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Does your household have several dozen or hundred extra plastic bags floating around? Do you have a special drawer reserved for them in your kitchen or back porch, or have you attached a stylish plastic bag holder to the inside of a cupboard door? Have you gotten to the point where there are just too many bags to bother saving? It can’t hurt the environment too much to throw a few dozen away from time to time, can it?

Guess what? Plastic bags don’t go away. Whenever they eventually do leave your house, they sit in the landfill indefinitely. They don’t break down. Well, they might eventually, but chances are we’ll all be long gone when they do.

When I moved into my new home it was “furnished” in all senses of the word, right down to a plastic bag holder jam packed with bags. Having just begun my project of Subverting Overconsumption by not buying anything new for a year, I was dismayed that the first days of the process found me burdened with more bags.

Now don’t get me wrong. Even at my most determined, remembering to bring old plastic bags (or better yet, reusable cloth ones!) along when I go grocery shopping is generally beyond me, and the reason it fails to sink into my consciousness is mysterious and profoundly confounding. So it was with immense relief and gratitude that I recently stumbled on some angels bent on saving me from being plastic wrapped into oblivion.

The staff at Eat Healthy Foods organic grocery store in Regina Saskatchewan have adopted a simple yet brilliant practice: they invite their customers to bring in old plastic bags for reuse. Let me count the ways in which this is so damn excellent:

1. It provides an opportunity to reuse (many times over) some of the countless plastic bags that would otherwise get landfilled.

2. It saves the proprietor of Eat Healthy Foods the cost of buying new bags.

3. It alleviates the guilt the customer feels when we forget to bring our own bags, and empowers us to be able to reuse our old bags by bringing them into the store.

Thank you Eat Healthy Foods. To find out more about this sweet little independent business, check out this article in The Commonwealth.

And don’t forget that innovative small business owners aren’t the only ones that can take positive action. Check out the actions you can take:

1. Suggest to stores you frequent that they follow Eat Healthy Foods’ example by accepting donations of plastic bags for reuse.

2. Keep a bag of bags in the trunk of your car or in your bag for reuse at all times, so you won’t kick yourself for forgetting them!

3: Invest in a few large cloth bags to shop with, and keep them where you’ll see them and use them.

4. Don’t be discouraged by forgetting once in awhile. Remember that each time you don’t bring home new plastic bags is a victory, and that bringing them home occasionally doesn’t erase your efforts.

Here is some interesting further info on the subject:
Plastic Bag Podcast
The Guardian article on plastic bags
Info and resources from Worldwatch

Until next time, buy nothing.

xox n

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The universe supports the subversion of overconsumption. Where on Earth did I come up with such a wacky idea? Right on my own front porch. The day I arrived at my new house in my new city, I was thinking about starting this project where I try to buy nothing new for a year and document the process of underconsumption. I was writing about the idea in a journal with only a few blank pages remaining.

In the front porch of my new house was a pile of boxes labeled “for Value Village,” which my landlord encouraged me to scavenge. What did I find at the bottom of one box but a lovely unused journal, just waiting for me. The cover read: “Dream your dreams with open eyes and make them come true. – T.E. Lawrence.”

They say that one girl’s garbage is another girl’s treasure. Jung called it synchronicity. I agree and thank the universe for taking the trouble to encourage me to start. Until next time, buy nothing.
xox n

Journal

Welcome to Subverting Overconsumption! The idea is this: I want to lighten my ecological footprint on the Earth and creatively document the process. If every human on the planet lived the lifestyle I’ve been leading, we would require four and a half Earths to survive. Since we’ve only got one, lightening the weight with which I tread on the planet seems like the best (and indeed, the only) way to go. With that in mind, for the next year I intend to buy nothing new, and to explore the creative and spiritual results of underconsumption.

Of course, such an undertaking will undoubtedly be easier said than done! I’m genetically predisposed to collecting vintage junk and I’m a cheapskate to boot, so the idea of buying furniture and appliances secondhand doesn’t faze me. But it didn’t take me long to start thinking of the many ways this project will be tough. How will I stay current without new books and magazines? It’s one thing to buy used clothes, but will I really be able to bring myself to shop at Value Village for socks and underwear? What about going to movies and buying new music? What about receiving gifts? Can I paint my apartment? Can I consume things that are fairly traded or made locally? What about art supplies?

The questions and gray areas abound. Obviously underconsumption is a complicated business, so key to the project is exploring where the plan gets tricky or downright impossible, and what creative means exist to address the challenges. The goal of this project is not asceticism. Rather, it’s about becoming increasingly aware of and creative in my actions, and continually learning how to become more conscious of how I consume. With that in mind, here are some basic guidelines I’ve come up with to start:

1. Participate in the secondhand economy as much as possible. (Exceptions include food and self-care items such as soap, shampoo, etc., though I intend to be as aware as possible of production and packaging.)

2. When consuming, take the following approaches as often as possible: reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order. Trade, share and buy locally to boot!

3. Consuming self-care services or learning opportunities (massage, classes, gym membership, etc.) is OK, though I intend for them to be purchased or traded fairly.

4. Consuming culture (live music, theatre, etc.) is OK. (For now I’m including movies in this category, though I recognize that consuming Hollywood is problematic…)

5. Focus on building knowledge to support the practice of underconsumption. (E.g., how can I learn to better care for the belongings I already have, in order to have to replace them less frequently? Building and sharing a body of knowledge to support a lifestyle of underconsumption is an important aspect of the project.)

6. When Subverting Overconsumption gets hard or impossible, write about it and talk about how and why, and what can be done.

So that’s how this project will start. How it will end is anyone’s guess, but I invite you to stayed tuned, give suggestions, get involved and tell your friends. Until next time, buy nothing.

xox n

Flickr Photos

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