April 28, 2018

We’re making progress… let’s go make some more!

We’ve made some amazing progress lately, and this week Australia’s environment ministers committed to making all Australian packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. It’s a great start, it shows we’re making progress, but deep down I think we all know it’s not quite enough. In an interview with our PM, Malcolm Turnbull said we’re ‘actually very good recyclers... but we are going to have to do more.’ He’s not wrong. We are going to have to do a hell of a lot more! 
When we try to solve our waste problem we tend to make it worse. That’s because our solutions aren’t addressing the real problem: human behaviour. Waste is a symptom of this much deeper issue, and even though our behaviour is the real issue to be addressed, we continue to treat the symptom as if it’s the root cause. 
Humans have become wasteful.
Many of us live incredibly wasteful lives, and making that waste a bit better by making it reusable and recyclable doesn’t make less waste it makes more waste that has a longer, sometimes multi-purpose life. Research shows that there’s a rebound effect with ‘green consumption’ that often results in people using more than they normally would - the mindset is that because it’s green it’s ok to use more. It’s not. Greener things, even those that have been designed to be composted are not always better. Every product we make takes energy to create, they all use materials that need to be grown or extracted, that need to be manipulated and manufactured, that need to be transported, packaged and retailed. All of this has an impact, so whether we compost that product at the end of its life or not, a lot of the damage has already been done. Slowing down our consumption by reusing the things we already own, taking care of them and treating them like they are a precious commodity is our best chance at slowing down waste. This shouldn’t be about making waste better, this should be about making humans better.
It’s time to stop putting a mattress at the bottom of the cliff when what we need is a fence at the top of it. It’s time for us to wake up and recognise how our lives are impacting the planet. It’s time to acknowledge that every choice we make can either reinforce what’s bad or contribute to what’s good in the world. Every. Single. Choice. Every aspect of our lives, all the little things we do, what we buy, how we clothe ourselves, what we eat, how we keep ourselves warm, how we spend our money, who we bank with, or how get from A to B, these are the little things we’re in control of. These are the little moments where we have a choice.
How we live our lives makes a difference. It’s time to stop reinforcing the bad and instead contribute to the good.
For me, the waste issue has never been about recycling more, it’s always been about using less, treading lightly, being conscious of my impact and trying harder to each day to reduce my carbon footprint. This is our responsibility, and this is a call to action. We all need to try harder, to do more, to make better choices. But if there’s one thing I reckon humans are good at, it’s rallying together to fight the good fight. There’s never been a better cause to fight for - we’ve got this! We’re making good progress, nowlet’s go make some more.
For more info on the rebound effect see work from the following authors: Horace Herring and Robin Roy, Steve Sorrell, Eric Olson, Edgar Hertwich.
For more info on the impact of the little things see work from the following authors: Mike Berners-Lee, Gideon Kossoff, Elizabeth Shove.

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