Zero Waste: A state of mind

There is no better measure of our sustainability, of our resilience, than looking at our waste

By Steve Unger

“Is zero waste some new recycling thing?”

Respectfully, this is like asking if the Internet is some new computer thing. In the  same way that the Internet has forever changed how we view and interact with the world, zero waste is a shift in our beliefs as to what constitutes waste.

More accurately, it’s a view that society’s attitude to waste needs to be completely re-thought.

The concept of “zero waste” is a new lens through which we can do a 180 on our perspective of garbage.  It is nothing less than a state of mind.

Before we talk about zero waste, however, we need to talk about waste. No other species generates garbage. Humans are the only one.

Waste plays no part in the natural world. In fact, there is no equivalent to garbage in the ecosystem. It simply does not exist.  One organism’s waste is another’s food. Mother Nature recycles, reuses, repurposes, reconstitutes everything; its a perfect system!

Waste and garbage are human creations that started with the industrial revolution, exploded with the advent of plastics, and have now become a fundamental aspect of our human industrial growth economy.

In fact, our economic system today – founded on the rapid purchase and disposal of “stuff” – requires constant and manufactured obsolescence (i.e., waste). The economic treadmill we’re running on cannot afford for us to reuse, recycle or repurpose.

And while our economy cannot live without waste, our ecosystem cannot live with it. We are left to choose between the ecosystem and the economy.

The problem really came with modern technology, specifically the invention of plastics. Plastic takes tens of thousands of years to decompose. And since the rise of its generalized use less than 50 years ago, plastics are everywhere now. And when plastics do finally decompose, they leave toxic fibers in their wake.

So, for the sake of discussion, let’s reimagine waste as by-product.  The by-products of making dinner, for instance, are food  scraps, peels, possibly a few bones. In turn, this becomes compost, food for animals or stock for soup. It’s not waste.

Likewise, the by-product of a construction project is firewood, materials for other projects or salvage to reuse on another build. Surplus old clothes become new quilts. And so on. This is not new thinking. Quite the contrary, it is extremely old and once commonplace logic for the countless generations before us that understood and lived with scarcity.

So what to do? We need to rethink waste. In fact, we need to stop thinking of waste as a something to get rid of.  Waste – I mean by-product – is an opportunity, it’s a resource, and more importantly, it’s a responsibility.

We can no longer be “wasters,” we must steward a healthy ecosystem for our kids.

Rather than automatically tossing stuff out, become a “recycler” or a “reuser.” Be creative! Take back your power to do it yourself. Fix that old whatever or turn it into something new!  Stop wasting.

Once you get the idea of zero waste, you’ll realize that it applies not just to stuff. It applies to time, energy, people. You’ll stop wasting hours in front of the TV and instead use your precious life-force to plant a garden, visit a friend or do some community work.

And let me leave you with one last thought. There is no better measure of our sustainability, of our resilience, than looking at our waste.  It’s the crap we leave in our collective cultural wake that is our legacy. Let’s not be wasters!

•••

Steve Unger writes for Zero Waste Sooke.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews contain fire to attic of Central Saanich home

Firefighters are responding to a structure fire in Central Saanich

First fall storm expected to hit Greater Victoria tonight

Heavy rainfall, winds expected over the next several days

HMCS Victoria popping up as training sessions underway

MARPAC says plume of smoke normal for recharging submarine

COVID-19: 4 more deaths, 366 new cases in B.C. since Friday

A total of 8,208 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since January

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Cowichan Valley family overwhelmed with 14 Lab puppies

Litter may be one of the biggest ever

Islands Trust Conservancy gets funding for protection of at-risk species

Conservancy manages habitat for more than 25 plant and animal species at risk

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

First full day of B.C.’s election campaign begins amid COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and the Green party’s Sonia Furstenau criticized John Horgan’s decision

RCMP issue two $2,300 COVID fines at same Metro Vancouver vacation rental within 24 hours

Cpl. Mike Kalanj said it was ‘quite frankly appalling’ to see parties breaking COVID-19 rules

Here’s how voting amid a pandemic will happen in B.C.

Elections BC has worked with the provincial health office to determine safety protocols for voting

Most Read