Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little. - Edmund Burke
I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember sitting in school, and learning about the “3 R’s of Recycling”: reduce, reuse, and recycle. I remember wanting to follow the rules and to “be a good girl” (that’s a whole separate blog post!), and that meant recycling, which to me meant putting plastic bottles in recycling bins when I saw them. And that pretty much sums up my relationship with it minus the last few years.
But with the #climatestrike last Friday, and the IPCC’s special report (https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/) explaining that we likely have less than a decade to get our s**t together before reaching a critical (and irreversible) tipping point in heating our Earth’s atmosphere and setting off a whole cascade of (even more intense) climate change, I have been motivated to do all that I can. I am sharing what I learn with you, not only because I love to, but because I recognize that it is a privilege I have that not everyone does. I HAVE the time, education, and resources, and so I am intentioning to use them in a way that supports all of us.
So back to the 3 R’s; there are now 5, and they are: REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE (repair), ROT, and RECYCLE.
Allow me to explain.
First of all, Americans are on average, producing about 4.5 POUNDS of trash per day, adding up very quickly to a whopping 262 million TONS of trash produced in the U.S. per year (https://berecycled.org/how-to-recycle/). And where is all of this trash going? Into the landfill (and filling up fast). Or worse, into the incinerator, leaching toxic chemicals into the air, and then into the landfill. Currently, most of us are fully (and perhaps unknowingly) participating in our Linear Economy- meaning, we take (and take and take and take) raw materials from our planet (at an unsustainable rate), turn them into products (often via the use of factories utilizing fossil fuels, toxic chemicals, and unfair wage and labor practices), buy the products at a “steal” (due to the aforementioned practices), and then shortly thereafter, throw them out. There’s so much more to say here, and if you are interested, here’s a video that draws it out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GorqroigqM ). It’s a problem of massive caliber; a few people participating won’t be enough; but please, don’t adopt a defeatist attitude, throw your hands up, and do nothing. If nothing changes, nothing changes! Do what you can. Learn what you can. Take action. Make mistakes. Learn from them. And act again. Please keep showing up. We all need one another, perhaps now more than ever.
Have trouble with this word? Me too; especially if it involves the potential to make someone else uncomfortable. But the status quo doesn’t change without our willingness to get a little uncomfortable. That means saying “no” sometimes. Basically, don’t take what you don’t need or KNOW you won’t use (aka what will end up in the trash in less than a week!).
Here are a few tips:
By being intentional about what we say “yes” and “no” to in consuming goods, we will likely already begin to reduce the amount of trash we take on! Win win! Reducing takes it a step further by asking us to reflect on what we actually need, and our beliefs surrounding our things and happiness. From Marie Kondo to the Minimalist movement to modern design, we are beginning to see glimpses of what “less is more” can look like. Yet, as mentioned above, we still live in a consumerist, linear economy, and are constantly bombarded by advertisements saying “you need this! You need more! It won’t last forever! Hurry up and get yours today!”. Biologically, we still tend to orient ourselves in the world by comparing with others as markers of our own success or shortcomings, and as neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris explains, this is a natural tendency, but one that can create a great deal of suffering. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201902/what-can-minimalism-do-mental-health
Keep in mind there is no end goal or “finished” with this, it is an ongoing process that you get to curate!
