The cons of convenience culture and 5 steps to break away
The rise of ‘convenience culture’ has seen online shopping and food delivery services thrive. Convenience culture is a result of companies making it easier and easier for us to consume whatever products and services they sell, evolving beyond fast-food drive-throughs and literal ‘convenience stores’. Technological advances and a more globalised world have allowed companies to reduce customer effort to a whole new low. Now I can get a new dress, a burrito bowl or even an iPhone delivered straight to my door.
As well as creating new ways to shop, brands are capitalising on our soft spot for purchasing anything that saves us time or effort. Supermarket aisles are filled with pre-made meals, individually wrapped bliss balls and those big packets of smaller packets of chips. In our chaotic, busy lives it is understandable why we reach for ‘convenient’ products or use online delivery services. The problem is that our addiction to convenience is costing us a whole lot more than that $5 delivery fee.
The cons of convenience
Perhaps our new consumption patterns are making life a little easier, but they are having a hefty impact on our bank balance. Australia Post estimates that last year Aussies spent $27.5 billion buying goods online. Research into services like UberEats and Menulog found that the average Melburnian is forking out $1,379 on food delivery each year. As well as shipping and delivery fees, the mark-ups for convenience during your grocery shop can quickly add up. Think it is easier to get those pre-sliced mushrooms to add to your bolognese? Maybe think again because they will cost you double the price of the same mushrooms whole.
Although our wallets are suffering, the environment is paying the ultimate price. Our reliance on postage, take-away containers and pre-packaged goods is creating a massive amount of waste. A study by the Institute for Sustainable Futures found that Australians are producing 4.4 million tonnes of packaging waste annually. Of that, 44% is immediately sent to landfill. When plastic and packaging materials are disposed of after one use, it is a huge waste of the resources, money and energy that were required to manufacture them in the first place.
Single-use items are the epitome of convenience culture. The main culprits are plastic cutlery, coffee cups and straws. These items are usually just used for a few minutes and then mindlessly thrown ‘away’. However, there is no such thing as away. Single-use plastics can take decades and even centuries to degrade in landfill, or worse, our environment.
It is well known that plastics are wreaking havoc on natural habitats, harming wildlife and polluting our waterways. However, concerns are also rising over the impact microplastics are having on human health. According to research conducted by the University of Newcastle, we are ingesting a credit card worth of plastic each week, and the effect this is having on us is still unknown.
As well as increasing waste, damaging biodiversity and potentially our health, convenience culture is contributing to our growing carbon footprint. All of the additional products we are buying and shipping from interstate or overseas are generating greenhouse gas emissions from their production and transportation. So if you’re concerned about climate change and its impacts, consider supporting locally sourced goods.
5 tips to break away from convenience culture and reduce your impact
It may seem difficult to change your ways when the system seems to be working against you. Does what I do even make a difference? The answer is yes! All of our individual actions add up and our choices matter! There are plenty of small things you can do to break away from convenience culture, saving your pocket and the planet along the way. Here are five small steps to get you started.
- Focus on wellbeing rather than well-buying. A lot of us feel an instant sense of satisfaction and excitement when we shop – there is a reason they call it ‘retail therapy’ after all. But it’s a short-lived feeling. We would be better off spending our time doing something that helps our wellbeing instead. So before you fill up your online cart, try going for a walk, having a candle-lit bath, listening to a good podcast or getting creative with a new recipe. Whatever it is that you enjoy. Your savings account will thank you.
- Spend your money wisely and choose quality over quantity. When you do buy something new, invest in items that are good quality so they can bring you joy for years and years to come! There is nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and again, so put your pennies to good use and get a piece you deserve. Something you can cherish, not something cheap that falls apart after a couple of uses.
- Give yourself a 24-hour ‘cooling off’ period. Before you decide to buy something online, give yourself a day to mull over the purchase. Usually, this really helps you discern between a spontaneous impulse buy and something you genuinely will use and value.
- Freeze some of your favourite meals to beat temptations of food delivery on lazy nights. Try to have some meals in the freezer for those nights when you really cannot be bothered cooking. The trick is to make them some of your favourite dishes (lasagne anyone?) because if they are something you love to eat then you’re less likely to order in.
- Avoid single-use items and switch to reusable alternatives. Reusable coffee cups, straws, water bottles, cutlery and containers are awesome for reducing the negative waste generally associated with takeaway food and drink. If you’re new to using reusable items, focus on one new switch at a time. For example, start with simply remembering to bring your water bottle with you each day. When that becomes a habit, then you can add another reusable item to your repertoire! Perhaps you’ve got your reusable coffee cup with you every day already? Great! Now you could try bringing in your own containers when you order takeaway or keeping a set of cutlery in your bag to avoid using plastic knives and forks.
Finally, remember that the goal is not to be perfect! Convenience culture has been interwoven throughout our societies and our psyche, so it is hard to completely remove ourselves from it. However, by being aware of our actions and their effects, we can be more conscious consumers, reducing our ecological footprint and unnecessary spending at the same time.
Amy has a background in ecology and conservation and is passionate about raising awareness for the importance of protecting healthy, resilient ecosystems. She is fascinated by how people connect, perceive and value nature. Currently completing a Masters of Environment and Sustainability, Amy is an advocate for being a conscious consumer. In her spare time, she enjoys photography and loves to go on walks with her beautiful yellow lab, Mac.