Unchecked consumerism is dangerous for society

Emily Reise

Back-to-school shopping is a yearly tradition for most students at the end of summer to buy new clothes and school supplies. Large department stores set aside a section and decorate the shelves with shiny notebooks and colored pens. Many students and their families flock to the mall for the back-to-school shopping sales. Oshkosh is no exception to America’s obsession with consumerism. Most people do not realize the unintended consequences that uniformed shopping can sometimes have. Sophomore Anna O’Neil said that her freshman shopping experience was far from ideal. “Before I came to college, the university provided me with a large list of things I needed in order to succeed here, O’Neil said. “The list included things like bedding, a laptop, storage shelves, lamps, a rug and other things like sunglasses. Since I was the oldest child we didn’t know what to expect, so we bought everything that was advertised as a necessity”. Situations like this present a trap that a lot of students fall into. Unfortunately, most are blissfully unaware of the consequences that back-to-school shopping can have. By purchasing certain types of products, students could be inadvertently supporting companies who participate in planned obsolescence, as well as the destruction and over-consumption of natural resources. Planned obsolescence is when a product is designed to break or go out of style within a short period of time. For example, in a few years a laptop a freshman buys will probably be too behind in technology to be usable and the new clothes that are purchased will go out of style. Unsurprisingly, many students are uninformed when it comes to what actually goes into their clothing. The documentary “The Cost of Cloth: Ethical Textiles” claims that if the tag says “made in China, Iraq, or Bangladesh” the clothing very well could have been made in a factory with poor working conditions or by child labor forces. Big corporations such as Gap, H&M and Forever 21 have workers in developing countries manufacture their clothing. From a capitalist perspective, this can be lucrative because there aren’t many compliance standards and the laborers work for cheap, but many of these workers hardly get by on their monthly salaries. In the documentary an 18-year old-worker said if the consumer paid a little more for the products they want or need the worker may get paid more too. In his book, “Nature of College”, James Farrell states that foreign workers hardly get paid enough to support their families. Since they are constantly short money, many times children are left at home to fend for themselves while the older siblings and parents work. “Manufacturing is expensive, but we don’t pay for it: foreign workers do, Farrell said. “Less than 10 percent of the retail price of jeans goes towards their production, and labor costs make up just two percent of that.” The cotton in our clothes had to be grown, watered, collected, and shipped before arriving on the shelves. Since new clothes are constantly demand, so is cotton. To make sure they get as much cotton in one harvest as possible, the growers rely on pesticides and herbicides. “The Nature of College” stated that 10 percent of all herbicides and pesticides in the world are used on cotton fields. “A pound of chemicals are used for five pounds of cotton, and it takes two pounds of cotton to make a pair of jeans.” Farrell said. Most people are unmindful of how a lot of the products they buy at the store, the clothes they wear and daily habits affect society and the Earth so immensely. Students would be wise to recognize and manage the materialism in their life. Only buy when you need things, and when you do, buy things that are meant to last even if they are more expensive. Every dollar students spend is a vote supporting the company they are buying from. If students have the opportunity, they should always try to buy local. Buying local not only supports local businesses, but also puts money into the local economy and does not use as much natural resources as non-local foods do from transportation. Although back-to-school shopping is a tradition in America, students should be aware of what they spend their money on and which companies they are supporting. If consumers become more informed about the consequences of their actions and what they can do to be more sustainable, it will create a more promising future for the fight against substandard working conditions and child labor.