Have you ever thought about the story of your stuff? Where did it come from and how was it made?
Everything we use in the world once came from nature and humans have got very good at using nature to make products that do exactly what we want them to do.
The problem is that our ways of making things often aren’t so good for the planet. They might involve chopping lots of trees down or burning lots of fossil fuels. Or worse still, sometimes the people who make our things aren’t treated so well. They might not be paid enough or might be made to work really long hours.
So what can we do to help?
We need to start producing and consuming products more responsibly. To do this we need to follow the mantra of reducing, reusing and recycling, where reducing means making and producing less, re-using means using things more than once and recycling means turning old material into new things. On top of this, we also need to monitor the way that companies treat their workers to improve working conditions.
There are lots of ways that anyone, including you, can make a difference to make our production and consumption more responsible. For example, you could: mend and reuse old products instead of buying new ones or make a poster to teach people about why it is important to buy Fair Trade products.
Everyone can take action to make real change. What will you do?
There are lots of charities that need your help to make our production and consumption more responsible.
For example, RECOUP aims to increase plastic recycling, Kids Against Plastic teaches people about plastic pollution and what they can do to help and Anti-Slavery International is working to end modern slavery around the world.
See how you can support them in their amazing work.
Have you ever thought about your stuff?
Everything around you right now came from the same place – nature. Your breakfast porridge was probably made from milk and oats, wheat or maize. The electronic device you are on right now is probably made from aluminium, glass and plastic. The pencil in your pencil case is made from graphite and wood. And your socks are made of cotton.
With every year that passes, humans become better and better at using natural resourcesAnything that we use from nature, like water, air, soil, iron, coal, even food. to make products that help us do exactly what we want to do.
Take a minute to look around the room you are in and pick out a few different objects.
The things you looked at would have been made of wood, metal, plastic, glass or even something else. The one thing they have in common is that all of the things used to make them, once came from natural resourcesAnything that we use from nature, like water, air, soil, iron, coal, even food.. Sadly, our ways of making things out of natural resources often have damaging effects on people and the planet. It might be made by someone who isn’t treated well or paid fairly for their hard work. Or it might travel across the world in a fuel-guzzling vehicle. The object might even be thrown away after a single use, like a disposable coffee cup. No matter who made it, how it travelled and how long it was used, at some point, the object will reach the end of its life span and will be thrown away – probably ending up in landfillA place where rubbish is buried to get rid of it..
Our stuff is all so amazing and it makes our lives so much better – but have humans taken things too far?
The way things are being done now is not sustainableDoing something in a way that it is possible to carry on doing it that way for a long time – you’re not hurting something or going to run out of something you need.. Sustainability is about doing things in such a way that you can carry on doing them like that for a long time. For example, if you start running a marathon by sprinting at top speed, your coach will tell you that it isn’t sustainable. This means that you won’t be able to keep that pace up in the long run. At the moment, the way that humans are making and using (producing and consuming) stuff, is very far from sustainable.
Right from the moment that materials for a product are taken from nature, up to the moment the product is thrown away, the environment (and people), are being harmed.
Let’s take a brief look at the impact on both planet and people throughout each stage below.
This is how we get the materials that we need from nature. It includes chopping down trees, digging deep underground for minerals (such as metals, fossil fuelsAncient energy sources (coal, oil and gas) in the earth’s crust that are used to heat homes, make electricity and power vehicles. and clay), fishing sea animals out the oceans and draining water from waterbodies.
The biggest problem at this stage is that too many of these resources are being extractedRemoving something from somewhere. too fast! Humans are using more natural resources than ever before and the best guess is that if we continue as we are doing, we will need 3 planets to provide enough natural resources to sustain our lifestyles by 2050. And while we can plant more trees and wait for them to grow if we have to, what do we do when a certain mineral we’re miningThe process of extracting materials from underground. from the ground just runs out?
Our most threatened natural resources include:
What would life be without water? It would be impossible. You need it for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing and producing the food you eat and products you use.
Nearly 70% of the earth is covered in water, but only 2.5% of it is freshwaterWater that does not have a lot of salt in it. Freshwater usually comes from lakes, rivers, snow and ice. that humans can use.
As populations grow and more people need water, there isn’t always enough water and people don’t always live close to a river. This is why underground water sources, called aquifersAn underground layer that contains water. are quite handy. But we are draining water reserves faster than they are being replenished.
Watch the video below about underground water and how we get hold of it. The video talks specifically about America, but underground water exists everywhere.
Fossil fuelsAncient energy sources (coal, oil and gas) in the earth’s crust that are used to heat homes, make electricity and power vehicles. are used to produce energy.
