An alternative to mass consumption

Anna VanRemoortel ’18

Countering consumerism. People shop for the sake of immediate gratification. But these zero waste consumers will often do extensive research before they even consider buying a product. They violate society’s consumption norms and work to internalize this cost they did not create themselves. I am interested to see how the zero waste movement evolves over time and if these consumers can lead others to approach consumption in a more sustainable way.

Generous subjects. I interviewed zero waste consumers throughout the U.S. over Skype to gather my data. During these in-depth interviews, that often lasted longer than an hour, strangers I met online told me their life story and the struggles they encounter while trying to live their values. They didn’t have to invite me into their lives, but when they heard about my research they thought it was important and wanted to be part of it.

Organizational challenge. Before embarking on this project, I had never written a paper more than 15 or 16 pages. Now the shortest chapter of my thesis surpasses this length. Writing a thesis requires you to manage many moving parts and organize them in a logical way to allow the reader to understand the study. I consider myself a pretty organized person, but organizing 100+ readings is completely different than organizing my notebook or schedule.

Professional focus. Throughout my life I have been consuming knowledge, but this year I was able to create it. It has been a very fulfilling experience. After graduating, I plan to take a gap year and apply for Ph.D. programs in sociology. I plan to focus on economic and cultural sociology and continue my research on consumption.

Anna VanRemoortel ’18 of Marblehead, Mass., has always been interested in what people buy and why. She chose to major in economics and sociology to study those impulses. She first encountered the concept of zero waste consumption that her honors thesis explores the way we learn about so many things—through a YouTube video.

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