Some years back laundry soap makers started putting their product in large plastic jugs with a cup on the lid – and like many people, I simply measured the amount by filling the cup. It wasn’t long before I realized, though, that cup was many times larger than the recommended amount on the label, which itself was many times the amount I needed to get my clothes clean. I had been using up laundry soap about ten times faster than I needed to, and it didn’t make my clothes any cleaner.
The same is true for many of the products we use – the amount of toothpaste used in commercials, or the amount of shampoo the instructions say to use, is often designed to make you use more than you need and buy more quickly.
Each of these things seem like small examples – it’s my shampoo, you think, it cost a few euros, and it only takes a small amount of space in landfills, and it only puts a few drops of toxic material into the soil or oceans. And you’d be right – it’s just that a billion other people in the world are all also thinking the same thing right now.
Cutting down is the simplest way we can deal with a number of problems at once – fuel use, climate change, pollution, money management – even, often, our health. It lacks the drama of the grand solutions that fill the business magazines and political debates. But since most of the world’s problems stem from people using too much stuff, cutting back will almost always be an improvement, and is something we can all do rather than feeling powerless. As Sharon Astyk recently wrote, “the reality is all those dollars operate like votes - they say ‘make another one, and make more packaging for it, and run the factory a little longer.’ Not buying stuff is one of the most powerful tools we've got.”