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How Our 'Stuff' Problem Impacts the Planet (and the Key to Beating Overconsumption for Good)

Americans buy a lot, and toss a lot. Learn how this overlooked issue impacts the planet and what you can do to finally put a stop to the overconsumption problem for good.

america's stuff problem
Written by
Riley Baker
We have a major “stuff” problem. With everything we want just a click away, we bring new things into our homes every day… just to toss them out. This
excessive consumption
has led to an alarming statistic: The average American produces
4.5 pounds of trash
each day. Someone who's very familiar with this issue is Nick Huzar.
For years, Huzar watched billions of dollars worth of secondhand goods exchanged through
, the marketplace he co-founded. That led him to create the nonprofit
. Through the organization, he hopes to enlighten individuals about how what we buy and toss out impacts the planet, as well as provide actionable steps we can take to reduce the damage from overconsumption. And you’re in luck, because in a recent episode of
Good Together
, he’s helping you get started.

America's 'Stuff' Problem

america's stuff problem
It's no surprise that America has a serious problem with overconsumption. According to
, U.S. consumers spent $17.4 trillion on goods and services in 2022—a number that has doubled in 17 years, as it sat at $8.8 trillion in 2005.
This overconsumption issue has created an even bigger issue—the disposal of it. According to the EPA, the average family of four generates 6,570 pounds of trash per year. Add up all the waste Americans produce, and you'll get a total of 292.4 million tons. Yep, that's a lot of trash being sent to landfills.

The Consequences of Excess: Exploring the Downsides of Owning Too Much

There are numerous ways our "stuff" problem—and constantly consuming more, more, more—impacts the planet.

1. Resource Depletion

The more we consume, the more resources we deplete. The production of new goods requires extracting natural resources, including minerals, fossil fuels, and wood. This leads to environmental degradation and ecosystem disruption.

2. Energy Consumption

Manufacturing, transporting, and distributing products requires a large amount of
, usually from fossil fuels. This contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and
climate change

3. Waste Generation

When we bring new things into our homes, we often throw away the old. This creates a lot of waste, and that poses numerous challenges. Many products, like
and plastics, aren’t easily recyclable, adding to landfill waste. In addition, other disposal methods, such as incineration, can emit toxins and pollutants into the air.

Cultivating a Sustainable Relationship with Stuff in the Future

The only way to solve this problem is to overcome the "consumer mindset" and quit collecting—and inevitably throwing out—stuff. Once that happens, the planet can begin to heal. Here are a few simple ways to get started.

1. Skip Single-Use Products

Single-use products like plastic bags, Q-tips, and
paper towels
are exactly that—single-use. Once you're done using them, they're tossed in the trash, contributing to the excessive amount of waste sent to landfills every year. To combat this issue, start buying
eco-friendly, reusable products
that reduce waste and save money.

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2. Skip Fast Fashion and Furniture

Fast fashion
fast furniture
aren't made to last. Instead, opt for high-quality items that will last for years to come. These items might be pricier, but you don’t need as many. Invest in what you actually need and skip the rest.

3. Get in Touch With Your Inner Minimalist

There are many benefits to embracing a
minimalist lifestyle
. Aside from drastically reducing the amount of waste you're contributing to landfills, you're also bettering your finances (less buying, more saving) and bettering your mental health (less clutter, more calm).

Responsible Decluttering: Strategies for Mindful Ownership and Letting Go

There will be a time you need to
and get rid of some of the things in your home. But instead of tossing them in the trash, there are more sustainable ways to downsize.
First, utilize options like Facebook Marketplace,
consignment shops
, and
online thrift stores
that allow you to sell perfectly-good items you no longer want. If you'd rather donate them,
do so responsibly
at local thrift stores or shelters. You could even give items to friends—like beauty products that didn't work for you—to ensure they stay out of the trash.