3. REUSE (Repair)
So not only can we become even more intentional about how much we are consuming, but we can also consider the shelf life of that item. In the past few decades we’ve seen a ton of innovation (awesome!) aimed at making our lives more convenient (great!). The problem is that many of these convenience items are also major contributors to ghg emissions, and landfill pile up; what I am speaking of mostly are the disposables: plastic and paper water bottles, coffee cups, plates, utensils, ziplocks, cling wrap, paper towels, razors, Q-tips, feminine hygiene products, makeup remover pads, kleenex, diapers, and yes, even toilet paper (still working on this one!). Before these inventions, existed solutions for storage, wipes, spills, and shaves. I’m not saying we should revert back to old ways in ALL ways, but also pay attention to the continual stream of innovative solutions in this realm as well! From beeswax paper, to silicon mats, menstrual cups, and storage bags, to bamboo toothbrushes and straws, there are rainbow variety of ways to incorporate reusable items into our lives (and p.s.,you more than likely already have many lying around the house or can make due without buying all new). Wasteland Rebel’s list is epic so I am sharing it with you here! https://wastelandrebel.com/en/the-5-rs-of-zero-waste/
4. ROT (Compost)
I know what you’re thinking, “ew, Jadi; rot!?” I know it sounds unappealing but it’s a pretty natural fact of life; one that most of us (myself included) are far removed from. Natural, organic materials tend to decompose; but in the magical (and also extremely purposeful and efficient) life cycle, are often absorbed by the soil and utilized as fertilizer for new growth and life! Pretty amazing, and coupled with the fact that compostable items make up the BULK (roughly 650 pounds/year: http://www.sodgod.com/composting/ ) of what goes in the trash, this one is a heavy hitter for planetary health. It’s also maybe the most clunky or uncomfortable for many of us (me!). If you have a yard or a garden, maybe you’re already utilizing you and your living mates’ food scraps as compost; awesome! And if you are in an apartment or dorm, there are also lots of options, including putting items in a sealed bucket and having someone else come pick them up!
Here’s a list of items you can (usually) add to compost:
That adds up to quite a few items! Now, how to compost them?
Here’s a simple guide to cultivating your own compost: http://www.sodgod.com/composting/
Here is a thorough article on 8 different methods for composting, including yard composting (if you have a yard) and tumbler composting (if you don’t have a yard): https://www.directcompostsolutions.com/8-methods-composting/
Additionally, I would encourage you to google “composting near me”; many cities have compost co-ops now that you can join, and even compost companies that will pick up your compost bin and dispose of its contents in nearby farms and gardens for you!
And last but not least (actually, according to some, it is last on the list of creating a circular economy, because recycling is energy intensive and it’s just not a perfect system; a good deal of our “recyclables” get shipped overseas to be dealt with (exasperated sigh)), recycling! Not just throwing plastic bottles in the trash (although that is still important; but please invest in a stainless steel bottle; but also keep recycling!).
The good news is, that by following the steps above, we’ve likely already cut down on our plastic consumption, the biggie of recycling problems (numbers 1and 2 are easiest to recycle; here is a plastics recycling guide: https://www.ecocycle.org/plastics-recycling, by a great deal. Other materials, like glass and aluminum, are often more readily recyclable! But, unfortunately, there are no national or global recycling standards; it can change from state to state and even county to county!
Here is a solid recycling guide broken down by type of material (e.g., plastic, aluminum, glass, plastic bags, foil, foam, etc.), that includes a “finder” option; just type in your zip code and you’ll find recycling centers near you: https://berecycled.org/how-to-recycle/
Ok! I know that is A LOT of information and believe me, I am with you in feeling the overwhelm. I truly feel like we live in an ever increasing fast-paced world, and we often feel the pressure to be everywhere, to respond immediately to everything, and to be doing MORE. I can absolutely see how this could feel like “one more thing” we are being asked to do, and to feel like we simply don’t have the space for it. I feel that. And to that I would say, first, before making any changes, take some time for YOU. Five minutes, even! Breathe, take a bath, listen to some calming music, diffuse some lavender, BE. Allow your nervous system to calm down, and to realize it’s not being chased by a lion! Then make a list of what matters most to you. Looking at that list- can you pick out the values that matter most to you? Top 3 is great! How does reducing waste fit into these values? Health? Integrity? Efficiency? Calm? When we can link an action to our values, it is MUCH more likely to stick, and sometimes we find dormant reserves of energy we didn’t know we had to rise up to the occasion!
Make a plan. Move slow and steady. Or, if you’re feelin’ it, go all in! Just remember that you are not expected to know it all or to “do it” perfectly. Keep showing up for your beautiful life. Let this practice support you in doing just that
With so much love,