Every time you get a ridiculously cheap deal, it is worth asking – who is paying for it? Here are 3 examples –
1. The “fast fashion” movement pioneered by retailers like Zara is all about designer product fads at low prices. Manufacture it quickly, use it for a short period and dispose it. It feels like a great deal for the customer.
2. Parents of new born babies have the pick of diapers at 15c/diaper. These diapers are a massive upgrade from dealing with cloth diapers that require a tremendous amount of maintenance.
3. Cheap beef. If there are no religious connotations to this, that’s only a good thing right?
Who is paying for it?
In every case, the environment. And, in the case of fast fashion, workers in developing countries who are subject to very difficult conditions. The fast fashion movement is unsustainable because of the tremendous amount of waste it generates. Diapers use hundreds of thousands of trees to manufacture and are one of the top sources of landfill waste. Since most parents do a bad job actually cleaning disposable diapers before dumping them (even if they’re asked to do so on the label), all baby waste on the diapers create a massive bio hazard as they seep out of landfills into the ground water. Cloth diapers are not all that better either – their water usage makes them just as bad. And, beef has among the worst carbon footprints possible.
The Economic term for these is “externalities.” Every one of these has negative externalities. Every one of these seems good for the customer in the short term but has really bad consequences in the long term.
So, what can we do?
1. Look for and support alternative solutions. Counter fast fashion with slow fashion – buy your clothes and actually keep them for a while. When you are done using them, donate to people who need it more than you. Don’t just use biodegradable diapers – pay for a service to compost them. Eat less beef.
All of these will cost us a bit more in the short run. Maybe we’ll find ways to make space for them by cutting other less necessary expenses.
2. Be aware of your own carbon footprint by asking – who is paying for this? It is hard to be perfectly “green.” But, we can all be a lot greener and reduce negative environment externalities in our lives. Small actions, over time, can have big impact.