For this week’s blog, I chose to analyze the life cycle of my computer. My computer is something I use every day and I thought it would be interesting to look into the environmental impacts of something I rely on so heavily. Computers aren’t made completely of plastic but they do have essential plastic components. Computer hardware also contains lead and mercury which can be quite toxic which I will get to later. Plastic in computers is used as insulators and capacitors as well as casing and keys. Computers are manufactured in factories however sometimes they need to travel from factory to factory to receive different parts. This process of added transportation creates more carbon emissions that are involved in the process of making the computer. The computer then needs to be deployed from the factory to a seller. Again, more transportation emissions are generated by transportation. Once it makes it to the seller, it is sold to the customer for usage. The use and operation of a computer are typically the longest part of the life cycle. This typically lasts around three to four years depending on the owner. Computers on the market are also constantly getting upgrades. If the customer is the type to want the newest computer each year, this will cut down the use and operation time. During the operation period of the computer’s lifetime, it is often known to break or slow down towards the end of three to four years. Some computer owners choose to get maintenance done on the computer but more commonly, owners tend to buy new computers that have a longer lifetime compared to their current computer. Once the customer is done using the computer, then it is ready for disposal. Computers can’t immediately go to a landfill. They need to be disassembled and decommissioned so that the hardware can be disposed of properly. Then these pieces of the computer are thrown into landfills…or they may make their way into the ocean. If lead and mercury from the hardware make their way into the ocean it can cause immune problems for marine life. If toxic phthalates make their way into the ocean it has the potential to be very harmful to marine life as well.
I thought it was very interesting to analyze the lifecycle of a computer. I normally think about the life cycles of throw-away, short-lifetime items so I liked being able to look at something with a longer life cycle. I often don’t think about the hazards that come with the disposal of technology so this was a good reminder about the risks and effects that come with purchasing technology. Personally, my current computer has lasted me from the beginning of high school until my freshman year of college. According to the article that I read, my computer should be at the end of its life cycle, however, it has done a great job holding up, even during the elder years of its life cycle. My dad has even offered to purchase a new computer but I don’t really see the point unless it completely stops working. This is very similar to my phone. Throughout high school, I had an iPhone 5 which was considered very old especially in my senior year. It still worked for me so I didn’t really see a problem with it. At the end of my senior year, the camera stopped working and the battery life started to go down so I ended up purchasing a used iPhone 7 to replace it. I personally do not see the necessity of owning the newest version of a product every time one comes out unless I absolutely need it. Through learning in this class about how companies purposefully make products that have a shortened lifespan, I actually find joy in using a product past the intended lifespan that the company sets for it.
For my blog this week I decided to look into current news stories that highlight sustainability. I came across a story about a book called Consumed written by Aja Barber. This article explains the dangers and impacts of fast fashion that are described in Barber’s book. It also recommends different ways for consumers to ease out of their fast fashion addiction and transition into living as more sustainable shoppers. From this article, it is clear that Barber’s book has a lot of similarities to Beth Terry’s book Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. Both authors recognize the threat that our world is facing from things like plastic or more specifically clothing textiles. Barber and Terry both focus on the importance of personal change and encouraging others to participate in fighting back against the use of plastic.
The article opens with facts from Business Insider explaining how bad the fashion industry is for the environment. It mentions that “10% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry, how badly workers are exploited, and the high amounts of waste that come from the industry”. Barber elaborates on how all clothing companies will reach their downfall if they do not end up switching into a more sustainable route due to a lack of resources and the growing request for sustainable options from consumers.
Barber also dives into the societal addiction to fast fashion that has developed over recent years. She explains that shopping is truly an addiction that makes people’s dopamine levels rise, hence it is a very difficult habit to break. Barber shares her process of slowly detaching herself from her favorite stores by unsubscribing from email lists and trying to avoid the stores altogether. She explains that this is a difficult process and that it is okay to mess up and fold into the addiction of fast fashion. Progress isn’t linear but the more you can keep yourself accountable, the more you will be able to become clean from fast fashion.
