The average man generates 0.16kg – 5.7kg of waste per day. That is an average of 1.6 thousand pounds of waste per person a year. At first, this news is shocking but then I realized it makes sense. Our entire society revolves around disposable products. In a day you might throw out your morning coffee cup, an empty chip bag, a candy wrapper, a banana peel, a finished can of diet soda, a couple of tissues, some towels or a bag full of paper boxes, napkins, and straws from the gate through. It all adds up.
What if we all made no trash?
I never really thought about this question until I watched an old movie of my grandparents having a picnic in the 1960s. There was something unusual about it. Compared to the picnics we all have today, there was no trash. Everything that they unfolded and lifted from their picnic baskets was reusable. Stainless steel cups, real utensils, reusable napkins, food packaged in glass containers. This got me thinking. Why can’t we live sustainably?
Realizing oneself as a part of the solution is the first step towards living sustainably. Everything you toss in your bin every day is part of the problem. Our trash tells a story about what we value. Back in the olden days, not much was thrown away. Nearly everything had a longer lifespan. When you bought something, it was supposed to last, reusable, durable and repairable. There was value and belonging in materials. You took care of your stuff. Simplicity, resourcefulness, and thrift were a normal part of everyday life. Throwing something out after just one use was a Never!
We live in a linear economy
Fast forward today, much of what we consume is designed to be used once and tossed off. Most products today are designed to have a limited lifespan. We manufacture stuff for the landfill and forget its sustainability. Thinking of recycling is not the ultimate answer. Recycling is wonderful. But it is not the solution to our problem. As you can see, we are discarding over a billion pounds stuff a day. If it were all recyclable that would take a lot of energy, gas, water, transportation, and labor. Instead of viewing recycling as the almighty answer, it should be the last report.
With the increasing amount of materials being created locally, we simply produce too much for recycling to make a difference. We need to produce and dispose of less. The results of this toss and go culture has led us somewhere to an ignored conversation about material misuse and about the environmental impact the throw-away culture has had on the planet.
Rethinking our waste
It is time for us to rethink our waste. Think of the energy it takes to extract and create a material all to be molded into an object like a plastic cup, fork, plate, straw, which only be used for mere minutes and then discarded forever. Where is the respect and value of the material? Take an example of a leaf. When it falls from a tree, it doesn’t stay down forever. A leaf is designed to be re-absorbed back to the Earth as nutrients for centuries.
Zero waste is not about producing and consuming nothing. It is about carefully and intentionally designing, producing and consuming without waste as an end- product. What if we designed and produced materials to be used again and again? That which is to be released back to the environment without harm.
What amount of waste do you and your family produce? To build a culture of less waste, here is a challenge for each one of us:
Less overwhelmed and less distracted. This helps discover our true wants and needs. It puts meaning back into our belonging and experiences. We discover the value pf ownership rather than consuming for convenience alone. Intentional and meaningful consumer zone allows us to focus on products that are lasting and reusable.
Move from Disposable Lifestyle to a Re-usable lifestyle
The single most powerful action you can do to create less waste is to refuse single-use disposable products – anything we use once and toss off. For nearly every disposable item you can think of, there is a money-saving and lasting alternative.
Embrace community and consumer power
Let us invest back in our community by creating sharing programs. Community gardens, composting options and embracing local craftsmanship and artisan. We can give companies incentives to create positive change by using our voices to encourage better product design and recovery. We can encourage our local entities to give up single-use materials and embrace more re-usable and sustainable options. Our consumer voices contain more power than you know.
Using these three techniques, each one of us can dramatically reduce the personal waste stream and shift the way our communities think about waste. No matter where we live.
What if we lived in a zero-waste world? The future may not be too far off. Many businesses are blooming from the zero-waste mindset. Zero waste markets are popping up in the US, Canada, and Europe, which can work for Africa too. A growing zero-waste blogging and social media community offer insight into creating a life of less waste. Laws are also being adopted globally to ban the use of single-use plastic bags with Kenya leading the example for Africa.
Rethink your trash footprint and start living a life of more simple and sustainable. Zero-waste lifestyle is not about being perfect, it is about embracing resourcefulness and community. It is about inspiring each other and using our voices c collectively to live by example in the middle of a throw-away culture. It is truly about putting value in things that we all use.