July 13, 2017 by Cláudia
Disclaimer: This post does not reflect my current views. I’m keeping all of my posts for the sake of seeing the evolution, but for a more current opinion post on this topic, visit Forget shorter showers – seriously and I’ve changed my mind – consumers cannot change the world (alone).
Everyone knows that the Earth’s carrying capacity is limited and that it has been strained so it is obviously not possible to continue to expect unlimited growth with limited resources. Our “use and throw away” mentality, our consumerism and fast lifestyle have created problems that need to be discussed now if we as humans wish to continue to live on this planet. However, even knowing this, it seems like the majority of individuals, companies and Governments perpetuate this harmful cycle due to convenience. Why is that? How come people are convinced that their actions will not result in ecological disaster?
1. I am already doing my part – I recycle.
While recycling is an important change and a necessary step towards more sustainable choices, it is not nearly enough. Even if recycling helps with reducing the demand for resources and reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfill, it creates water pollution and it consumes a lot of energy. Furthermore, plastic is hardly ever successfully recycled because there are different types of plastic and even if it can be recycled, you can only recycle plastic once. Basically, the great majority of plastics that go into recycling end up in landfill. Plastic waste is probably the most problematic considering how many disposable items are made of plastic (coffee cups, food wrappers, plastic cutlery…) and how long it takes to decompose yet it is the less likely to be recyclable.
To truly make a difference, we all need to rethink how we use the Earth’s resources. Natural resources are what allows us to sustain life on Earth and by trying to achieve infinite growth, we are taking more and more resources from a source that has limited capacity. Everything nature gives us is a blessing and a new possibility to create well-being so why are we wasting resources in packages that are going to immediately be thrown away? These packages have to go through a whole production cycle only to end up in the trash can right after consumption and then end up in landfill for hundreds of years. This is clearly senseless just for a product that offers nothing more than a small convenience.
We are polluting the air, water and soil, compromising our health, well-being and the future possibility to obtain resources. To actually make a difference, we need to reconsider our daily habits and our interaction with modern society. We need to look at how much waste we are producing and reduce it. We need to replace toxic products for natural options. We can always look inside and ask if we could be doing better, there are always new ways to be sustainable, but recycling is not as sustainable as it initially seemed.
2. Even if I change my habits, what difference does it make? It’s the Government responsibility to bring widespread change.
The only actions that we will ever be able to control for sure are our own and, even if it may seem like a vain effort, it is extremely important that the change comes from the bottom-up and not the other way around if we want it to be durable and effective. Governmental action can actually be useless if people are not motivated and aware – just because something is on paper doesn’t mean people will follow it if they’re not interested as they won’t insure the means for it to be successful. So Government action without the people’s support can have little difference in practice.
On average, each person will create 4.4lb (2kg) of trash every day – that’s 1606lb per year (728kg) from which 62% or more ends up in landfill. What I’m trying to say with these statistics is that it is actually really significant if one person can reduce or stop creating waste. Plus, one person changing can create a rippling effect and inspire others to change by giving an example, sharing suggestions or answering questions.
Individual action can trigger more change in another aspect: by making more conscious decisions, market demand changes and companies start to rethink the way they produce and sell. A new market of ethical and eco-friendly products is growing and this gives more space for new companies with new values to start their business and sell zero waste natural products which, in turn, makes it easier for other people to make the transition.
And of course, we need to keep pressuring our Governments to make more conscious and sustainable decisions, but that is only part of what we can and should be doing.
3. Living a zero waste lifestyle is too much work for my busy lifestyle.
As with anything, change doesn’t happen overnight and I understand that it is discouraging to look at how many changes need to be made before achieving a zero waste or minimal waste goal. If someone is going to try to change everything at the same time and become zero waste overnight, I would say this will most likely result in failure and frustration. The beginning can be hard because there are so many rituals that are so ingrained in our lifestyle that we don’t think about them anymore and just do them mechanically (such as shopping for food). It is a process that takes a long time and that never really comes to an end.
But there are some changes that are easy to make and are good to begin with, such as ditching plastic water bottles and replace them with a reusable one, asking for no straw in drinks, replacing plastic bags with cloth ones and getting a reusable coffee cup. Further on, you can start looking at places to buy bulk items, non-chemical cosmetics and house products or even look into DIY options. Being a part of zero waste groups can be great to find motivation and to look at creative solutions that people come up with.
What’s most important is that every single change matters and makes a big difference in the big picture. And that it is a process that grows and becomes easier. With time and routine, the zero waste attitude becomes organic and no longer a big inconvenient. It grows into your habits and you’ll know which brands to look for because they are ethical and sustainable, where and how to go shopping, how to go out with friends, what to put in your bag… and everything will be a lot more manageable, I promise.
More on zero waste: