The true cost of our possessions

By : Dealbuddy Admin
Last Updated : 28 Feb 2024

“Don’t you dare to touch that red dress, I just bought it.” This was the commanding scream from a wife to her husband who is trying to sort candidate clothes to go into the clothing bin.

“Just bought it? Honey, you purchased this 2 years ago when we were on a holiday. And you haven’t even touched it since then”, husband complained.

Wife responded with a firm closure, "Yes, that’s the point, I did not even wear it once, so it’s still new, keep is back”.

We’re living in an age of products on demand – fast fashion, fast delivery, and even fast furniture.

Basically, Fast Moving Consumer Goods or FMCG industry that was limited to grocery is now expanding its tentacles into clothing, furniture, toys – in every sector. It is growing rapidly as more people demand goods at low prices to keep up with current trends.

We often make purchases without even giving a second thought. A thought about how often we are going to use that item or whether it is of any use to us or not. Some experts took this seriously and researched the facts behind. They came up with an idea of something called as The True Cost of an item we purchase.

True cost ensures that the external costs that companies afflict upon society are factored into the cost price not just the manufacturing costs. So, the polluter i.e. us pays the actual price of the goods.

Now what is The True cost and how to calculate that. The True cost of an item can be worked out by considering environmental, social, and ethical implications along with the cost of manufacturing.

Some of you must be thinking, this all sounds too technical and overwhelming, how on earth I find out The Trust cost of something I buy. First, let’s try and understand the problem.

Let’s take an example of:

Fast Furniture

Fast furniture is not just about the quickness of manufacturing, or ease of purchase, but also how quickly the materials deteriorate and must be replaced.

A lot of fast furniture is made from chipboard or particle board covered in a laminate, and those materials aren’t designed to handle the stress of regular and long-term use. Once it breaks or starts to fall apart, there is little that can be done except throwing it away – and we throw away a huge amount of furniture.

Here is an example of Sydney alone, every year:

800,000- 3-seater sofas

1.65 million dining tables

3.4 million coffee tables

6.85 million chairs

are thrown away. Much of this furniture ends up in street clean-ups or council rubbish collection, but only a fraction of that which is placed out on the kerb finds a second home, with most of it ending up in landfill. 

Moving on to Fast toys

In these times of abundance, we do not even think before we buy another set of the similar toys for our kids. To be honest, none of us would until we realise the implications. Up to 80% of the world's toys are made in China - often by children. Toys are generally made with PVC, a plastic that allegedly causes cancer and has dangerous by-products, such as mercury, produced during its manufacturing. Conditions in the factories are dangerous, with potentially toxic solvents and paints routinely handled by workers with only basic or no protective gear. 

Moving to Fast Fashion

Talking about clothes, Fast Fashion is something we all need to understand and take seriously. Many clothing companies outsource much of their production to other countries where labour may be cheaper, countries like China, India, Bangladesh, or Philippines. Pollution and quality are unregulated, not to mention the conditions the workers, often children, have to work in. They work long hours for little pay. Talking about the condition of workers, there have been quite a few major incidents that took place in textile factories in Bangladesh in the past few years. A textile factory collapsed killing more than 1000 few years ago, 150 workers died in a factory fire in another incident.

What can we do about it? 

A lot of progress has been made towards identifying and correcting quite a few issues mentioned above. However, we all are a very important link in this whole chain.

Question is, what can we do to step away from the toxic cycle of fast materialism and be more aware about how we purchase?

Nope, you do not have to carry calculator to calculate The True Cost, neither you need to try and find the manufacturer’s location or material of the product you are buying.

We came up with quite a simple technique called NOA. NOA stands for Need, Option, Afterlife.

Ask yourself these set of questions before you make a purchase next time:

  • Need – Before making a purchase, ask yourself twice “Do I need it?” 
  • Option – Is there an alternative? Can I purchase second hand? Or Can I purchase a local produce?
  • Afterlife - What will happen to it after my purchase? How often will it be used? After I am done using, will it go to landfill, or could it be reused or recycled?

Asking the NOA questions to yourself not only help you make a genuine purchase, but your banks would like it to.

So, what if you have already purchased goods that you do not really use. Declutter. Sell it out or donate to your local second-hand store or simply give it to someone you know can use it.

And if your wife or husband or anyone in the family complains, please help them realise The True Cost.

After all, Happiness is not in possessing but in enjoying!