An little exciting surprise…I was in TIME magazine’s 9/21 issue (check it out), listed as one of 25 “responsibility pioneers” (chosen for shrinking my trash to zero since 2006 and other eco/social steps). The list is full of other inspiring individuals, companies and organizations, many whom are inspirations for me so it was an honor to be included. The issue also has great articles about community service and how we can all expand our efforts to make a difference.
In response to ongoing inquiries, I developed this blog entry on “how I did it and why.”
What’s this about? My goal isn’t eliminating trash per se, but right-sizing resource use and having a positive social impact overall. I consider factors beyond direct trash and resource per se, looking at the full lifecycle. Such a systems-based approach isfundamental get farther along on the path to sustainability
Why? I’m motivated first and foremost by a desire to “live simply so others may simply live,” to build social equity and allow all species to thrive. So, I also gave up my car in 11/06, shrunk my electricity to 1,200-1,500 kWh/yr, buy goods direct from producers and fairly traded as much as possible, buy only local organic, foods, etc. (More info here.) Trash is really just a physical reminder of the broader social, environmental and economic impacts of our lifestyles. By considering and addressing our trash and how it comes to us, through simple personal steps and advocacy for systems change, we drive wider improvements.
How? My approach…Rethink – Reduce, reuse/recirculate, renew, recycle, reflect, revolutionize, repeat, seeking to stop waste as early in the cycle as possible, and create a closed loop cycle like nature. This may sound complex, but it’s really a basic element of our being. Nature doesn’t create waste. Its a societal artifact. Natural systems are efficient, don’t pollute or exploit, and reuse things infinitely. Societal systems have become separated from these fundamental principles, leading us to use more than we need, and overtax the planet and people.
* Reduce: don’t buy if not needed, get used, buy in bulk w/ own bags/containers, buy least packaged/reusable/recyclable)
* Reuse/recirculate: Buy reusable vs single use/disposable, repurpose items, donate, sell
* Renew: Buy renewables and compost
* Recycle: Buy recyclables and recycle
* Reflect: Ask…What challenges did I face?
* Revolutionize: Change systems to make waste reduction easier, the cultural default. Ask companies & retailers for better options, ask local recyclers to expand what they accept, ask government to support extended producer responsibility and thank companies with good practices.
In short, I really don’t buy a whole lot of stuff (reduce). The majority of waste and resource use happens before a product reaches us. It is said that the waste left in our hands at the “end” is 10% of the total waste generated from cradle to cradle/grave. Check out the “Story of Stuff” video.
Many times, we can borrow or do without and be just as happy, or happier. If I feel I need something, I look for it used as much as possible. When I need to buy new, I look for the most socially and environmentally preferable options. When I have materials and things I no longer need (and that I can’t compost), I look for ways to repurpose for another use (see stuff I’ve made) and donate/pass on for reuse, then recycle what’s left – very little.
Then, I reflect on challenges I faced and take steps to enact positive change (revolutionize) – such as asking my incredible local co-op for more bulk foods, contacting legislators to support extended producer responsibility and other beneficial policies, and informing local recyclers to about ways to expand the materials they collect. Personal change is important and a key first step, but taking it to the community level is essential to ensure the long-term, broad change that’s needed.
Is this time-consuming or a sacrifice? This has been a stepwise process, incorporating habits learned growing up and things I’ve learned since. When I decided to try not to send trash to the landfill in 2006, I really didn’t have that much to begin with as a result. I’ve been asked if this is time consuming. No, it’s fairly subconscious and often saves time. I also don’t feel I’m sacrificing anything, but have gained in may ways, appreciating what’s around me, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, saving money, etc.
Where do you start? These sites are great places for more information
- newdream.org: How to’s and benefits of simpler living and a “less is more” approach
- dailyacts.org: Great site for personal eco/social tips and Permaculture
- greenamericatoday.org: Tips to improve your eco/social impact, responsible investing, responsible shopping and more
- noimpactproject.org: Try the challenge!
- earth911.org: Find places to recycle things in your community that aren’t accepted by curbside/municipal programs
“Zero waste” is a big aspiration and I don’t claim to be near there. Nor do I judge others’ lifestyles, knowing that we all face difference challenges and opportunities, and we all have something to learn and teach. Given the challenges we face, and the exponential impact we can have collectively, it is much more effective, and essential, to learn and collaborate respectfully, and it feels better at the end of the day.
The most important thing we can do is to make one change then keep going…ultimately transforming ourselves, our communities and society into a more sustainable system, socially, environmentally and economically. Happy trails!