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All of us urban dwellers are wasted on waste
We’ve all heard the sayings for keeping the wilderness pristine; slogans such as if you pack it in, please pack it out, or leave only your footprints behind.
The essence of these messages is clear. The environment is here for us to enjoy, not to exploit. It’s precious. It’s finite. It’s communal, so let’s not bugger it up for others by leaving our garbage lying around.
The majority of backcountry users are not natural environment abusers, appreciating that pristine natural landscape, unaltered by mankind, is a treasure worth putting in time and effort and sacrifice to reach.
But here in the land of comfort and convenience, along the concrete corridors stained with commercial seduction, this messaging has been missed, possibly buried under a discarded pile of trash.
Our insatiable lust for lavishness has left us intoxicated on excess.
I recently attended Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Conference where more than 300 elected officials, government staff and industry representatives listened to experts and shared their ideas on reducing waste.
And the only thing that stuck with me is this: waste reduction is the wrong focus. We’re having the wrong conversation. It should be waste production, or the prevention of such, that is our true target.
Two keynote speakers at the conference drove this point home: circular economy champion Dame Ellen MacArthur and sustainability author Michael Braungart.
These two gave a room full of people focused on waste diversion an alternative scenario to consider, one where the concept of waste is merely a hiccup of history rather than an ongoing problem to try and mitigate.
In nature, there is no such thing as waste.
The concept simply doesn’t exist.
Everything that is produced, be it fruit or feces, decomposes once again to its basic parts, giving its nutrients back to the earth to continue the cycle.
There are no landfills, no toxic tailing ponds. There is no such thing as waste.
MacArthur is known for the work of her foundation, which is trying to shift the economy from a linear model — one where we take resources, make stuff, then toss it away — to a circular model.
In the circular model producers of product end up owning the product and essentially rent it to the consumers. This way it is in the manufacturers best interest to design a product where all the materials can be reclaimed and turned into a new product to be rented out again. It’s happening with carpet companies, electronics manufacturers and makers of appliances already.
As co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, Braungart is very familiar with this circular, responsible producer model.
He says reducing waste is akin to a thief stealing less. It’s less bad, but it’s still not good. And we have the opportunity to actually do some good.
Designing buildings that clean the air or paper that can be decomposed to produce more trees are part of his vision for a sustainable environment.
As communities across the continent continue to set targets on waste reduction, spending money to increase the amount of recycling, we have to start questioning whether there isn’t a better way.
I’ll be the first to admit I am a supporter of zero waste. But I also believe that recycling is merely a necessary band-aid given our current disregard for responsible manufacturing.
Here, in the middle of Waste Reduction Week in Canada, I hope everyone will join me in taking immediate steps to try and reduce waste.
And in the weeks to come, I hope we can shift our focus from reducing waste to not creating it at all.
Aaron Bichard writes for newspapers and recycles them. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.