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The problem with ‘TikTok made me buy it’

TikTok has quickly become a breeding ground for the ‘haul’ mindset, whereby overconsumption is widely encouraged by brands and influencers who’ve forgotten that the planet is struggling with our shopping habits.

In the post-pandemic digital age, it’s not surprising that most of us prefer to shop online instead of hitting the high street and dealing with the public.

Appealing for numerous factors – convenience, accessibility, and time-saving – consumers today are far more likely to splash their cash through a screen than they are to brave the crowds. It should come as no surprise that social media companies have been taking note.

During the last couple of years, we’ve seen Instagram replace its activity section with a handbag icon that lets you browse algorithm-specific products, Facebook Marketplace bring in a surprising 1.79 million users, and even WhatsApp introduce a payment feature that allows us to purchase products directly in our message threads.

None, however, have attracted the masses at the same rate and to the same extent as TikTok, where it’s become common to stumble upon ‘lives’ hosted by enthusiastic sellers urging us to ‘act fast’ on hot products.

Pair this with the fleeting nature of microtrends that quickly come and go and you’ve got a recipe for environmental disaster.

Shopping Haul 🛍✨|TikyToky Compilations - YouTube

This is because Gen Z’s app du jour (which we reportedly spent 2.8 billion hours using in 2020) has fostered a breeding ground for the ‘haul mindset,’ whereby overconsumption is being widely encouraged by brands and influencers who seem to have forgotten that the planet is buckling under the weight of our shopping habits.

The 518 million plus views on the ‘I want it, I got it’ hashtag is evidence of this, proof that TikTokers who see feed advertisements won’t hesitate to buy for the sake of a few hundred likes.

Yet this issue isn’t specific to them alone. More and more of us are feeling compelled to buy things solely because we’ve been enticed by the outlandish claims from people who swear by their effects.

And if we aren’t then uploading our own clips to keep the ball rolling, what’s happening to the mountain of goods that went out of style as rapidly as they gained popularity? You guessed it, we’re shoving them to the back of our wardrobes, or worse, throwing them away.

I don’t think I have to tell you how significantly this is contributing to the climate crisis.

While there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you continue finding yourself swept up in the hype of ‘price drops’ and ‘must-have’ products (I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions), it’s important we acknowledge the pressure to slow down if we’re to avoid a total ecological disaster.

I say this because TikTok saw the most quarterly consumer spend of any app or game at over $840 million in the first quarter of 2022, a statistic that makes me cringe when I consider how much of it got wasted.

‘Haul videos in general, whether they’re bite-sized TikTok videos or longer-form YouTube types, are not doing the environment any favours,’ says sustainability expert, Ashlee Piper. ‘Over consumption, even if many of those haul items are returned or offloaded to others, is the locus of environmental and over production issues.’

According to Piper, constantly watching content that promotes new launches is inevitably going to give us FOMO and it suggests we can never have enough.

‘Social media has become a space where people literally press us to buy shit we don’t need — or to compare our lives,’ she adds. ‘Both are harmful not just for our souls, but for the planet. This leads to overconsumption, not to mention low self-worth and contentment.’

Overconsumption Is the Problem, Not Overpopulation | by Danny Schleien | Climate Conscious | Medium

So, how do we scale back?

For starters, change ought to come from the top with an overhaul of every industry that’s well-aware of what it’s doing to our Earth but won’t stop churning out goods until it’s literally run out of resources.

Secondly, and I understand that it might pain you to read this, we simply need to shop less as the best and easiest strategy for minimising the burden on our planet (not to mention ourselves and our wallets) is to work with what we already have. Which, for most of us, is plenty.

Finally, TikTok should also shoulder some responsibility, such as giving a bigger platform to businesses with better eco credentials, keeping tabs on livestreams selling environmentally questionable dupes, or introducing a banner reminding us to shop responsibly.

After all, it’s difficult not to get sucked into the excitement – especially when purchases can be made with a single click.