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.

 

 

Just Posted

UVic students return from Hong Kong amidst growing tension

All eight University of Victoria exchange students have returned to Canada

ICBC, province urge residents to plan ahead for winter weather

Greater Victoria should gear up and have a plan in place

Sooke mom launches GoFundMe campaign to get medical treatment for son

Single mother has two children facing medical challenges

65-million-year-old triceratops makes its debut in Victoria

Dino Lab Inc. is excavating the fossilized remains of a 65-million-year-old dinosaur

VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Other words on the shortlist included ‘extinction,’ ‘climate denial’ and ‘eco-anxiety’

12 Sooke events to get you into the holiday spirit

From a Santa parade to classicial music, Sooke has it all

Canucks erupt with 5 power-play goals in win over Nashville

Vancouver ends three-game slide with 6-3 triumph over Predators

Nanaimo man caught with more than 200,000 child porn images to be sentenced

Crown says Aaron Macrae recorded video of children on buses and at his workplace

Vancouver Island hunters may have harvested deer in area known for chronic wasting disease

Conservation officers make urgent request to public for any information

B.C. widow suing health authority after ‘untreatable’ superbug killed her husband

New Public Agency Health report puts Canadian death toll at 5,400 in 2018

Changes to B.C. building code address secondary suites, energy efficiency

Housing Minister Selina Robinson says the changes will help create more affordable housing

Security guard at Kamloops music festival gets three years for sexually assaulting concertgoer

Shawn Christopher Gray walked the woman home after she became seperated from her friends, court heard

Most Read