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

Paul Lewis is the Goldstream Gazette’s 2021 Local Hero as Arts Advocate of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
West Shore driftwood sculptor inspired by Esquimalt Lagoon

Paul Lewis is the 2021 Arts Advocate of the Year

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

Cathy Armstrong, executive director of the Land Conservancy, Paul Nursey CEO of Destination Greater Victoria and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice helped to kick off the annual Greater Victoria Flower Count at Abkhazi Garden Monday. This year, the flower count is less about rubbing the region’s weather in the rest of Canada’ faces, and more about extending a bouquet of compassion and love. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
2021 Greater Victoria Flower Count sows seeds of compassion

Friendly flower count competition runs from March 3 to 10

Robert Schram, here seen in January 2016, died Saturday, according to a friend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sidney, Saanich Peninsula mourn the death of Mr. Beads

Bead artist Robert Schram was a familiar, well-loved figure in Sidney and beyond

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in hit-and-run

Investigation into death expected to be lengthy and involved

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

Most Read