Waste Not

At a recent talk about sustainability challenges, a speaker encouraged attendees to look past equipment to the big opportunities—behavior and consumption.

It is always nice to hear someone else acknowledge the need for more emphasis on behaviors.  We talk about this a lot.

But we talk less about consumption, in part because the links to emissions are somewhat complicated and, frankly, because it is a trickier issue.

Earlier this summer, Toshiba announced a campaign to reduce office waste – an effort they termed a no print day but ire from the print industry prompted them to cancel the initiative.  This isn’t that unusual.  Recommendations to buy or use less of something are complicated because it means some entity will sell less as a result of the effort.

While many posit that the sustainable path is one involving less consumption, we have a global economy that depends on more and more consumption for growth.  And that means everybody, from politicians to sustainability program staff, feels some pressure to cheer on consumption.

Even entities that do not encourage consumption have a hard time framing the issue in a way that is appealing.  A “never buy anything new again” mantra is impractical and likely to put off more folks than it attracts.

The key, perhaps, is to frame the issue in terms of waste.  We waste a lot.

  • A new NRDC report suggests that 40% of food in the US is wasted, about 20 pounds of food per person per month; the figure includes waste from “farm to fork to landfill”
  • A Marks and Spencer study found that 20% of its UK customers admitted to tossing some clothing items after just one wear.

There’s also research from the Shelton Group suggesting that people feel guilty about this waste, especially the food waste.  This reflects echoes from our childhoods, perhaps.

If we can help people better use what they purchase it might prompt some to be more mindful about purchases going forward.

  • On the food front, part of the challenge is spoilage.  The internet is, of course, a great source of food storage tips, recipe ideas and other inspiration for reducing your food waste.
  • Relative to clothing, part of the challenge is that clothing has become very cheap.  A $10 top can seem disposable—if you are not thinking about the resources that went into making that top and all the others that we’re discarding.  Cheap clothing typically does not endure, prompting us to replace it with additional cheap items in an endless cycle of consumption.

Perhaps we can each start with a waste audit.  How much waste do you generate in a week?  A month? And of that waste, what was avoidable?  How could you minimize the waste forward?  At Cool Choices we talk a lot about how little actions add up but when it comes to waste they really, really pile up.

Do what you can to reduce your pile.

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