Questions for ‘Creating less new stuff could greatly help Earth’s climate’  

a photo of a young woman with an afro standing at a sewing table. She is looking down at her hands as she cuts a pair of jeans into useable fabric. Various sewing tools litter the table. A sewing machine is to the right of the picture.

Some designers salvage denim and other fabric from old clothes to create new, custom fashions. It’s one way to give new life to things that might otherwise be trashed. Another benefit: It avoids the environmental costs of using raw materials to make clothes.

Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images Plus

To accompany ‘Creating less new stuff could greatly help Earth’s climate’  


Before Reading:

  1. When a toaster or other household appliance breaks, do you think it’s more common to replace or repair that item? Which option — replacing or repairing — would be better for our environment? Explain why you think that.
  2. Think about the things you use and consume frequently. Then, come up with one item — maybe a particular food, paper product, T-shirt or some other consumable — that you could use less of if you chose to. Why do you think you use more of this consumable than necessary? To what extent do you think other people use more than they need of things they purchase?

During Reading:

  1. What is the first step in making a plastic milk jug? Approximately what share of plastic milk jugs gets recycled? What happens to the rest?
  2. What is overconsumption? What are some consequences of overconsumption?
  3. What does it mean to live sustainably? 
  4. What is a circular economy? How does a circular economy differ from a traditional economy?
  5. What is a life-cycle assessment? 
  6. What is a carbon footprint? What accounts for 70 percent of the carbon footprint for a typical item of clothing? How does the carbon footprint of a plastic milk jug compare to the carbon footprint of a metal churn?
  7. In a 2022 survey, what percentage of Canadians reported an appliance or electronic breaking in the past year? What percentage of those people chose to repair that item?
  8. What is the goal of the “right to repair” movement?
  9. How has the company Patagonia taken steps to reduce overconsumption? 
  10. Why is much of the waste in recycling bins never actually recycled? Why can recycling electronics sometimes be dangerous?
  11. What types of workers deserve better pay, according to Sandra Goldmark?

After Reading:

  1. Imagine you own a company that makes microwave ovens. Your company sells these appliances at a low price. But for your business to survive, you must sell lots of these ovens and regularly. In the past, why might you have benefited by intentionally designing items meant to last only a short time? Imagine you want to make changes to help achieve a more circular economy. How might you change your business strategy to ensure that your company still survives, but no longer contributes to overconsumption?
  2. Which solution described in this story do you think has the greatest potential to reduce overconsumption problems? Explain your answer.
  3. What “cultural shift” does Goldmark say we need? What would be the advantages of that cultural shift? What would be the trade-offs, or downsides? Do you think the advantages would balance out the trade-offs or even offer an overall positive effect? Why or why not? Explain your answer.