Updated: Dec 28, 2021
A Chapter Explaining Consumer Challenges of Going Zero Waste
“A cliff-laden, pumice-lined cave by a sea of glistening aqua water and ragged volcanic stalagmites. A slightly salty breeze and blistering sunshine. A stone-encrusted throne crafted from cave walls and a posse of dolphins at my side. This was my childhood realm; my happy place. Nobody else had ever laid eyes on this imaginary world, but whenever I drifted off into trance or sashayed away to dance and play, this is where I would end up.
It’s strange looking back. I could vividly picture this fantasy that quite literally absorbed my life. As endearing as it may be as a child, most of us would reckon it inappropriate and concerning to languish in such a mental realm into adulthood. Surprisingly, though, these dreamt-up versions of reality are the basis of a lot of societal change. The momentous modifications necessary to realize a zero-waste economy often lead us to a fantasy realm of euphoric environmentalism. This matter of thinking may dangerously cause us to hypothesize ideas and possibilities endlessly without physical adaptation.”
This opening reminiscence on my childhood imagination is not dissimilar to the wishful, internalized dialogue of what is known as the “green bubble.”
Essentially, this phenomenon describes an,
“intellectual faction sharing novelties in sustainability and general environmental issues.”
In other words, the environmentalist choir echoing songs and sorrows of sustainability.
For those outside the group, the community might seem intimidating and exclusive. Before my self-induced burst into the bubble I certainly felt this way. This “us versus them” mentality is quite destructive because it can discourage those outside such designated silos from entering the conversation and sharing their ideas and inputs.
But the hurdles don’t end there.
For niche sub-communities like “zero wasters,” the intimidation factor is amplified further. Not only do potential activists face the barrier of the bubble, but they also must leap the innate dissuasion that comes with complete purging and extreme lifestyle changes. Especially when one is transitioning from a routine full of waste to a routine with absolutely “zero waste,” there are cognitive mechanisms that automatically signal us not to take them on (think about keto/ “zero carb” diets, for instance).
Luckily, there has been a recent push for more “waste reduced” lifestyles as opposed to strictly “zero waste,” which might coax more individuals into this environmentally-conscious mindset.
However, in order to cross that bridge, we need to upgrade our waste education — big time. Not only should we advocate for education on locally relevant waste management practices, such as what can and cannot be recycled within a given municipality and what resources are available to reduce the amount of household waste that is sent to landfill, but we also need to encourage workplace-responsibility and careers that are centralized around circularity.
As we saw with Patty Lloyd in a previous feature article, this multi-faceted approach is perhaps the most effective form of activism, so it is critical for us to urge others to make the same commitment.
Although Patty works in the construction industry, there is work to be done across all industries — as is inherently required by a “circular economy,” where resources are cycled and shared for their highest value reuse regardless of sector (see a list of professional organizations by industry you can peruse for sustainability groups).
This industry-specific, hands-on work is necessary to migrate the circular economy from a theoretical framework — be it a well-researched, tangible one — to a practical and efficient way of conducting business.
For those of us who are not project managers, chief executives, or corporate investors it might seem like an out-of-touch mission to pursue, but we musn’t let our imposter syndrome prevent us from making individual changes.
Fortunately, businesses — especially social enterprises — present the perfect opportunity to get our stake in the ground. They can allow us to vote with our dollar to support the companies whose values we whole-heartedly believe in, and who have the resources to take action on behalf of those values.
But don’t be mistaken.
We shouldn’t negate ourselves to solely having power because of our consumption. We are not just “consumers.” We are people. And as people we can share our unique thoughts, ideas and grievances. We can build connections, advocate for things we are passionate about, and devote ourselves to learning. We can rope in businesses to be a part of our individual movements and form relationships with those who already do.
This is the essence of An Economic Eclipse.
As capitalistic “consumers,” we are sometimes treated like pieces of wire — bending to the will of those whose pocketbooks operate our institutions behind the scenes. We can easily lose touch with our individuality and drive, and instead fall victim to “the way things have always been done.”
We need to change that. We need to take accountability for the consequences of our actions and be intentional about our daily habits — because the systems we are currently “run by” certainly don’t. Succinctly put, we need to take ownership of our economy.
As “The Purchaser’s Dilemma” concludes,
The fact of the matter is the massive amounts of food waste coming from the household are not going to magically disappear due to acknowledgement confined to the activist circle. Garbage trucks full of unwanted clothing can’t be dumped out of existence if individuals keep textile trash out of mind. Single-use plastics will continue to traverse our waterways until concrete, informed steps are taken to prevent them. To transform sustainable anomalies into new normalities, we need widespread awareness and knowledge of simple, actionable solutions. The way to distribute this, most beneficially, is through a systematic mobilization of business.
I recognize that up until this point in the book, a lot of the discourse has been theoretical — from exposing greenwashing to dispelling corporate sustainability to promoting circularity. Moving forward, however, I will demonstrate these grand ideas through actual, functioning companies who are proving the viability of these theories.
It is my pleasure to introduce these waste warriors to you, and hopefully inspire you in some way. So strap in for this journey of circular entrepreneurship, environmental activism, and sustainable revolutions in business and society!