Net zero waste sounds great and from the many articles that we are bringing you this week it seems to be both in reach and a matter of instrumentalization – all we have to do is design processes to reduce, reuse, recycle, and ultimately eliminate waste.
From where we stand at PROOF this is only a part of the equation and likely of less importance than the real problem of consumption. The past 25 years of online retailing has proven to lower the barriers to consumption. While there were numerous negative economic downturns in the pandemic, online retail flourished with a 44% increase in year over year sales for 2020. We went indoors and shopped until we dropped.
The consumption / waste connection is clear. The more we consume the more waste we produce in packaging, transportation and eventual disposal of the items we purchase. No matter how good we become at reducing, reusing and recycling, if the quantity of products we are consuming is increasing, we will never reach net zero waste.
The question then is how do we reduce consumption? The technocratic answers usually have to do with eliminating low quality, rapidly replaced consumables and producing products that have both high utility and the kind of quality that makes them last a long time. I have mountaineering and cycling clothes that are 10+ years old and with a little upkeep may never need to be replaced. These kinds of items are more expensive than the disposable ones, which leads to less frequent shopping, which means that retailers would see a drop in the volume of products sold, which is not something that they would likely want to see. Most retailers want us to shop until we drop.
The bigger issue is that many of us want to shop and shop and shop. If you look at this closely, you can clearly see that a part of our identity comes from the things we consume. We associate who we are with the brands we buy, the stores we buy them from and the kinds of things we consume. Others see the things we consume and that becomes a part of who we are for them as well.
Why do we consume so much? If consumption is a part – and for many of us a big part – of our identity, then when our sense of self is threatened, or our self confidence wanes or we just feel down, we often turn to buying things to lift ourselves up. This is a never ending cycle with a seemingly endless number of things to consume. The bad news is:
Things will never fill us up.
Rather, after the first rush of accomplishment, they leave us feeling hollowed out and empty. Our consumer culture reduces our humanity to a never ending cycle of craving. Suffering becomes an ever present part of who we fundamentally are. We have to reinvent our culture with new ways to ease our discomfort in life. It’s time for us to turn our ability to hunt and gather to the pursuit of a good life, with a healthy community and thriving global commons.
When feeling good is decoupled from consumption, then and only then will we be free from our waste and achieve net zero.
So the next time you are feeling down, or unloved, or simply unfulfilled, go take a walk with friends or call a family member or work in your garden for a while. We promise that you will feel better and you won’t be left with things to throw away when the party’s over.
Join us in generating a zero waste world with thriving for all.
Proof 30 – The Future of Waste
In the News:
Organizations Generating a Thriving Future: Sea Cleaners
Created in 2016 by the French-Swiss navigator and explorer Yvan Bourgnon, the NGO The SeaCleaners acts against plastic pollution, both at sea and on land, through corrective and preventive missions. An Observer Member of the United Nations Environment Programme and supported by the Albert II Foundation of Monaco and the CCI France International, The SeaCleaners has set itself four main objectives:
· Protection of the environment with the collection of floating waste
· Promotion of the circular economy
· Scientific research
· Education and pedagogy, with the development of awareness-raising activities for the populations affected, the general public and decision-makers.
For more information click here.
What We’re Watching : Trashed
Trashed follows actor Jeremy Irons as he investigates the global scale and impact of humanity’s modern wasteful consumerism and pollution. The film is a call for urgent action to resolve the issue of existing deposits and drastically reduce our consumption towards sustainable levels and zero waste, but also demonstrates how this is already being achieved successfully in many communities around the world.
What We’re Reading – Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
The average American produces 102 tons of garbage across a lifetime and $50 billion in squandered riches are rolled to the curb each year. But our bins are just the starting point for a strange, impressive, mysterious, and costly journey that may also represent the greatest untapped opportunity of the century.
In Garbology, Edward Humes investigates trash—what’s in it; how much we pay for it; how we manage to create so much of it; and how some families, communities, and even nations are finding a way back from waste to discover a new kind of prosperity.
Garbology reveals not just what we throw away, but who we are and where our society is headed. Waste is the one environmental and economic harm that ordinary working Americans have the power to change—and prosper in the process.
What We’re Listening to – The Zero Waste Countdown Podcast – #131 – Zero Waste in India
Sahar Mansoor and Tim de Ridder are the co-authors of Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero-Waste Life. Sahar is also the founder and CEO of Bare Necessities and joined the conversation from her home in India.
The Zero Waste Countdown Project and host Laura Nash discuss their new book, and how the Indian entrepreneurial spirit is tackling waste. For example, spent flowers from temples and river beds are upcycled into powdered colors to celebrate Holi festival each year.
BOLD.LY NOW is a movement of co-creative up-levelers who have a burning desire to step free of our collapsing world & take the most daring leap forward to a thriving world.
PROOF is a Generative Futures Initiative Project
The Generative Futures Initiative
Generating a Thriving Future for All