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Energy consumption per capita per country in 2001
CO2 emission per capita per year per country pre-2006

Overconsumption is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to inevitable environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases. Generally the discussion of overconsumption parallels that of overpopulation; that is the more people, the more consumption of raw materials to sustain their lives. Currently, the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world, who make up the majority of the human population (5.5 billion people).[1]

The theory was coined to augment the discussion of overpopulation, which reflects issues of carrying capacity without taking into account per capita consumption, by which developing nations are evaluated to consume more than their land can support. Green parties and the ecology movement often argue that consumption per person, or ecological footprint, is typically lower in poor than in rich nations.


Planned obsolescence[edit]

Planned obsolescence is, by definition: "a method of stimulating consumer demand by designing products that wear out or become outmoded after limited use." This is a key factor of over consumption. While we have the capabilities, resources, and technology to create products that could last one a lifetime, producers do not practice this efficient idea because if they did, they would generate little profit and crumble under the competitive free market system.


See also: I PAT

A fundamental effect of overconsumption is a reduction in the planet's carrying capacity. Excessive unsustainable consumption will exceed the long term carrying capacity of its environment (ecological overshoot) and subsequent resource depletion, environmental degradation and reduced ecological health.

The scale of modern life's overconsumption has enabled an overclass to exist, displaying affluenza and obesity. However once again both of these claims are controversial with the latter being correlated to other factors more so than over-consumption.

In the long term these effects can lead to increased conflict over dwindling resources [2] and in the worst case a Malthusian catastrophe. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, has said: "It would take 1.5 Earths to sustain our present level of consumption. Environmentally, the world is in an overshoot mode."[3]

Economic growth[edit]

The Worldwatch Institute said China and India, with their booming economies, along with the United States, are the three planetary forces that are shaping the global biosphere.[4] The State of the World 2006 report said the two countries' high economic growth exposed the reality of severe pollution. The report states that

The world's ecological capacity is simply insufficient to satisfy the ambitions of China, India, Japan, Europe and the United States as well as the aspirations of the rest of the world in a sustainable way.


Main article: Ecological footprint

The idea of overconsumption is also strongly tied to the idea of an ecological footprint. The term “ecological footprint” refers to the “resource accounting framework for measuring human demand on the biosphere.” A study by Mathis Wackernagel has shown that the global ecological footprint was in overshoot by .4 global hectares per person, or roughly 23%.[5] Of these developing countries, China presents the largest threat. Currently, China is roughly 11 times lower in per capita footprint, yet has a population that is more than four times the size of the USA. It is estimated that if China developed to the level of the United States that world consumption rates would roughly double.[1]


The most obvious solution to the issue of overconsumption is to simply slow the rate at which materials are becoming depleted. Less consumption naturally has negative effects on economies - so instead, countries must look to curb consumption rates while allowing for new industries, such as renewable energy and recycling technologies, to flourish and deflect some of the economic burden. A fundamental shift in the global economy may be necessary in order to account for the current change that is taking place or that will need to take place. Movements and lifestyle choices related to stopping overconsumption include: anti-consumerism, freeganism, green economics, ecological economics, degrowth, frugality, downshifting, simple living, minimalism, and thrifting.
Other researchers and movements such as the Zeitgeist Movement suggest a new socioeconomic model which, through a structural increase of efficiency, collaboration and locality in production as well as effective sharing, increased modularity, sustainability and optimal design of products, is expected to reduce resource-consumption.[6]

Overconsumption in the USA[edit]

The United States uses double the resources that it produces,[citation needed] pulling from other countries to produce the goods for its population to consume. The goods are not just simple perishables like food, energy, and light building materials. The United States also consumes the most clothing items, metals, plastics, electronics, and even health hazardous chemicals.[citation needed]

Overconsumption in Fashion Industry[edit]

Overconsumption has became a big issue in the fashion industry due to the influence of fast fashion. The business model of fast fashion is based on consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear.[7] In order to fulfill consumer’s demand, fast fashion brands provide affordable prices and a wide range of clothing that reflects the latest trends. This ends up persuading consumers to buy more items which leads to the issue of Overconsumption. Planned Obsolescence plays a key role in overconsumption. Based on the study of planned obsolescence in the Economist, Fashion is deeply committed to Built-in obsolescence. Last year's skirts; for example, are designed to be replaced by this year's new models.[8] In this case, fashion goods are purchased even when the old ones are still wearable. The quick response model and new supply chain practices of fast fashion even accelerate the speed of it. In recent years, the fashion cycle has steadily decreased as fast fashion retailers sell clothing that is expected to be disposed of after being worn only a few times.[9] This dramatically shortens the consumers’ buying cycle. The quick changing stocks and low price of fashion goods encourage consumers to visit the store and make purchases more frequently. As a result, excessive stock and untrendy clothes tends to end up in landfills.

A recent article about fast fashion in Huffington Post pointed out that in order to make the fast moving trend affordable, fast-fashion merchandise is typically priced much lower than the competition, operating on a business model of low quality and high volume.[7] Low quality goods make overconsumption more severe since those products have a shorter life span and would need to be replaced much more often. Furthermore, as both industry and consumers continue to embrace fast fashion, the volume of goods to be disposed of or recycled has increased substantially. However, most fast-fashion goods do not have the inherent quality to be considered as collectables for Vintage or historic collections.[10] The low quality goods can only end up as waste, hardly to be recycled. These cycles of providing affordable price to trigger the sales, and the low quality comes with it that makes products last shorter are making consumers unconsciously buying more. Not only does it drive sales numbers, but also the amount of waste that comes with it.

Fast fashion brings considerable consumption that prospers the fashion industry. Its unique business model and low prices enables the public to purchase fashionable items even during times of the economic recession. However, it has brought along the problem of overconsumption, whereby countless amounts of waste ends up in landfills. Moreover, hidden costs of landfills also include waste, Pollution, energy and natural resources exhaustion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Diamond, Jared: (2008-01-02). "What's Your Consumption Factor?" The New York Times
  2. ^ Effects of Over-Consumption and Increasing Populations. 26 September 2001. Retrieved on 19 June 2007
  3. ^ Brown, Lester R. (2011). World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. Earth Policy Institute. Norton. p. 7. ISBN 113654075X. 
  4. ^ Renner, Michael (January 2006). "Chapter 1: China, India, and the New World Order". State of the world 2005: A Worldwatch Institute Report on progress toward a sustainable society. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-32666-7. OCLC 57470324. Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  5. ^ Wackernagel, Mathis; Russ, Thomas (ed.) (2008). "Ecological footprint." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth January 23, 2007; Last revised November 18, 2008; Retrieved April 6, 2010]
  6. ^ The Zeitgeist Movement - Frequently Asked Questions Retrieved on 6 May 2014
  7. ^ a b "5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn't Want You to Know". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-08. 
  8. ^ "Planned obsolescence". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2015-11-08. 
  9. ^ Carr, D. J., Gotlieb, M. R., Lee, N., & Shah, D. V (2012). "Examining overconsumption, competitive consumption, and conscious consumption from 1994 to 2004: Disentangling cohort and period effects". The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 
  10. ^ Gwilt, A., & Rissanen, T. (2011). Shaping sustainable fashion: Changing the way we make and use clothes. Washington DC, London: Earthcan. p. 143. 

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