Transitioning to Less Waste and Reduced Energy Use
What does waste have to do with greenhouse gases, the burning of fossil fuels and climate change? Quite a lot, actually. Every product we buy is composed of materials that may or may not be biodegradable, contain scarce or rare elements, and have toxic or non-toxic ingredients. It took energy – and often water – to produce the product. It took energy to ship it, to market it, to sell it. It will take energy to recycle it. It may create methane if it degrades in a landfill, or release toxins if it’s burned in the garbage burner.
There’s another reason people in Transition look carefully at their purchasing decisions and that has to do with the impact of their purchases on their community. Is your purchase supporting local businesses and local jobs, or is it taking money out of the local economy?
You can see that the full impact of our purchases can have a significant impact on our carbon footprint. When we add all our purchases together, it can have a very big impact indeed. And that’s what people involved in Transition begin to consider when they make personal buying decisions.
Are You Ready to Make a Change?
Like food habits, purchasing and waste disposal habits can be difficult to change. “Things” have an emotional pull, whether that be sentimental or status driven. Consumerism is a dominant cultural force, driving the expansion of production even as the world faces a scarcity of natural resources, a growing water crisis, and negative health effects from environmental toxins. It’s not easy to jump off the consumer bandwagon, but there are people who are doing it.
Transition groups may talk of the 5 R’s:
- REFUSE to take things you don’t need, even if they are offered to you for free
- REDUCE the amount of things you buy and throw away
- REUSE rather than throw away; if you can’t use it, give it to someone who can
- ROT (compost)
Transition groups provide people with an opportunity to understand their values and how their consumption and waste habits further those values, or work against them. People in Transition groups can serve as role models and help build social norms for responsible consumption and planful repurposing of goods. Here are a few examples of things Transition groups can do.
- Host a talk on recycling with a Master Recycler
- Inform people in your group about how and when they can get training to become a Master Recycler
- Host a How-to zero waste discussion group or a “voluntary simplicity” group
Waste reduction is a great opportunity for hands-on projects, like:
- Building a home compost bin
- Starting a vermiculture bin
- Making reusable produce bags to bring to the market
Waste Reduction Challenges
Movies like “The Clean Bin Project” and “No Impact Man” have made waste reduction and non-consumption challenges interesting and fun for many people. In the Twin Cities, a group of residents worked with University students on the Three Actions Project, which can still be found online. Groups can challenge themselves to:
- Minimize food packaging waste
- Use only rainwater to water gardens
- Use water at least twice
- Waste no food for a week
- Cut all household waste to one bag a month
Waste is a Justice Issues
How we produce and handle our waste can result in air pollution and water pollution, particularly in poor and rural communities. The MPCA recognizes this as a justice issue and undertakes projects in low-income areas of the Twin Cities. Groups can work together to understand the environmental impacts occurring in their community, act as citizen scientists to document toxins, and act in community to ask municipalities to act responsibly.
- Eureka Recycling - Check out their many wonderful programs!
- Rethink Recycling
- A Kid's Guide to Recycling
Master Recycler/Composter Programs
- ReUse Minnesota
- Twin Cities Free Market
- The Impact of the Reuse Economy in Minnesota
- University of Minnesota Reuse Program
- ReStore – Habitat for Humanity
- Minnesota Materials Exchange