In Earth Lovers, News
An article by Lina Ufimtseva

Lina approached us asking to write a series of articles on waste reduction, a topic she feels really strongly about. Her focus is telling the story about “the power the consumer wields” in making a change towards more sustainable living. We are proud to feature her, and to be her supermarket of choice. Lina shops at our Roeland St. store in Cape Town CBD. 

Stacey went to Food Lover’s Market recently, and got stared down by numerous people at the shop. Was she sporting a Mohawk or acting in a publically disagreeable manner? No. She merely brought along a plastic bakkie to buy and carry her nuts back to the office, instead of using the disposable plastic sleeves that, on average are used for a few minutes only. Somebody, call the police! These tree-huggers are getting crazy here, am I right?

We are starting to live in a time when mass wastage and pollution has become normalized, to the point where doing the right or opposing thing is seen as odd. We no longer see the bizarreness of our lives.

I’ve embraced the BYOB (bring your own bag/bakkie) aspect of being a green consumer and am promoting this in our community. I’m not talking about the shopping bags, I mean the hundreds/thousands of little plastic sleeves and styrofoam boxes used for the loose nuts and buffet lunch isles.

In this series of articles I’ll be speaking about the diffusion of responsibility and herd mentality – challenging the “But all the shops have disposable packaging, so what else can be done?” mentality. The “I have no time” mentality.

Nowadays, convenience trumps “ownership”, since mass-production has made materials such as plastics of varying grades so affordable that you can throw them in the trash and not think about it twice. Its the dark side of technological progress.

With technological progress, responsibility and ownership of that responsibility (as unsexy as it may sound) needs to keep up, nay, even pave technology’s course forward. Who do you believe should be the one governing how we transport our food? Our conscience and rational minds or external institutions? Ideally – both.

We’re so far from the times when, way back in the day, corner shops didn’t even provide takeaway cardboard boxes for eggs. Children had to run home holding a half-dozen eggs in their hands, afraid to drop one. Now everything is ‘dispose, get (free) new, dispose again’. Repeat ad nauseum.

Historically, kings and governments were responsible for the wellbeing of a society, as they held the most monetary power. As time passed, the responsibility partially shifted to companies, as these had just as a significant impact on how people lived their lives and spent their money. In the last few years, another power shift has emerged: the power that the consumer wields. Our combined disposable income as a global village of consumers is how ordinary people can change the way brands operate, because it affects their bottom lines and aligns their financial and aspirational goals. So lets make profits work in a more sustainable way.

Diffusion of responsibility, or the bystander effect, is most often seen when a stranger is in apparent need of help, but entire crowds of people walk past or ignore them because of the mentality that “someone else will help them”, or, “I don’t have time, I need to get to the office”. The mentality is present when an individual assumes that others either are responsible for taking action, or have already done so in an emergency. The difference is that the arc of pollution takes many years before we realize that the disposable consumerism indeed has led to an environmental crisis.

Herd mentality showcases how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviours. Which is why nobody bats an eye when lunch boxes became a thing of the past, and everyone adopted takeaway styrofoam boxes. Doesn’t it seem more bizarre to endlessly trash the planet instead of keeping a lunchbox and produce-bag in your office desk for lunch and snack trips?

Enough about socio-political history.

What can you do?

First of all, tell local stores on their social media accounts to encourage BYOB. Many already allow it. And those that don’t will soon do so if they notice a consistent decrease in shoppers.

Secondly, keep re-usable produce bags in your car, office desk, or under the kitchen sink – wherever they are most convenient and least likely to be forgotten. Create a habit of using them for everything that you find needs some form of a container – everything. Re-usable produce bags can easily be purchased online, or in eco-friendly shops in a variety of materials.

BYOB costs so very little, and does so very, very much good for our own litter filled streets.

Let the days of plastic bags wafting in the breeze fade away from memory, at least in our children’s generation. This won’t happen unless we start now, this week, today.