Blog Post #5 – How does consumerism affect society and our planet?

How has consumerism affected the environment?

In my previous research round, I looked into the effects that consumerism and the purchasing patterns that it has brought on have had on our psyche and the way we think. In this final research round, I will be discussing the environmental changes that have been caused by this practice and the effects that they have on different areas in the world.

While the argument about whether consumerism has affected us negatively or positively in our thinking patterns is debated consistently, this is not the same with the environment. This is because of how clear it is that our practices have hurt the environment. One of, if not the most visible one, is the unsustainable use and inevitable pollution caused by plastics. According to Greentumble, over 50% of all of the plastic produced on Earth is single-use. This ultimately means that once these products are used, they are either thrown out into landfills or end up somewhere in the environment, such as oceans. According to scientists, nearly 24,000,000,000 pounds of plastic enter the ocean every year. As you may have seen before, this plastic ends up forming giant floating garbage patches all over the world [4]. This plastic waste represents about a tenth of human’s total waste output and can be toxic to humans and other animals. The chemicals inside the plastic can include mercury, lead, chromium, pesticides, and many other exotic chemicals [2].

While recycling can help us resolve the issue of plastic pollution, the widespread adoption of the practice has been slower than most realize. Many third-world countries continue to incinerate discarded plastics, causing toxic air pollution, and even in first-world countries, a significant amount of plastic ends up in landfills and is not recycled. The impact this has had on marine life and ecosystems has been very high, with fish and other ocean life consuming large amounts of microplastics, which can be detrimental to their well-being as well as ours if we end up eating said marine animals [2].

Another way that consumerism has affected the environment is with unsustainable agriculture practices. With the growth of the consumer food market, the agriculture sector has altered its practices to become more efficient and profitable, sometimes to the detriment of the environment. This includes, but is not limited to, using many toxic chemicals, producing genetically modified organisms, deforestation to allow for more livestock land, and increased food waste. This is in conjunction with the large amount of carbon dioxide that is released into our atmosphere by cows and other livestock raised for our consumption [3].

Interestingly, the starvation rate in poorer countries is still very high, which truly demonstrates the inequality of consumerism. Rich countries also often end up offloading pollution and waste to poor countries to deal with, which can cause major damage to the environment of these less wealthy nations. Even though richer countries use much more and produce far more carbon dioxide in theory, they end up paying a far lower environmental price for this because the waste is moved in large part to be disposed of in a poorer country. The richer country ends up with cleaner air and healthier ecosystems, while the poorer country ends up with smoggy, toxic air and ecosystems destroyed by pollution [1, 6].

One of the other ways consumerism has affected the environment is the explosive growth of the private and commercial car market. A great example of this can be found in China. For very many years, the vast majority of the Chinese population exclusively used bicycles to travel. By the year 2000, over five million cars were on the road, increasing to over twenty-four million by the end of 2004. In the USA, the number of cars being driven even outnumbers the number of licensed drivers. In turn, in 2004, the percent of world energy use and percent of global oil consumption taken up by automobiles and other transport neared 30% and 95% respectively, numbers that have only continued to increase [5].

All in all, the topic of consumerism and the effects that it has had on the way we think and the environment is intriguing. While the theory and ideas of consumerism are not inherently bad, as they promote a better purchasing environment for the user, competitiveness between companies, and a clear goal in life, the way humans have exploited the practice has caused many negative consequences. This includes vastly increased amounts of water and air pollution, unsafe disposal of toxic waste in poorer countries, widespread inequality, increased levels of unhappiness and depression, and lower levels of self-esteem. While these facts may make it seem hopeless, this is not the case. If you want to make a difference, try to reduce the number of materialistic possessions in your possession, increase the number of products you recycle, and raise awareness of pollution and other consumerist issues in your community [4]. While these changes may seem small, they can make a very big impact if a large number of us stick to them. Together we can make a difference.


[1] Active Sustainability. (n.d.). Consumer society and the environmental impact on the planet. Active Sustainability; Acciona. Retrieved 11 December 2021, from

[2] Falde, N. (2018, June 26). Tackling plastic pollution: Facts and solutions. Greentumble.

[3] Greentumble. (2016a, May 2). Unsustainable Agriculture Techniques. Greentumble.

[4] Greentumble. (2016, July 22). The negative effects of consumerism.

[5] Mayell, H. (2004, December 1). Earth suffers as consumerism spreads. National Geographic; National Geographic Partners.
[6] Shah, A. (2005, August 10). Effects of consumerism. Global Issues.

Featured Image: Cartoon Movement

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