference between an “Owner” and a “Consumer”?

Rose Marcario, the CEO of Patagonia recently said: “Owners are empowered to take responsibility for their purchases—from proper cleaning to repairing, reusing and sharing. Consumers take, make, dispose and repeat—a pattern that is driving us towards ecological bankruptcy.”

We need to empower citizens to be owners. How?

Every single day of our lives we have the ability to use our dollars to vote for the type of world we want to live in. When we buy cheap, convenient, popular, and disposable products, we support companies that profit from those compromises. But when we instead think about the everyday impact and power of our wallet, we can all make significant change.

Not only can you reduce your waste, water and carbon footprints by buying durable, functional, repairable and long-lasting products, but you are also supporting companies that are railing against the “planned obsolescence economy” – companies that have been willing to step up and put ethics above profits.

It is important to note that these statements come from a place of privilege. Not everyone has the option of buying high-value, high-impact items. And this, really, is the crux of the problem.

In the globalized capitalist economy that we live in, poor communities are often forced to support the system that oppresses them. Sometimes the “consumer” is making a purchasing decision based on style or popularity, but sometimes they are making that choice because that’s all they can afford at the time. How backwards is it that communities who are most directly affected by the negative externalities of the planned obsolescence economy (waste, pollution, water contamination, etc), are the same ones who wind up being forced into supporting the very companies that create these problems?

A potent example of this lies in Chemical Valley, an Aamjiwnaang First Nations land in Sarnia, Canada that is surrounded by petrochemical plants. In this toxic environment, they have become reliant on bottled water and packaged food… the packaging for which is made via these petrochemical plants. Read more at Vice: http://www.vice.com/video/the-chemical-valley-part-1

It is highly important that the zero waste movement embrace the mentality of ownership, without devaluing the status of the consumer based on accessibility or class. The more that this movement supports the values of ownership, the more we can change the industry as a whole. It is important that we bring these values and these products into the mainstream, and that by creating a higher demand we affect market value and push products that are durable and repairable to be accessible to all, and not just the select few who can afford them.

How do we build an all-inclusive movement that empowers ownership and valuing product durability, while also respecting the intersectionality of these issues? How do we work towards creating spaces where people of all backgrounds can enjoy good products, and support good companies? How do we share the ethic of thrift, the value of durability, the importance of product ownership, without alienating the communities that are most directly affected by the problems of consumerism?