Ninety per cent of the world’s energy comes from burning fossil fuels. They are used to produce heat in homes, power cars, supply electricity, make plastics and so much more!
Fossil fuels are buried deep inside the Earth so they need to be dug up from underground in a process called miningThe process of extracting materials from underground..
The problem with fossil fuels is that burning them to produce energy releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are also non-renewable, meaning there is only a limited amount of them and it is not possible to make more. Watch the video below about fossil fuels, how they were formed, where they are found and how they are extracted.
Trees are famous for the fact that they are used for making wooden furniture and paper. But trees are also an important tool for fighting climate change. Forests are like big sponges that absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Unfortunately, trees are being chopped down much faster than they can grow! A mighty 48 football fields’ worth of trees are lost every minute. Watch the video below about why we are cutting down trees and what effects this has.
When natural resources are turned into products, a lot of energy is used to power machines in factories. Much of this energy comes from burning fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gasesGases that form a layer around Earth, like a blanket, and make Earth heat up. When there are too many of these, Earth starts warming up more than it should., contributing to climate change. In fact, 21% of all greenhouse gas emissions are from manufacturing.
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, people are often harmed while making the products that everyone enjoys so much.
Businesses are under pressure to sell things as cheaply as possible (because people like to buy cheap things!), so they have to cut their costs of production. Sometimes the easiest way to do that is by not treating workers very well.
Some farms and factories have:
When factories are uncomfortable or unsafe to work in. For example, they might have dangerous fumes and workers may not be given the safety gear that they need (such as a gas mask).
When people don’t treat their workers well. They expect them to work very long days and often they don’t even get paid for the extra hours that they do.
When bosses pay their workers very little, even less than the minimum wageThe minimum amount of money that employees of a business can be paid. The amount is chosen by the government of each country and varies country-by-country..
Things need to be taken from the places they are made to the shops where people can buy them.
The trouble is that to transport things, they need to be packaged so that they stay protected. This is why you buy:
There are lots of different types of packaging (plastic, cardboard, glass and metal) and they are good at different things. But all of them create problems for the environment.
No matter how things are packaged, there is a big problem with distribution. When things travel in ships, trucks and planes, the vehicles guzzle up fossil fuels and emit carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. The bigger the parcels are, the more space they take up in vehicles, so when companies use too much packaging, they end up guzzling up more fossil fuels in transport too!
Things are made to be consumedUsed.. The biggest problem is how long people use the things they buy. Sadly, many companies don’t want products to last too long, because that way people can buy from them again. This is called obsolescenceThe process of becoming unusable or the condition of being nearly un-usable..
There are two types of obsolescence:
This is when products are made not to last long on purpose. In many electronic devices such as phones and computers, older versions of software are designed to stop working after a couple of years, even though they technically could still work. This forces people to buy a new things.
This is when people are convinced to throw away stuff that is still perfectly useful. Companies regularly change the way things look so that everyone can tell that you bought your stuff a couple of years ago, so they use peer pressure to get you to buy new ones. Fashion is a prime example of this. For example, some years wearing chunky high heels is trendy and other years wearing skinny high heels is trendy. So every year women feel they need to buy new shoes, even though their old ones are still fine to wear.
So, what happens when stuff can no longer be used?
If you had to keep every piece of rubbish that you would usually throw away in a pile in the corner of your room, what would it look like after a week? And what about a year? Think about it – everyone in your school, community, city or even the world is creating their pile all the time and though nobody keeps it in their house or backyard, all that rubbish needs to go somewhere!
But there are two main problems with this type of waste disposal:
As rubbish rots in the ground, it makes methane and carbon dioxide, two greenhouse gasesGases that form a layer around Earth, like a blanket, and make Earth heat up. When there are too many of these, Earth starts warming up more than it should. that cause climate changeAlso known as global warming – the changing weather that Earth is experiencing because of too many greenhouse gases being released..
Plastics, though they are so useful, are creating massive problems, since it is thought that some of them could take hundreds of years to break down. Plastics from landfillA place where rubbish is buried to get rid of it. and rubbish dumps, as well as litter in the streets often get swept into the sea. When plastics build up in the sea it harms animals who confuse it for food and eat it or who get trapped in it. The plastics problem has become so bad that there are patches of rubbish in the oceans now! The biggest one is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Watch the video on the right about plastic pollution and the Pacific Garbage Patch.
The final estimated price is :
People all around the world are making big changes to produce and consume products more responsibly.
However, if we want to live in a world where everyone’s needs are met without harming people or the planet, we need more change to happen. Everyone needs to start making and using things in a more responsible way so that:
We aren’t throwing more things away than we need to
People are not being harmed in the process.
