Waste Not, Want Not!

Show Notes

We are in month two of adopting 12 sustainable lifestyle changes. This month is all about Practicing Better Waste Management. Read below or hit one of the links above to listen!

What is waste?

Now, I want us all to be on the same page about the word waste. The definition of waste is commonly discarded materials by humans OR materials that are worthless and unwanted. So the important thing to point out here is that waste can be two different things. Items thought of as worthless, useless or defective, but ALSO as commonly discarded things – EVEN if they have value, could be used again, or could even be refashioned into something else. Throughout these episodes, we will refer to waste as anything that humans discard regardless of its value, just for ease of understanding. However, one of the main points of this episode is to try to burrow in our subconscious that typical quote-unquote ‘waste’ is a resource. We can reframe what waste is to us by shifting to a sustainable mindset. Honestly, y’all know how important mindset is, so like I said, the focus here is just to get your mind thinking on a different track of thought to prep us for the other episodes!

Waste is a resource

Almost everything ever made is a resource (and could be used again) except for hazardous materials. And by the sheer nature of creation, nothing can be TRULY zero waste – although it is a good mindset. Every step to make something accumulates time, energy, materials, even the physical space to create that item.

Every item has value

Say you order a pair of shoes; there is a process for creating those shoes that make “waste.” From the building of the shoe factory, scraps of material or shoelaces, the time someone puts into manufacturing the shoe for you, the packaging the shoes come in, and the gas used to fuel the truck it is delivered to your home. Every step requires something and creates something as a byproduct.

And even though something may lose its original purpose over time – it still holds value. Let’s take the same pair of shoes. You may wear them for ten years until they are old and tattered – but they are still not wasted. Take, for instance, the Nike Grind Program – they take these old worn-out shoes and repurpose them into playgrounds, turf fields, foam flooring, even furniture! I like this quote that Nike has on their website by the Circular Economy Director Peggy Reid – “Waste is simply excess material in the wrong person’s hands.”

Food scraps can be reimagined

What was once waste can be remade into something useful. It doesn’t just apply to things either, but food as well. We throw away our waste scraps or even recycle them in the compost, but they could be used as a resource before they even reach that point. Take, for instance, an orange – once you eat the center, most people throw away the peel. However, you could make candied orange peels, marmalade, cleaners, wood polish, sugar scrubs, essential oils to reduce anxiety – I mean, the list goes on and on and on.

reframing waste

Waste seems inevitable in almost anything we do. But instead of looking at waste as an unpleasant byproduct of living, we can see it as a new beginning, opportunity, independence – and in that way, we can start to interact with it differently.

Each person in the US creates about 4.9 pounds of waste per day.

Imagine if we were able to fully harness that waste into valuable products. Waste management would create jobs, boost our economy, fight hunger and poverty, improve our health and the environment, and reduce our reliance on buying new things to fill our needs (and wants for that matter)

sustainable materials management

This mental shift that I am talking about isn’t a new idea. In the past 35 years, many have recognized that we need to shift from talking about waste management to sustainable materials management – which focuses on waste as a resource that impacts all of our lives throughout its lifecycle. It’s a change in our language, in the story we are telling ourselves, that helps us shape and interact with the waste differently.

For instance, let’s take plastic; it is vilified even though it is functional. It creates less food waste because it helps to keep things fresh and creates an ease for many people who depend on it to live independently. We have this idea of plastic being good until the item we want inside it is no longer there, then it is a burden – waste. If we kept that mindset we had when we originally purchased the plastic, item intact, then we might start to see it as a resource still full of value.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t cut down on our plastic use or find other biodegradable or easily recyclable options. But for whatever we are buying, we need to take responsibility for it for the entirety of its lifecycle, not just for the moment, and that comes with reframing how we interact with it.

Consumption is the problem

Once we begin to take responsibility for our waste, we will see that consumption is the root problem and our waste is just a symptom. And that burden of waste shouldn’t just fall on the individual, but up the supply chain and on our government. Think about it – we are encouraged to consume, but with no proper education or laws in place about what that excess consumption means or how to handle it. Currently, in the United States, handling waste correctly is not incentivized or part of our law. But that is beginning to change. For instance, beginning January 1st of this year, every jurisdiction in California is required to provide organic waste collection services to all residents and businesses. And in San Francisco, you can be charged for compostables and recyclables repeatedly found in the trash bin. We’ve also started to give tax breaks for using sustainable energy and driving fuel-efficient cars. What if that continued to expand to businesses that were B-corp certified (reaching the highest social and environmental standards).

Sustainable consumption + creation

Waste is created at all levels – Industrial, Agricultural, Commercial, and at home (residential). We need sustainable consumption and sustainable creation to help reduce the amount of waste we create at every level while simultaneously increasing the waste/resource value by reimagining it. At the end of the day, humans will still discard things. But they don’t just disappear. They need to go somewhere, so why not somewhere useful? We need to do a better job of ensuring that our waste management practices allow our waste to go on the most efficient journey possible to its next destination, which we will talk about next week!

Something to grow on

For this week’s something to grow on, I want to bring up the old adage – ‘waste not, want not.’

If you don’t waste things, you will always have what is needed. This phrase applies to almost every situation in life, but it also applies to literal waste. Imagine if you thought of your waste as a resource.

If you took yourself out from the wheel of consumption and used what you had available to you in your own home and shared resources with others – what would you have? More time and money to follow your dreams. A deeper connection with the things and people you love. Security. You would not only want less, but you’d feel richer.

To find out what book we’re reading this month in the Hello, Neighbor! Bookclub join the Facebook Group!

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