Sustainability & Consumption: Shopping At The Big Box Store

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Big-Box-Stores-Crush-Mom-and-PopI live in a small town of 10,000 people, and the entire county has 30,000 residents. It’s rural, and life is simple. We don’t have a Super Big Box Store, even though one corporation has tried to put one here for years. We have driven them away successfully so far.

I shop at our plain ol’ Big Box Store in a pinch. Dog food is cheaper, and sometimes while I’m in there, I’ll pick up some pens or ibuprofen. I usually pay a little more to shop at small local stores, which our town is full of!

SUPER big box stores

Over the weekend, I went to my older daughter’s college graduation in a city of about 110,000. There are THREE Super Big Box Stores close to the university. My kids and I frequented two of them on three occasions. It seems the girls are Super Big Box Store shoppers, liking the convenience of everything in one place, the varied inventory, low prices and the grocery aisles.

I was overwhelmed in the Super Big Box Store. There was too much stuff to look at spread over too much distance to find anything easily. Yet people seemed to be content and maybe even thrilled with these circumstances. It was like an outing to a mall for them. You can get everything you need at dirt cheap prices.

Mainstream shopping experience

And I’ve never seen such crowds and lines! We only bought a few items, and each time we had to stand in line for over 10 minutes. This is because everyone shopping there loads their carts to overflowing! Even the one open express register had a long line, but most people had so much stuff they weren’t allowed in it.

I looked around at shoppers in line and those pushing carts in the vast space. People that don’t want specialty items shop here. This was mainstream America unconcerned with GMOs or organic food, conditions in sweatshops in places like Bangladesh, animal testing and the general health of themselves or the planet.

Unconcerned or unaware

Are they unconcerned or unaware? Over-consumption is a huge problem as far as global warming, wasting natural resources, the creation of CO2 emissions and unnecessary fuel use to transport these cheap goods from China. Employees in these stores are paid horribly low wages ($8.00 an hour where I live) and receive no benefits, because they are all scheduled part-time. The supply chain is directly related to the disaster in Bangladesh and the clothes they are buying.

I began to feel that my simple lifestyle – recycling, organic diet, organic garden and energy efficient car and home – were all for naught. I do my part to save resources and shop responsibly, yet here are 200 people with loaded carts at any given time in ONE Super Big Box Store!

Woman with Groceries in Shopping Cart

Preaching to the (green-living) choir?

When I write about green lifestyles and energy efficiency, I am preaching to the choir, so to speak. Even sharing memes and news articles on Facebook, I know my ‘friends’ know who I am, and it feels like a waste of time.

The people I need to reach are the Super Big Box Store shoppers, but realizing how much cheap stuff thousands of people buy in one day, I felt defeated. There is no way I can change the minds and lifestyles of the masses. No Way.

We’re doomed!

We’re doomed. Judging by my experience in one small city, I don’t think things will ever change. Family Dollar stores are now going up in the same frequency as one Super Big Box Store did a decade ago. They want to build a store every 30 miles. They are fighting to build a big one here on the north side of town, even though there is a small one in town, a big one 30 minutes farther north and another big one 30 minutes south.

There is also a Dollar General being built on the south side of town. We have a Big Box Store, and there is a Super Big Box Store 45 minutes away. How many cheap stores do we need in a county of 30,000 people?!

But, maybe we’re NOT doomed!

On the other hand, Days Inn offered Organic Twining teas in their lobby. That’s new! Maybe there is hope after all.

And an update since I began writing this post: Our County Commission voted Family Dollar down for construction! They recognized the way Big Box Stores take away business from mom and pop stores, that wages are low, that the buildings are not suited to the area, and that traffic would become one big snarl in a very quaint area. I’m feeling a little more hopeful.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.