The Mindful Consumer

Being mindful of our consumption means paying attention to what we are buying and what we are throwing away.  We purchase in a way that limits waste and promotes healthy sustainable living. A recent National Geographic article on reducing trash around the world reported that of all the raw materials we take from the earth about two-thirds become waste or the equivalent of 67 billion tons.  As we begin to notice our planet suffering the consequences of over consumption, we begin to explore ways to reduce our environmental impact.

Currently we are only capturing nine percent of waste in recycling.  Plastics are becoming more and more complicated to re-purpose. Although some companies are investigating ways to use recycled plastic to build sustainable roads, buildings, and indoor grow houses, most plastics still end up in landfills or in our oceans.  Colorado has passed a house bill to ban stores from using certain single use plastics and polyester or styrofoam. Gavin McIntyre has created a replacement for styrofoam using mycelium (tiny white roots). Individually we can do our part by bringing our own bags to the supermarket and reducing the amount of items we purchase packaged in plastic.

Fast fashion has made clothing a disposable item resulting in the production of clothing to increase by one fifth between 2000 and 2015. The world threw away over $450 billion worth of the clothes made.  There are companies beginning to make use of recycled clothing. A Dutch company Boer Group collects and reuses up to 460 tons of recycled clothing per day. Companies in Parto Italy reweave wool fibers into new garments.  You too can do your part by consigning old clothes and buying used clothes. When purchasing new clothes, buy high quality ones that you keep for much longer repairing them when possible.

An over-abundance of food has created a wasteful mentality.  One trillion dollars worth of food is wasted every year or the equivalent of one in every three grocery bags.  Some restaurants are installing smart trash cans to monitor and manage the amount of food waste they are producing while some use otherwise unwanted food to make alternative menus at a low cost.  Aeorofarms in Newark has created vertical farms that produce the same amount of food using ninety-five percent less resources than outdoor farms. You can do your part by buying only what you need.  Shop more often but buy less so that you can use all of the food before it goes bad. Make grocery lists with only the ingredients you will use for the weekly menu so that you aren’t buying unnecessary items. Cook wilted vegetables into a stew instead of throwing them away.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the amount of products being wasted and of what people are doing to solve the problem.  Each one of us can participate in the movement by becoming mindful of what and how we are consuming. The following are five ways to increase your mindful awareness around consumption.


  1. Before purchasing an item pause, breathe, and assess why you are purchasing it.  Do you really need it? How long will you keep it? What purpose will it serve in your life?
  2. Before you purchase an item take the time to recognize how much energy went into producing it.  Notice what materials were used, who made it, how far it had to travel, and what it’s packaged in.  Consider if the energy and resources put into it are really worth consuming.
  3. Before you purchase an item notice how you are feeling. Are you purchasing this because you really need it or because buying it is meeting another need in you?  Can you nurture that need another way?
  4. Observe the belongings that you have already. Do they all serve a purpose?  Do you use them frequently? Do you have several that serve the same purpose?  If you have more than is necessary consider clearing the clutter by donating some of your belongings to those in need.
  5. Before you throw something out, become aware of where that item will end up and how long it will be there.  Is there another way to dispose of it that is more ecological? Can you recycle, re-purpose, or donate?


The waste facts in this article were found in National Geographic, “The End of Trash”, published March, 2020.