Shades of Green: The Bear Necessities

How can we stave off our hunger for new?

Think Prime Day was brutal? Imagine what it’s like for your mail carrier

Amazon’s much-hyped Prime Day was this week. And I’ll admit I was tempted. Wouldn’t cleaning up dog fur be easier with a Roomba? And what about the Instant Pot everyone’s raving about?

And with the draw of the sale, I almost gave in. Almost.

The draw of Prime Day is something I call the hunger for new. It’s when we desire things that might be nice but aren’t necessary. And this hunger isn’t just a problem for our bank accounts.

With each new unnecessary purchase, we’re harming the planet.

Online orders need to be shipped to our homes and businesses, and they travel on planes and in trucks that run on fossil fuels to get there. Rapid shipping times have been linked to higher emissions, so free two-day shipping on items we don’t really need is especially problematic.

Online retailers are also notorious for creating huge waste through packaging, not to mention pushing us to purchase things we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Of course these temptations aren’t exclusive to Amazon’s day full of deals. We’re constantly inundated with pressures to buy more stuff. Especially in America, our consumption habits are supersized and our purchases more disposable than most.

The fashion industry pushes new trends each season. And not the just the four traditional seasons — the fashion calendar can have fifteen or more seasons. We’re encouraged to revamp our wardrobe multiple times a year to keep up with these changing styles.

How many times have you felt like you have nothing to wear, even with a closet full of clothes? I know there have been times when I haven’t worn something more than a handful of times before it gets pushed to the back of the drawer.

Our hunger for new is hurting the planet.

That sweater I just “had to have” suddenly makes me look like a clown, I feel like a sausage in the skinny jeans that were perfect last year, and I can’t believe I ever left the house in those atrocious booties.

Even my daughter at just four years old is fickle with her fashion.

So we return to the store to replace what’s fallen out of favor. And our fast fashion habit doesn’t just require more materials to produce the next trend. Often that production can be hazardous to the environment.

In fact, a number of the most well-known fast fashion brands have been linked polluting factories that destroy habitats and threaten the health of those who live by them.

And it isn’t just clothing. At the grocery store, there are overflowing displays of individually packaged items. Our technology becomes obsolete, not because it stops working but because the company simply phases it out.

And the hunger for new starts early — especially when brightly packaged toys are involved. Perhaps the most dangerous triggers for my daughter’s hunger for new are the toy aisles of Target.

Our family tries to combat overconsumption by buying only what we need, taking care of what we have and replacing things only when they can’t be repaired.

This sloth bear is doing it right (Photo credit: Chengappabb, Wikimedia Commons)

Interestingly, we found a new ally in the fight against unnecessary purchases — a certain sloth bear named Baloo.

My daughter was watching the Jungle Book a few weeks back, and I was struck by Baloo’s song. I knew it well, as he was one of my favorite characters growing up.

“Looking for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife,” he sings.

He spends his days lazily floating down the river, snacking on ants and pawpaws and utilizing nearby trees as back scratchers. It’s possible his recommendation to stick to the necessities comes from his laid-back lifestyle, but his advice is still worth noting.

While we can all take a page from Baloo’s book, changing individual behaviors isn’t enough. We need companies to start focusing on the bare necessities as well.

Some of this is already happening, with design companies working on timeless pieces and capsule wardrobes. But we also need support of tech manufacturers, who can make more durable products that can be upgraded and repared. Online retailers can give consumers the option to choose slower, greener shipping methods. Grocery stores can work to reduce over-purchasing and food waste.

And, perhaps most importantly, more durable goods must be affordable and accessible — so everyone can choose longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly options.

In the meantime, our family’s new motto is to stick to the “bear necessities.” It’s not a perfect system, and certainly not without temptation. But we fight that temptation is by avoiding the sources — commercials and trips to Target without a list are the big ones. We also skip sales unless they’re on items we need.

I was able to overcome Prime Day by remembering to think about what I really need (and what I don’t). Our broom works just fine. And having dinner done instantly sort of takes the fun out of cooking anyway.

Realistically, I’ll never spend my days floating down a jungle river like Baloo. But I can slow down my spending and take more time to enjoy what I have. And sticking to my “bear necessities” helps leave real bears more of what they need.

Jessica Herrera is a media specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity.