Miller, Randy (Iowa State University)

Consumer Behavior and the Waste Stream

Consumption of our world's resources is an inevitable practice that we, as any organism, must perform in order to survive. However, our culture and society have viewed these resources as something to be conquered and owned. It is because of this mentality, that our ecosystem has become a second priority to mass production and consumption. Our incredible neglect to the Earth's fragility has to be questioned. We must realize that the Earth's existence is not dependent on our survival, but the opposite is true; our existence is dependent on the Earth's survival. However, with our thirst to consume, we have sent a different message. We are carelessly exploiting our limited energy and resources by disregarding the consequences of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and post consumption. In addition, we demonstrate our appreciation of the Earth's contribution to our lifestyle, by frivolously throwing away our products and byproducts. Materials that still have embodied energy and uses are cluttering and harming valuable land space and consequently burning a hole in our pockets.

Ironically, we are still unmotivated to change our habits. It is more convenient to extract raw materials, produce inefficiently and continually increase our consumption, than to explore ways to reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle our waste. This can no longer be acceptable if we are to continue to grow and develop as a lasting society. Manufacturers must be held accountable for the means of production and they must consider the methods o
f reuse and recycling. We as consumers must be held accountable for making informed choices by purchasing environmentally responsible products. Governments must be held accountable for managing our discarded waste.

While consumers do have free will, our choice of purchase is limited because of the free market economy. Producers have an overwhelming amount of power in regards to consumer choice due to the fact that they control the composition of the product as well as the methods of creation. Extraction only takes place to those resources that can be us
ed in the production process; therefore, the producer’s choice in the composition of the product sets the demand for extraction. Also, the producer is responsible for the distribution of the product, and while they have no direct control over how the product is disposed, the composition and design dictates the success of the extended life of the product (the ability to be reused and recycled).

With the marketing agendas to influence the minds of the consumer, producers are capable of choreographing the decisions and actions within every stage of the linear progression, from extraction to termination. This does seem to marginalize our ability as consumers to control the environmental impact of our consumption process. But, with the exception of a few businesses, most companies are motivated by profit. By actively not purchasing products that go against our sustainable values, and purchasing products that strive for greener consumption, pressure is placed on production to improve their practices within all stages. However, difficulty comes within our detached knowledge of production practices. We can easily purchase our mass-prod
uced merchandise without acknowledging the process these things took in order to reach our super store shelves. Sometimes, we are even aware of the environmental negligence, but it is more convenient and comfortable to ignore the indirect consequences of our actions. We can no longer take this quick and easy approach of thoughtless purchases if we are to rectify our current situation. The only way to reach the producers and make a difference is by making an extended effort in seeking out environmentally responsible products, services and commodities, thereby establishing consumer trends that demonstrate our desire to be sustainable consumers.


The responsible producer strives to constantly seek new strategies and designs that will improve the outcome of the environment. They are the producers experimenting with materials by substituting raw, virgin resources with used and refined recyclables. They are finding innovative ways to package with less and they strive to make quality products, where the life and use of the product out weighs the energy and materials put into the product. In addition, Extended Producer Responsibility, is becoming more frequent. These producers are marketing sustainability by implementing strategies for the consumer to follow through with reuse and recycling.
  • Nau is representing a designer clothing line whose mission is to produce fashionable clothing while maintaining its environmental integrity. In their website, you will see their efforts in informing and educating the consumer to what material and what techneques are used to making the product. Additionally, they give links to further educate their audience to sustainability.
  • Within the food industry, organizations like the Circle of Responsibility are also striving to educate and raise awareness of the potential dangers of mismanaged agriculture and strategies to improve farming practices.
  • While most of our everyday beverages are in one time use glass containers, POM has adopted strategies to make the package as desirable as the contents. This simple design wastes no more glass than before, but it encourages the reuse of the glass over and over again
  • Ray Anderson is the CEO of Interface, one of the largest carpet manufacturers in the world. He sets out in this video to give his account of how he feels sustainability should impact the industry and also his business.
  • New Belgium has given us a thorough example of how a business and a work place can strive to be sustainable down to the management of their facilities. One of the most impressive displays of this devotion is the commitment to educate their workers and keep them proactive in the sustainable life. After a year of working at this facility, employees are given a company bicycle that they can ride to work everyday, and they do.


There are ways, as a consumer, that we can contribute to the improvement of our environment. One is to educate ourselves about what we are consuming: what is the product's composition, where is it coming from, how is it being produced, what is the life expectancy, is it a necessity, does something I already have work in it's place, how shall I dispose of this, etc. These are all questions we should be asking ourselves (or google) as we contemplate adding something shiny and new to our collection of things. Asking ourselves these questions should take place before the purchase. This will help to eliminate uninformed, impulsive buys. If we must make purchases (which we must), we should only purchase goods that we know we can and will use to its maximum life potential. Also, we should purchase goods we know can be disposed of properly (give-aways, recyclables, biodegradables). Lastly, we must, as a community and as an individual, follow through with our findings and decisions.

To start your quest to find eco-friendly consumables


Come by Wednesday night to find out more on the waste stream and what we can do to change.


Anonymous said...

nicely done....great graphics and good information.

Queenie said...

Hey, Randy!
This is excellent! Super informative. I really enjoyed it. Strong work.

Sanghyun said...

Randy this is great. I enjoyed very much and it was good to see you in summer :)

Anonymous said...

I commend you on a well written introduction to your project. It grabs the audience and begs for more information, which all of the blogs here should do. Nicely done. I look forward to hearing more at the gallery tonight.

Mom said...
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