“Our planet has provided us with an abundance of natural resources. But we have not utilized them responsibly and currently consume far beyond what our planet can provide. We must learn how to use and produce in sustainable ways that will reverse the harm that we have inflicted on the planet.”
Our modern lives have many conveniences that previous generations would not have been able to imagine. These have improved the quality of our lives in many ways, whether it is in terms of access to medicine, food, transport or energy. We prolong our working hours with electricity, eat foods flown in from all around the world and don’t think twice before hopping on flights to exotic destinations. It’s wonderful to have access to these options. However, as the adage goes, with power (or choice!) comes responsibility. When it comes to using natural resources to meet our needs, we’ve acted without much sense of responsibility for a while now.
The statistics are sobering. A third of all food produced goes to waste. We’re using more plastic and not recycling it appropriately. Plastic has been found everywhere from Mount Everest to the depths of the oceans, many of it decades old. Marine life is choking on the microplastics in our detergents, shampoos and other household products. Our landfills are filling up, and waste management systems are struggling with the loads of garbage created every day.
UN SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production is there so we, as consumers and creators of many of these products and services step up to take responsibility for what we are consuming. The targets include sustainable management and use of natural resources, reducing food waste, responsible management of chemicals and waste and many other areas.
As a consumer, you can vote with your wallet. Consumers are stepping and putting pressure on manufacturers to take on ‘extended producer responsibility’. The price of a product often reflects only the production cost. Extended producer responsibility takes into account treatment and responsible disposal of product containers. Online retailers are being encouraged to adopt biodegradable packing materials like cardboard as packaging material instead of plastics. Products can now be certified ‘Fair Trade’, with the seal representing ‘thousands of products, improving millions of lives, protecting land and waterways in 45 countries and counting.’ You can buy ethical coffee and fruits and vegetables that benefit organic farmers.
Individuals are stepping up to tackle these challenges in new ways. The ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle is getting a lot of attention, and individuals are more conscious of their carbon footprint. Sahar Mansoor of Bare Necessities in Bengaluru carries a 500 gm jar containing all the waste she’s generated in 4 years. She created home and personal care products that are made of natural and bio-degradable substances. She uses recyclable materials like glass and paper for her packaging, spearheading the idea of responsible consumers.
Bengaluru-based Saahas is an NGO listed on the HelpYourNGO website. Their work focuses on the other end of the consumption chain – waste generation. Saahas promotes sustainable solutions that start from creating awareness, waste segregation and collection, transportation and recycling. They covered 24 villages and 28,000 households in 2018, handling an average of 30 tons of waste and 1.5 tons of e-waste per month! They also advocate for respecting the dignity of waste-workers and ensuring humane conditions as they gather and dispose this waste.
With each step, we can move towards more sustainable forms of living and undo the damage we have done to the natural resources that sustain us.