— GUEST POST by Laura of The Bitter Green Truth —
Did you step over garbage at least once today? Growing up in my household, sweet treats were earned via aluminum cans. I was maybe five years old… a grocery bag in one hand and my mother’s hand in the other, wandering through the public lands behind my house. I collected old soda and beer cans in order to exchange them for coins at the local scrapyard. With the change my siblings and I earned, we could choose a tasty treat from the market.
Peoples’ stories littered my backyard via their material discards. To this day, beer cans, broken refrigerators, stained couches and degraded plastic toys freckle the public lands behind my parents’ house. Building forts from old bed-springs and the cabs of rusting trucks, my playground was the junk of others. As a child, this was a wonderland. As an adult, this is truly disturbing.
Playing in trash will teach you a few things
Society has a filter to dismiss the garbage we live alongside every day. By choice, we live alongside this trash. Did you see the plastic bag snared in barbed wire along the highway? It is everywhere.
Old things last a lot longer than new. Plastics fueled the throw-away revolution. It replaced long-lasting materials with plastic which is expendable, cheap and has numerous applications. The same properties that make plastic popular, make the disposal of plastic difficult. Only a fraction of plastic is recycled. In 2014, only 9.5% of eligible plastic was recycled in the US (EPA). Most plastics end up in landfills, backyards, and oceans.
Garbage looks unhealthy because it is. Plastics degrade and remain as microplastics in our soil and in our water. It is estimated that between 93,000 and 236,000 tons of microplastic currently float in the ocean [Sebille]. An additional 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of macro plastics enter and begin to degrade in the ocean each year [Jambeck].
Nothing is garbage. Waste is an ideology that was adopted.
Within the hours of playing in litter, I could imagine a broken-down car as a castle, but I couldn’t make it disappear. I didn’t have a filter as a five-year-old. And, luckily, I don’t have a filter now. I see trash everywhere. I pick up trash from the street during my routine walk from the metro to my house every day. Every day, I count my footprint on this planet by observing what’s sitting in the basin of my garbage bin. Every bottle, every napkin, every plastic bag, and fork.
Simply recycling plastic isn’t enough. Recycling plastic is costly and only works for a fraction of plastics produced and used commercially. Throwing plastic away isn’t the solution either.
Articles like the following infuriate me:
These articles are highly misleading. Plastic is never better in the garbage! Ever! There’s a better solution: no plastic until it’s 100% recyclable. And to clarify, it’s most certainly worth your time to recycle the plastics — and other disposables — you use. Sort the recyclable plastic and only dispose of what you must. See Fruit for Thought: Simple tips to Reduce Plastic Waste.
During my journey to remove palm oil, nonessential chemicals, excessive plastics, and disposables from my life, I discovered a movement known as ZeroWaste.
It is exactly what it sounds like. Living ZeroWaste is a principle of understanding the inherent value of everything we use to help reform our ideology about disposing of things. In living ZeroWaste, we can embrace simplicity which ultimately decreases consumption and eliminates garbage from our vocabulary.
Waste should be seen as an unacceptable, rather than a given. Anything that can be categorized as waste can also be categorized as a resource. A shift in mentality is necessary to lift society out of the “use and trash” mentality that has become prevalent. Our trash is a symptom of a much greater issue: society’s consumptive habits which are the root of the problem. To effectively shift this mentality, changes must be made on three fronts: consumer habits, business ethics, and big policy reform.
Breaking Things Down
Consumer habits and small-business ethics will ultimately reform society. If consumers use only low-impact products, and businesses only supply from ethical vendors, they effectively force big industry to embrace higher standards. Industry drives our “throwaway mentality” with overly conservative expiration dates. Expiration drives a profit market of “more is better” and “cheaper is necessary”. This drive for profit has pushed society away from the “use and maintenance” of resources. Things go to the bin as they degrade or we simply lose interest. But our bins are not bottomless, they are spilling over.
At five years old, a bag of aluminum cans could buy me a Caramello. As an adult, I don’t get a tasty treat for picking up trash on the street, or cigarette butts at the beach. But, I do get the satisfaction of knowing that I am making a difference.
This problem is bigger than me. Society needs to make changes. We, consumers, need to make changes. I don’t want to just throw things in the bin anymore. I want to eliminate any acceptance of throwing garbage in a bin. And I want you to lose that acceptance too.
There is a widespread numbness we have afflicted [upon] ourselves to ignore the real and ever growing issues in our consumption. To preach about consumption, I must become the person I expect to see in the world, the person I believe is necessary to face the growing climate and resource crisis. And in the face of accelerating climate change, I want to fight for our privileges. I am making this blog to become accountable for my beliefs. –The “Bitter” Philosophy
Embracing my philosophy, I’ve begun to educate myself with the intention of living ZeroWaste over the next few years. In future articles, I will address how I alter my personal habits in order to embrace a ZeroWaste lifestyle. I hope that during my journey, I can inspire a shift in societal habits through positive energy and example.
As always, reach out to me, especially if you have any comments or suggestions. And if you want company on a journey of lower environmental impact, reach out to me personally. Let’s work in good company towards a life of simplicity and a life without trash. As with every post and every week, have a beautiful day.