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Consumerism, throwaway culture raises ethical dilemma

Rina Kobayashi
Modern consumer habits have normalized buying and disposing for convenience. Consumerism and throwaway culture has presented many ethical concerns, including social inequality and environmental complications.

Summertime is approaching, which means one thing — shops are bound to have an end-of-winter sale. Undoubtedly, many students will be eager to stock up for next winter. Amid this excitement, we overlook that, before this, there was a Christmas sale, Black Friday sale, back-to-school sale, summer sale and more; the list goes on.

Heaps of advertisements constantly convince us to buy products. We absorb the latest trends, succumb to influencers and share our purchases with friends and family. Whether it is clothing items, accessories, food or home goods, society encourages a culture of perpetual “shopaholism” — addiction to consumerism.

We may buy to feel confident, impress others or, perhaps, we hope the items we buy will bring us happiness. Regardless of our motivations, there are far too many hidden consequences of consumerism. Students must stop shopping impulsively and instead buy with intention and awareness of their purchases’ impact. Unfortunately, replacing destructive shopping habits with positive ones is easier said than done. Personal value and fulfillment are tied to material goods, and companies exploit this through their marketing. Take H&M’s 2023 holiday collection advertisement as an example. Through an immediate mood shift, the video suggests that if you wear H&M’s newest sparkly dresses, you will find happiness during the holiday season.

Contrary to widespread belief, consumerism is actually a source of unhappiness for many shoppers. According to the American Psychological Association, people with higher materialistic values tend to feel less satisfied after shopping. This lack of fulfillment stems from constantly wanting the next best product, which makes buyers unable to fully appreciate what they have.

I noticed this effect when I bought a new jacket. I felt exhilarated when I wore it to school and received compliments. However, by the end of the week, the thrill wore off, and my new jacket didn’t provide the same level of happiness it did initially. In pursuit of another surge of joy, I desperately wanted to go shopping again. This cycle of pursuing contentment and satisfaction is not sustainable in the long run. As you yearn for the thrill shopping provides, you risk feeling empty without it.

Furthermore, social media largely promotes this hedonistic behavior, causing consumption to spiral out of control. Some consumers may feel compelled by the pressures of modern society — including marketers and influencers — to spend their money on new items even when they do not have the financial means to do so. Too often, an individual’s value in society becomes determined by their possessions. These misplaced societal values can lead to financial irresponsibility and drive people into debt.

Spending money has become extremely normalized in the media, causing some to feel discouraged when they cannot afford the products they see everyone else buying. However, this fear of missing out can be stronger than any financial obligation.

Our tendency to over consume gives companies the idea that they should produce more because they know we will buy it. Through meaningless purchases, we are giving more power to corporations and less to the individual.

Moreover, many shoppers are oblivious to the unethical realities of brands they purchase from. For instance, many companies appear to be more sustainable than they truly are, misleading consumers to believe they are shopping ethically. This practice, called greenwashing, is when companies falsely claim their products are environmentally friendly. For example, H&M was sued for their misleading sustainable marketing, where they advertised their products as more beneficial for the environment than they actually were. The plaintiffs, Abraham Lizama and Marc Doten, said H&M’s “conscious choice” line deceived them into thinking those products were more eco-friendly than their other items.
Furthermore, companies are able to greenwash without penalties because consumers do not care to investigate what they are buying. Subtle marks like green or cardboard labels and insignificant statistics plastered over marketing campaigns mislead careless buyers who do not take the time to investigate a brand’s environmental procedures.

Although it may seem companies are solely responsible for the negative impacts of consumerism, this is not entirely true. We must address the problem and do what we can to have power over today’s materialistic culture. This means practicing mindful consumption.

For instance, before you head out shopping, ask yourself, “Do I really need a new jacket?” or can you replace the act of shopping with something more substantial? Instead of relying on overconsumption for fulfillment, we should dedicate more time to activities that will result in long-term satisfaction, such as spending time with loved ones or engaging in hobbies.

If you decide to get that jacket, consider where you would buy it from. Should you go to Zara, or should you look into a company like Patagonia, which follows truly sustainable practices? Alternatively, you can always buy second-hand, as it is the most sustainable way to purchase clothes.

As consumers, it is imperative that we take the time to research where we are buying from. The practice isn’t very hard — I use The Good Shopping Guide for insight into a company’s reputation.

Ultimately, it is up to us, as customers, to decide what brands and products should succeed. We need to educate ourselves and let informed beliefs drive our actions, not societal pressure.

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About the Contributors
Rania Raj, Reporter
Rania Raj ('27) is a Reporter for The Standard in Journalistic Writing.
Rina Kobayashi, Reporter
Rina Kobayashi ('26) is a member of the Media Team of The Standard in Advanced Journalism.  

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