With nearly 8 billion people living on this planet, the demands for items are endless. Still, many believe that overproduction and overconsumption are the main threats to the environment and the future of the planet, not overpopulation. Recent studies have shown that 80% of the world’s natural resources are used to make items to serve only 20% of the world’s population. Especially, Americans, who represent less than 5% of the world’s population, contribute to 15% of the world’s GDP and consume 17% of the world’s energy.
According to Jasti & Kodali, overproduction is understood as producing unnecessary products that are independent of the demands, beyond what is required. Theoretically, there are 5 causes of overproduction, including wrong inventory management, unknown consumer needs, under-consumption by consumers, capital accumulation by consumers, poor quality, and full employees’ performance utilization.
Similarly, Overconsumption is when the use of resources is more than the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem, leading to devastating natural disasters, collapsing ecosystems, and endangering the lives of all species.
Effects on the environment
There are countless environmental problems related to overconsumption and overproduction. The fashion industry, particularly fast fashion, is a typical example of overproduction and overconsumption. It might be shocking for you but Zara’s mission is to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in their stores. The massive amount of clothes being made daily are releasing tons of toxic dye to the water system, microfibres (from polyester) to the environment when washed. Especially, as the price of clothes is really cheap, from just about $5 a shirt, consumers will keep on buying, companies will keep making and the loop is endless.
Food waste is also a serious problem. While millions of people are living in hunger, up to 40% of food produced in America is being thrown away, simply just because producers are making something that the consumers are demanding. This amount of food waste generates a large amount of methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, leading to global warming and climate change. The excess amount of water used for feeding cows and pigs is also scary, up to 50,000 liters for 1kg of beef.
The overconsumption of humans also leads to terrible animal treatments without any humanity. For example, chickens in industrial farms are forced to living in tiny cages without barely any space to move around, being forced to eat so much with lots of chemicals, and after about 6 weeks, they are killed for meat. The fast speed of growing leads to various illnesses, as their bodies cannot cope with this rate. Those chickens also have to suffer from depression, being stepped on by other chickens, and a lack of natural feelings.
Effects on people’s happiness
More and more people are admitting the fact that more stuff does not make people any happier. People tend to have an obsessive relationship with material things, especially with the popularity of social media, people tend to be jealous or feel less of themselves when seeing other people purchasing new things. However, according to Tim Kasser and Robert Putman, there is a connection between an excessively materialistic outlook and increased anxiety and depression levels, and we are paying a price for our tendency to consume with the loss of friendships, neighbor support, and communities.
Another ugly fact is that people are having higher debts, especially among young people, and working longer hours just to pay for the high-consumption lifestyle, hence they spend less quality time with family, friends, and the community.
When people over-consume unhealthy food, which is normally so yummy to eat, there are also other health problems like diabetes and heart disease, resulting in higher health care costs, and a lower quality of life.
So what do we do? Simply cut down on what we don’t really need. Without demand, producers will eventually produce less, simple economic theory. Moreover, by raising their voices, consumers can also let producers be more aware of what/how to produce, as changes from producers are crucial.
Authors: Tram Anh Pham
Tram Anh is a freelance sustainability promoter from Hanoi, Vietnam. With her engineering background and various experiences in different countries, she hopes to create positive changes and promote a sustainable lifestyle among the Vietnamese community, where environmental awareness is not at its best. Visit her website and get in touch with her at: https://higoodhuman.com. Also, find her on Instagram @higoodhumanvn