Note: My good buddy Mark left a comment on my last post, and, though I intended to write a short reply to him, what came out is what you see below! I think there’s a reason I’ve been loving my new job these past three days – this stuff is all fascinating, there’s so much more to learn, and there’s ever so much to be done to get us to where we need to be. Please enjoy the unexpected post below, a reply this comment from Mark comment on yesterday’s post:
I really appreciate your view on waste, and would like you to know I’m personally very careful about what I use. Every little piece of paper, plastic (or worse) deserves the most use it can get. I’m happy to see you care as much as I, and see the incredible waste we create.
Sustainability is so easy, once the infrastructure is in place. However, our society of junk has made it easier to throw things away than it is to recycle. It would take such a drastic shift in culture, because unfortunately sustainability habits (or lack thereof) are a learned behavior. So many kids learn it’s okay to waste because their parents do so. Kinda like other social problems in our culture like racism or abuse.
Dude – love your feedback, engagement, and your commitment to being conscious about what you use!
It’s interesting what you say about sustainability being so easy with the infrastructure in place. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to that lately. In some sense, I think one way of framing the question of sustainability and infrastructure is: to what degree do we localize and centralize our societal processes? For example, does it make sense for everyone to have a compost in their back yard, or a slightly larger bin for a given neighborhood block, or perhaps a compost facility large enough to accommodate the organic waste of a city, or even a county? These same questions can be asked of waste, and of how we grow our food. To some degree, I think the answers to these questions lie in the intersection of efficiency and awareness. If everyone had their own landfill in their backyard, in all likelihood, their habits throwing things away would shift dramatically! The same goes for compost, and the decisions we make buying food. However, having a landfill in everyone’s backyard probably isn’t the most efficient or even feasible way of going about things. After all, waste removal/management (as I understand it) began primarily as an effort to improve promote public health. Too much trash in the streets = more animals, smells, dirtiness and disease.
So how to achieve that optimum intersection of efficiency/conscious behavior? I feel like we should, and to some degree are, shifting to a model that taps into the efficiencies on all levels of “centralization” – in effect, taking the best of what the individual, community, city, county, state, region have to offer. We currently exist in a society where most of our utilities are not produced at the individual/community level, and most things are coming from far away. It’s relatively rare that anyone will grow all their food, generate all their own power, and process or eliminate all their own waste (and it would be awfully tough for them to do so in an apartment or even a suburban lot!). But what if we began putting more of the responsibility for managing these utilities back down the chain a bit, while not eliminating all of these city/state/regional/global processes? Not everyone needs to get solar panels, and indeed, many people have homes for which solar panels would not be ideal – but what if the house that had the best exposure to sun on the block shared power with the other houses? And what if the house next door to that, which has a thriving plum tree, shared its plums with the next door neighbors? And what if there was a community compost that provided soil for everyone’s garden in the neighborhood, or for the community garden that everyone opted into? It’s a little more work (potentially), but a huge leap in overall production and efficiency, and furthermore, having these mechanisms that exist at varying scales produces a huge amount of redundancy (read: security!) if one piece of the system fails.
SO – phew! What about trash? How to raise awareness to increase efficiency, without putting a landfill in everyone’s back yard? At this point – since I think centralization of waste management makes sense to some degree, I think there are three large axes of engagement: 1) Education (which is why I love what I’m doing!) – literally going to people and telling them wassup, and especially ingraining this knowledge/these habits at a young age; 2) Litigation – having the political will power to develop the appropriate laws that get businesses to do the right thing (’cause otherwise, let’s be real – they won’t, especially if the economic bottom line isn’t there – though it is in many cases!), involving: reducing the wastefulness of current practices, while at the same time claiming responsibility for the end life of the products that are produced (i.e. not designing products without having a plan for how they’ll be handled once their usability has expired – see this interesting article about the pros and cons of automobile recycling); and 3) Livin’ it! I’m glad to hear you’re already doing this! Now – if you want to help with the other two, the help is needed! It can be as simple as having these sorts of conversations with your friends and family, or be as bold as tuning in to the politics of your local area, and speakin’ up on these issues. I feel lucky that the Bay Area is so progressive, and it’s going to take some people raising their voice to bring about big changes in other places! And – I know you – you’ve got a big voice! 😉
At the end of the day, too, I think it’s really important to keep in mind that most of what exists today in our society came about for some reason, and even if it seems terrible or immoral or ridiculous today, most things were not developed with the intention of screwing people and the planet over (most things ;). Learning more about the history of our current systems is crucial to informing our assessments, and thus, developing our next steps. Sustainability in my mind doesn’t mean developing a system that is going to last forever – that’s just crazy talk 😉 It’s about understanding that everything is always changing, and that a system that is also willing to change and shift over time is that sort of system that is going to last.
Wow – didn’t realize I’d have that much to say in response to your fantastic comment! Looks like this is enough for a new post! Would love to hear your continued thoughts, or potential plans for putting these ideas to use!