I chose this article because it hits very close to home for me. From a very young age, I had an addiction to shopping and I think I could say the same about most of my peers. I remember getting Justice (a clothing brand for young girls) catalog every week in first grade and searching through it to find new clothing items that I wanted to purchase for the next time that my mom took me shopping. This continued to be a trend for me up until I started learning about the harm of fast fashion and overconsumption. Even throughout high school it was very socially important to always have the newest phone and trending clothes or else you were looked at a little differently. I think this article and book would be a really great read for kids in my generation because we truly don’t realize the harm of our overconsumption until we sit down and actually dissect it. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I started to realize the impact of my consumption especially when it came to my clothes.
While reading this article I think it is important to highlight Barber’s bias and privilege of being able to afford the lifestyle of shopping sustainably. A lot of people don’t have access to affordable, environmentally friendly clothing brands. For me, this means is that if you are privileged enough to afford environmentally friendly brands and are aware of the dangers of fast fashion, you should put your money where your mouth is and vote with your dollar bills. Money is the main thing keeping fast fashion in business so if we are able to pull the plug on their funding, it won’t be able to survive.
For my blog, I reached out to a business to learn about its sustainability efforts. I fortunately got the pleasure to chat with a sophomore at College of Charleston named Evie Purcell who has been running her business Next Four Co since March of 2020. Evie Purcell started her business when she saw people trying to make college gear and simply thought that she could do it better. Her company started small with simple shirts, press-on letters, and the audience of her friends. She created an Instagram account and started to gain local interest during quarantine. As Next Four Co started to grow, Evie was able to invest in better equipment along with creating new designs from photoshop. Evie says that growing her business in the early stages was hard work and a lot of trial and error. From the jump, Next Four Co makes items to order which is one of the ways that her company has been able to stay sustainable. This essentially means that Evie won’t make items unless she knows that they will be bought. This leaves zero room for overproduction or clothing waste. Next Four Co almost never uses plastic packaging for their orders. The majority of the time, Evie is able to hand the orders directly to the customer which doesn’t involve any packaging. If packaging is needed, Evie likes to use reusable paper bags or brown paper lunch bags. Next Four Co also orders out of the United States for their materials to continue to push efforts of keeping transportation emissions low and the company sustainable.
More recently, Next Four Co has started making strides to become even more sustainable. Evie says that after having conversations with her roommate and friends from home she realized that she should broaden her business to create options for people who prefer to buy sustainably. For her sustainability initiative, instead of buying shirts from a big company, Evie goes to thrift stores and picks out second-hand clothing items to transform into Next Four Co gear. Although this does add extra time and effort into the production process, Evie says that she finds thrifting fun and rewarding.
Next Four Co has been inspired by big companies such as Billabong and Patagonia. Billabong uses recycled material for some of its wetsuits and bathing suits. Evie is working on replicating this process by using the thrifted items to create new Next Four Co products. Patagonia has a lifetime guarantee and is willing to revamp clothing if the product’s condition wears down. Although Evie doesn’t exactly have the ability to revamp worn-down Next Four Co items, she has talked to some of her customers and has heard things like “I will be wearing this in the retirement home”. So even though Evie can’t provide a lifetime guarantee, she knows that people will be getting tons of use out of her products which is one of the most sustainable actions someone can do with clothing.
It was truly an honor to talk to Evie Purcells about her journey of creating her brand. I came out of this conversation very inspired to support local and small businesses and continue to improve my sustainability efforts. It was especially impressive to see someone basically the same age as me pursue a passion while still putting the environment first. If you have any interest in supporting Evie and her company, direct message @nextfour.co on Instagram to make an order! Below is a picture of Evie wearing one of her products, along with another example of the type of apparel she can make!
Individual efforts in reducing plastic waste are essential in trying to reduce pollution, slow climate change, and protect the environment. If each one of us starts making small changes in our lifestyle, we will all see a huge change in the amount of trash that we produce. It can be a little discouraging when we can’t see how our actions are impacting the environment, however, we need to remind ourselves that our actions are indeed changing the world for the better.