Humans need to change their current attitude of taking, making and wasting. Instead, everyone should focus on reducing, reusing and recycling, so that the goods of today can become resources of tomorrow. Factories also need to be improved so that working conditions remain safe and fair.
So, what does this involve and how can it be done? Let’s get stuck into just a few of the tools that are available.
Reducing means making and using less. To do this, people need to get to a point where they no longer want to buy more all the time. This is known as reducing demand.
One of the key ways to do reduce demand is by using financialHaving to do with money. measures to make it easier for people to make the right choices.
For example, many coffee shops around the world have started giving discounts if you bring your own reusable takeaway cup. Costa, Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Greggs and M&S are just a few chains that do this! They offer between 20p and 50p off per hot drink if you bring your own cup! People who buy a coffee every morning on their way to work could save up to £2.50 a week and £130 over the course of a year, all while stopping 260 disposable cups from ending up in landfillA place where rubbish is buried to get rid of it.!
The opposite can also be done. Products that aren’t sustainableDoing something in a way that it is possible to carry on doing it that way for a long time – you’re not hurting something or going to run out of something you need. can be made more expensive. This encourages people to stop using those products. For example, many governments are introducing plastic bag charges, meaning that shops now charge people for reusable plastic bags. Because people don’t want to pay extra, they are more likely to bring their own bags.
Re-using products means using them more than once, sometimes for different purposes. Sometimes products need to be repaired or changed a little bit before they can be re-used. Re-using products is the best thing that we can do for the environment. Unlike recycling, which we will come onto in a minute, the materials don’t need to be processed.
One way to encourage people to re-use products is by using something called a deposit return schemeA plan for doing something.. In these schemes, customers get a bit of their money back when they return it to be re-used. Deposit return schemes have been used a lot with drinks bottles.
Companies can offer product support and repair services so that products can continue to be used for a very long time. Many companies offer what is called a guarantee. A guarantee is a promise from the producer that if the product doesn’t work as described, it will be fixed or replaced for free. Apple laptops, for example, have a 2-year guarantee. After that, Apple users can contact Apple Support at any time for advice on how to deal with problems with their laptops.
Re-cycling products can involve turning the old material into a new version of the same thing or into something completely different. For example, used glass bottles can become new bottles or something else like road materials used in construction. The only drawbacks of recycling are that processing the materials often uses a lot of energy and some products can only be recycled a few times. Plastics for example can only be recycled about 2 or 3 times, after which the plastic starts to become bad quality, so the product has to go to landfill instead.
It’s important for everyone to get education on household recycling. Very few people truly know how to recycle, so a lot of products that could be recycled end up in general waste bins and go off to landfill, whilst some products that can’t be recycled end up in recycling bins and make the recycling process very difficult.
To increase recycling at a wider, business level, companies should be made to tell everyone how sustainable their decisions are. This will encourage them to recycle so that they look good to people, especially their customers. For example, someone might be influencedTo change or affect in an indirect, but important way. to buy from a certain company if they read that the company is doing great things for the environment by making all their paper from old, recycled paper.
Working conditions need to be improved so that workers are treated fairly and feel safe in their jobs.
Companies need to be watched to see if they are treating workers fairly and then be punished if they aren’t. This can be done by using certificationAn official document that says someone is doing or has achieved something. schemes to make sure that products are made in a fair way. One of the most respected certifications is called the Fair-Trade certification. Fair Trade makes sure that producers, such as farmers are treated fairly and equally. When products have the Fair-Trade certification, buyers can be sure that the product has been made ethicallySomething that is fair and good., helping them make good decisions about which products they buy. For example, in a supermarket there is often a choice between bananas with and without the Fair-Trade certification. Watch the video on the right to learn more about what fair trade is.
Now that you understand a bit more about consumption and production, it’s time to make a difference. It can sometimes feel a little scary to think that the world could start running out of resources or that all the waste is becoming a serious problem. There is still time to do something though! The sooner humanity tackles this issue, the sooner it can be solved. If you want to do something practical to help, the power is in your hands. Take a look at some ways you can take action right now.
You can make a massive difference to people and the planet by doing fundraising for charities that promote Responsible Consumption and Production.
If you have any other ideas of SuperKind things people can do to help make consumption and production more sustainable, we would love to hear from you here.
Here are some amazing young people who cared about Responsible Consumption and Production and took action to make change happen. These change makers were all passionate about the same cause but used their unique skills to make change happen in different ways.
Everyone can help make a difference. Consider what your unique superpower might be. Are you someone with a strong voice who likes to spread awareness by talking to everyone you meet? Or do you prefer a behind the scenes approach – making sure that donations are collected to take to those in need?