Current consumer demand is placing an intense — and unsustainable — burden on natural resources. The manufacture, use and disposal of goods are all taking a toll on our health and environment.
For most people in the developed world, shopping has become a normal part of everyday life. Shopping has even become a form of entertainment. Today it is common for people to go into a shop or supermarket without knowing exactly what they are going to buy: they shop to relax, to socialise, to check out new trends, or simply to satisfy an urge to buy something. This has a negative impact on quality of life. Rather than simply buying what they need (and choosing the healthiest and best-quality option), they are trying to satisfy a psychological need by accumulating unnecessary material possessions.
The packaging industry is one of the most dynamically developing branches of the economy. Packaged goods have a longer shelf life and are easier to transport. Packaging is an effective way of presenting products in an attractive way — the packaging is often more appealing than its contents. However, there is a high environmental price to pay for this glamorised exterior.
Packaging accounts for more than half the total volume of household waste. Vast amounts of raw materials and energy are used to produce packaging, which is simply discarded. Most artificial packaging materials take hundreds of years to decompose naturally, making the disposal of packaging a significant waste management issue.
Advertising and labels
Advertising is a form of marketing communication used to encourage, persuade or manipulate consumers to buy one particular product or service rather than another. We are surrounded by product advertisements everywhere we go.
Product labels convey information about the product’s origin, instructions for use, expiry date and appropriate disposal. Some of this information is required by national or international legislation, although very often labels are designed to mislead. People typically prefer products sold in attractive packaging, with bright labels and beautiful pictures, and they tend to give less thought to the information they contain. The advertiser’s task is to exploit such expectations.
The goal of eco-labels is to make it easier for people to take environmental concerns into account when shopping. Some labels quantify pollution or energy consumption by way of index scores or units of measurement. Others simply certify compliance with appropriate practices or minimum requirements for sustainability or environmental protection. Eco-label criteria take into consideration the whole life cycle of a product, from the extraction of raw materials through manufacture, packaging, distribution and use to final disposal.
The concept of fairly traded goods is gaining in popularity worldwide. The goals of the fair trade movement are to promote sustainability and to help producers in developing countries to achieve more equitable conditions. Members of the movement advocate the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as higher social and environmental standards. The movement focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably of handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers and gold. The movement seeks to promote greater equity in international trading partnerships through dialogue, transparency and respect.