We see it everywhere, all the time:
“Please recycle when finished”♻️
“This bottle is made from 3.8% recycled plastic!”
“This packaging is made from plants”🌱
“Our wood and paper is FSC certified”🪵
The problem isn’t doing these things, but how and why people and companies are doing it. More often than not, people and businesses are selling these initiatives as the way to solve our waste or sustainability problem. Of course, we should be recycling as much as we can, if we can do it efficiently enough. We should be managing our forests better, and using more eco-friendly materials.
Avoiding reducing our consumption can be detrimental
The trouble is, many are choosing certain less impactful initiatives in order to avoid even the idea of us reducing our consumption.
Some of these initiatives, like using miniscule amounts of recycled plastic, or using certifications like FSC on their own, do more or less...nothing. Or worse, they even have a negative impact due to the false sense of 🦸🏼good doing and therefore the over purchasing that can come with.
The point is, all of these initiatives, focused by themselves, distract from what is inevitably needed to solve our waste problem and therefore our sustainability problem: reduce.
Focusing on cleaning up waste without reducing it is like digging a hole and as you take out a shovel full of dirt, two more fall back into the hole. Trying to recycle the problem away is like running out of money, and instead of spending less, we just take out another credit card thus making the problem worse and delaying the inevitable.💳
Several developed countries routinely 🚢export their plastic waste to “recycling centers” in other parts of the world, and then label those amounts as recycled. In 2018, the US exported almost 790,000 tonnes of plastic waste, and the UK exported almost 430,000 to other countries.
This creates further opportunity for plastics to end up in the 🌊environment, while making consumers feel better about consuming single use, and that’s all IF the plastic even gets recycled at its destination. There is little certification or assurance that it does.
Reduce as a more manageable solution
Our waste problem is 😰overwhelming, and it is especially so when we restrict ourselves to the only solutions being recycling or switching materials.
It actually becomes rather simple when we choose to reduce. Although simple is, as we know, usually never easy.
A disincentive for single use, or an incentive for reusables seems like a more clear cut way to solving these issues. Especially comparing that to “where are we going to put the current waste we have as well as the expected waste we are planning to have increased in the future?”.
While we may have bought and invented ourselves out of our problems in the past, and while in certain areas of our lives that will be necessary, we will still have to return to some older, simplified ways of doing things. One of them will be not throwing away pieces of plastic or paper every time we eat or drink something. It will probably mean buying fewer, more intentional things instead of tons of things for the sake of owning them. And more.
Like all other solutions, reducing can’t do it all on its own
This doesn’t mean that foregoing all other options besides reducing our waste should be the path forward. We can all minimize as much as we want, only focusing on the most important things in life, but their will still be waste out there to clean up. 🚮Every single year we dump an estimated 2.12 billion tons of waste globally. Since that number is too massive to comprehend, if we put all of it into dump trucks in a line, they would circle the globe 24 times over.🚛
There will still be products that we’ll need to change in order to make them more sustainable: whether that’s making them reusable or made of a more eco-friendly material. Products should be made from recycled, recyclable, and more eco friendly materials, but not as the only solution, and with the education that prevents over consumption due to the release of guilt.
Many of our problems in regards to the environment are problems of disconnection. 🌲Over many years we have tried our best to separate ourselves from the natural world. We’ve invented amazing things, and many of us have acquired those things. Sadly, a lot of our problems that we face have been approached with solutions that disconnect us even more.
Our “solutions” have complicated things more and have allowed us to stray even further from our connections to the natural world. Simplifying our lives and getting rid of the unnecessary can be helpful in uncomplicating things by cutting through the noise and focusing on what’s most important.
Not everything is necessary in order to truly create a more sustainable world, and we should be mindful of those things which are a waste of time. However, there are many things that aren’t a waste of time and are in fact necessary, but none of these things are sufficient, meaning none of them will alone create a sustainable world. 🌍