One morning a few months back, my two daughters and I watched a FedEx delivery person drop three Amazon boxes on our front porch. My three year old daughter looked at me with excitement and blurted, “What did you get me?!” I momentarily froze, confused. Had she really been primed (no pun intended) to associate an Amazon box with a gift or toy? That moment stuck with me. And as I replay it, I see how simple actions and habits are passed down and perpetuate much larger issues.
We are far from perfect in the Classi household. We have been known to use disposable plates, we rush order baby wipes on Amazon when we’ve run out and some of our children’s favorite toys are plastic. But the coronavirus pandemic gave us a chance to slow down and observe what we allowed to become our habits due to the busy nature of our lives and lack of deliberate decision making. And we decided there are things we value that deserve our full attention including how we model our commitment to the environment and consumption. Changing our actions started by developing an awareness of how our habits were contributing to the climate crisis summarized below,
We are facing a climate crisis (The Climate Crisis)
Driven by overconsumption (Affluent Overconsumption)
Whose patterns start at birth (Infant Imitation)
And are first manifested with toys (Plastic Toys in Landfills)
The Climate Crisis
I find the climate crisis best summarized by a simple paragraph from the United Nations Climate Change website “Climate change is the defining crisis of our time and it is happening even more quickly than we feared. No corner of the globe is immune from the devastating consequences of climate change. Rising temperatures are fueling environmental degradation, natural disasters, weather extremes, food and water insecurity, economic disruption, conflict, and terrorism. Sea levels are rising, the Arctic is melting, coral reefs are dying, oceans are acidifying, and forests are burning.” And increasingly scientists are certain about the primary causes of climate change including overconsumption by affluent society.
Recently, Nature published a study Scientists’ warning on affluence that states "Consumption of affluent households worldwide is by far the strongest determinant and the strongest accelerator of increases of global environmental and social impacts." Simply put, affluent overconsumption is the problem. And if the affluent are overconsuming resources, it stands that they are modeling that behavior to their offspring.
Andrew Meltzoff is a researcher in the Department of Psychology at The University of Washington and an international expert on infant development whose work has been cited over 63,000 times. His groundbreaking research in infant imitation has advanced our understanding of why and how infants imitate the actions of those around them. The crux of the research and how it applies to consumption can be summarized by this quote from his publication Born to Learn “Although simple imitative behavior is evident in the postnatal period, by around 14 months infants remember and repeat actions they observe in adults, other children, and on television.” So when my two daughters watched me receive and unpack those three Amazon boxes, throw away the plastic filling and replace something in our home, they were able to identify the sequence of events and imitate them.
Plastic Toys in Landfills
If our children remember and repeat our actions, they seem likely to remember and repeat actions associated with some of their favorite items, toys. And this is where things get scary. According to EcoBirdy, the creator of furniture made from recycled toy plastic, 80 percent of toys end up in a landfill, incinerators or the ocean and 90% are plastic and used for only 6 months!
But all is not lost, we have an opportunity as parents, environmental stewards and members of the human race to make small changes that produce exponential impacts. I am heartened by brands across the consumer spectrum who are redefining our consumptive habits. Brands like LimeLoop who are changing the way we think about packaging and shipping, EcoBirdy who is finding a way to reuse the immense amount of plastic toy waste and our team at Tiny Earth Toys who are working to redefine the paradigm of toy ownership for our youngest environmental stewards. Our collective action has the ability to change our world. As the United Nations summarizes, “It is clear that business as usual is not good enough. As the infinite cost of climate change reaches irreversible highs, now is the time for bold collective action.”