Karin Ekström: "We need to consider the consequences of consumption"

18 Feb 2015

Professor Karin M. Ekström of the University of Borås, Sweden recently edited the book Waste Management and Sustainable Consumption; Reflections on Consumer Waste (Routledge).

STI Experts

Professor Ekström participated in the “Being Human in a Consumer Society” Experts Meeting. In this book, she reflects on the accelerated pace of consumption and dramatically increased volume of waste. 

How does this book differ from other books on waste management?

Previous work on waste management has mainly focused on finding technological solutions while this book examines social and cultural views of waste. When studying waste, it is also important to have a consumer perspective. The perception of waste differs for individuals – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It should also be recognized that waste is perceived differently in different contexts. Poverty and increasing inequality needs to be considered, including the role of scavengers.

What role do consumers have in solving the waste problem?

They have responsibility, but companies and governments do as well. It is not realistic to consider consumers as the sole agents for reducing waste. However, a consumer perspective is important for companies and governments that want to make it easier for consumers to act in environmentally sound 

The authors represent different disciplines.

Yes, in this book, cultural anthropology, sociology, engineering, management and marketing contribute different perspectives, theories and methods on how we think about consumption and waste.

How do social norms become visible in the discussion of waste?

The practice of reuse, recycling and repair differ among individuals, but also in different socio-cultural contexts. Changes are also noticeable over time. For example, second-hand clothes have today gained widespread popularity- in particular vintage fashion.

It is important to reduce waste, but isn’t it even better to prevent waste?

We definitely need to think about what drives people to throw things away. For example, the role of fashion cycles and in particular fast fashion. Overall, today’s consumption patterns need to be questioned. Earlier generations bought things to be kept, maintained and repaired. We can learn from that. The last decades of overproduction and overconsumption have severe effects on the environment. We need to consider the consequences of consumption when we make decisions to purchase things. 

Visit Karin M. Ekström's expert profile
Visit the "Being Human in a Consumer Society" Experts Meeting Page.