Before this class, I already started making small strides to reduce my plastic use and consumption. I use a reusable water bottle, avoid using plastic straws, and bring reusable bags to the grocery store. These small changes are important, however, there are many things that would be very difficult to replace with more eco-friendly alternatives. For example, I can’t replace my retainer, credit cards, shoes, and bedding. When reading Beth Terry’s ideas on how to decrease plastic use, I realized that going to the farmer’s market would be a great option for me to try out a new way to reduce plastic. After finishing my container of strawberries last Saturday I decided to go to the farmers market to purchase my fruit. At the market, I picked up strawberries, and instead of them coming in a plastic container, they came in a completely compostable one! Luckily, I take part in the composting program in my dorm so once I am finished with the container I can throw it away in the compost bin. Taking actions like the strawberry container, though small, can feel very rewarding.
As I continued to develop my list of things to change in my lifestyle and shampoo and conditioner came to mind. I go through about a bottle of each every month due to my long thick hair so replacing the plastic bottles with an eco-friendly alternative would be a huge change for me. I did some research and found a company called Davines which has a shampoo bar catered towards people with thicker hair. This company also uses clean ingredients and is a huge climate activist and does its best to offset carbon emissions which is an added bonus. This product would be perfect to reduce waste and keep my hair healthy. Shampoo and conditioner bars have been increasing in popularity so I hope this product starts to catch on and more people start using them. The only drawback with the Davines shampoo is the price of the bar. Sadly, one bar is $35 which is a huge change from my $10 shampoo. Unfortunately, I was not able to make this switch from my current products to Davines due to time and money constraints. I will definitely continue to do research and try my best to adapt to a cheap, plastic-free lifestyle.
I do think we all should be searching for eco-friendly alternatives however it ultimately comes down to being a conscious consumer. It’s very important that we eliminate the careless, throw-away, single-use mindset. Then, with the combination of getting rid of single plastics with more eco-friendly alternatives, we will start to see a lot of change!
My plastic consumption is something I am not very proud of. Before this class, I would only pay attention to things like where I bought my clothes, bringing reusable cups to places like Starbucks or the dining hall, and trying to avoid using straws. This was the extent of me being a “conscious consumer”. Ever since I began this class and started reading Beth Terry’s book Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, I have changed my perception of what it truly means to be conscious of my consumption. Before taking this class, every time I would bring a reusable cup to Starbucks or avoid buying from places like H&M or Forever 21 I would give myself a pat on the back however, when I have purchased my bedding, room decor, or have gotten my acrylic nails done I would feel unphased about my plastic consumption. I have since learned that although I try to avoid single-use plastics when I am shopping, multi-use plastics are truly my downfall.
Over the past few days, I have been pretty sick which has limited me to staying in my dorm and leaving for the occasional City Bistro trip. Thus, I haven’t had the same interaction with plastic items that I normally would’ve on a healthier day. Brainstorming this post in my bed has led me to think a lot about the things around me. Looking up, I see fairy lights and tapestry which both contain plastic components. On my bedside table, there’s a lamp, diffuser, water bottle, AirPods, essential oil bottles, remote control, pill bottle, stuffed animal, and masks which all contain plastic. As I inspected my room for all of the plastic I started realizing that the majority of my room contains plastic. My “conscious consumption” that I had previously mentioned hardly even matters when comparing that to the plastic I have in my dorm. Although most of these plastic items in my room won’t be disposed of any time soon, they eventually will end up in a landfill after my college graduation or sooner. Unfortunately, after analyzing my room, this is in fact a very accurate representation of my lifestyle and plastic footprint. I have become conditioned to the consumer lifestyle where I care more about the aesthetic of my living space and less about where the things in my living space are coming from. In the photo below I have numbered out all of the items containing plastic in a corner of my dorm room.
As someone who claims to care a lot about the environment, I personally don’t do the best job following through with it. Like I mentioned before, I try to stay away from single-use plastics if I can, shop for my clothes second-hand, and avoid using plastic straws, but is that really enough? I try my best to educate myself and others around me on the little, yet still important, things we can do to help reduce our waste. Like Beth Terry has mentioned in her book “Guilt is not encouraged”. Because of this quote, I would like to remind the reader and myself that there is always room for improvement and even if we can’t personally see the difference we are making right now, it does have a larger impact than we know.