Un-Shopping the Holidays

Nov 23, 2016

As we head into some of the biggest shopping days of the year, have you stopped to think about how the stuff you buy impacts your pocketbook, the environment and the people who make it? Most of us don't, but a class at the University of Northern Iowa asked students to give it some thought. It's called the un-shopping challenge, and students Alli Albright and Connor Tomke took part, and host Charity Nebbe talked with them about the experience on Talk of Iowa.

The students agreed to buy only necessary items for 30 days. That includes things like groceries, gas and other bills. They could decide for themselves whether to include things like eating out and having drinks with friends.

Albright works in retail, and shops for fun with friends. But, she says she was "pleasantly surprised" at her ability to say no. "It really made me think, to differentiate between my wants and my needs. I would make myself think, this is a want." She thinks it's a skill she'll take with her for the rest of her  life.

Tomke says he didn't expect to have too much trouble completing the challenge, "but then I found myself looking around on Amazon Prime." He says he liked the charity aspect of the project. Students were encouraged to donate the "stuff" they didn't use over the 30 day challenge to charity.

Both students say the experience changed the way they think about shopping, even at this time of the year. Tomke says he'll be shopping for experiences for friends and family this holiday season

Elizabeth Cline, author of “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion," says shopping is often a mindless activity and the idea of clothing being disposable has become a mindset. She says she started researching the issue when she examined her own behavior, and saw that she wasn't thinking about her clothing as a long-term investment, but as temporary. "It persists. It persists in the environment. It creates a lot of waste, and it creates a huge environmental impact as well."

Cline says as recently as the 90's the U.S. was still making half of the clothes sold here. Now, only two to three percent of clothes are made in the U.S. She says inventory also turns over far more quickly, making the fashion industry the second most polluting industry, and one of the largest consumers and polluters of fresh water.

Jason Evans is Director of Education for the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency. He says an estimated five percent of U.S. landfill space is taken up by clothing. Evans says there are Goodwill bins at the landfill, to encourage diversion of that waste, but they also work on education. "Recycling is a commodity driven market, and when those markets exist and there's demand for that material, it's a lot easier to get it recycled and used." He says many textiles can be recycled and used for insulation, carpet padding, and car interiors.

Fore more information about un-shopping the holidays, you can visit UNI's "Reclaim Your Holidays," website, or check out this article in the New York Times.