Valuing the Resources Our Lives Depend Upon

Living Waste Wise

July 29, 2019. That was Earth Overshoot Day in 2019; the date when humans used all of the resources that our planet could renew in a year’s time. Everything we made and used after that date came from resources that future generations would need to live – resources like fresh water, soil fertility, ocean fisheries, and more. When we fully understand this, we understand why it’s essential that we reduce waste and rethink how we use our valuable resources.

(By the way, March 14 is the day we would have reached Earth Overshoot if everyone in the world consumed the way we do in the U.S.)

If we are committed to giving our children a livable future, we need to transition NOW! to a zero-waste way of thinking, living and working. When we reduce waste, we save resources and money and time and energy. Because the fact is, every thing we buy took energy to make, to transport, to store. And every thing that ends up in the trash bin, the landfill, the ocean — even in our overflowing second-hand stores — is energy wasted.

The Story of Stuff video series do a great job of connecting the dots. Click the image to watch the video. Then check out The Story of Change and The Story of Solutions and all of their other videos. Get inspired to reduce waste!

What’s Your Reduce-Reuse-Recycle Plan?

Recycle! That’s been the goal for decades – and just as we’ve made some progress, we find that much of our recyclable material is no longer being recycled. When China stopped taking U.S. recycling Minnesota wasn’t hit as hard as other states, but that doesn’t mean we have endless capacity to landfill and burn. We need to be smarter about reducing waste. Let’s look back on the 3 R’s that we learned as children – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and see how they’ve been updated for today.

  • The first step now is Rethink. Before you bring one more thing into your house – or gift someone else with one more thing – ask yourself: Is this really needed? Do you have time to care for it? Do you have room to store it? Do you have money to repair it? If any of those answers are no, then …
  • Refuse the plastic beads at the parade, the free calendar at the bank, the swag at the conference. Tell friends and family in advance that you are trying to pare down and ask them to give you consumables or experiences instead. Plan ahead and practice refusing so you’re ready when tempted.
  • Reuse is more than saving paper clips and jars. It also means repairing things so they stay out of the landfill. It collecting rainwater and wasted tap water so it does double duty when it’s needed in the garden.
  • Reuse extends to food. Chickens and worms are interested in those food scraps. Composting is another one of the R’s – Rot. Your waste will turn into beautiful soil. Look for classes on composting and vermiculture (worms) through your local community ed program, or businesses like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul and the Tiny Diner in Minneapolis.
  • Replace: Just because you bought it in the past, that doesn’t mean there aren’t better options with less packaging or more long-lasting quality. A good Minnesota example is winter boots: cheap boots last one or two years and worse yet, they aren’t warm! High quality boots do the job better, can last a decade or more, and may be repairable. You might also consider buying locally made boots! Check out Will Steger Mukluks from Ely, MN or Red Wing boots in Red Wing. These are more expensive initially, but the longer the product lasts, the cheaper it is in the long run.
  • Give yourself bonus points if you buy quality boots at a reuse store so you are helping to keep something out of the landfill. (Repair Lair focuses on quality used outdoor gear, but you may find quality boots at other reuse stores).

For more ideas on reducing waste, and saving and reusing water, see the Transition US workbooks Transition Streets, Transition Streets on a Budget, and Transition Streets Water Edition. Contact Transition Twin Cities to learn more. We can also provide a leader for a Preparing to Go Zero Waste class.

Minimalism: It’s a Movement

Keeping up with the Jones’ can look very different today, as a growing number of people step off the consumerism treadmill and join the the minimalist movement with its capsule wardrobe, tiny house dreams and  zero-waste lifestyle. Buy less, live more, reduce waste.

An excellent book to help you think outside the Big Box to what really matters to you is Your Money or Your Life, by Transition Whidbey member Vicki Robin. Check it out at your local library.

Start to incorporate some zero-waste practices into your daily life. Take a look at “The Zero Waste Home,” by Bea Johnson. See how one family took on the challenge of living life differently. Want to start with just one challenge at a time? Getting rid of single-use plastics is a worthy goal. Beth Terry tackled it in her book, “Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.”

Think of it as an adventure.

Rainwater collection
A multi-rain-barrel system

Help Your Community Reduce Waste

Individual change is essential, but culture change and systems change will make things easier for everyone. Transition groups provide people with a vision of what’s possible and give everyday people an opportunity to role model sustainable change for others. Here are a few examples of things Transition groups (or other similar sustainability groups) have done.

Information Sharing

  • Host a talk on recycling with a Master Recycler
  • Host a zero-waste group (see Zero Waste St. Paul as an example)
  • Host a movie night showing videos like “The Clean Bin Project” and “No Impact Man” so people can see how others have started on the refuse-reduce-reuse-recycle journey
  • Crowdsource a reuse and repair resource directory for your community so people know where they can get these essential services
  • Act as a role model by ensuring your events are zero waste

Skill Sharing

  • Build home compost bins or worm bins
  • Host classes to help people understand how they can reduce-reuse-recycle by canning, dehydrating, and fermentating their own foods. When you preserve your own food you avoid food waste
  • Neighbors in the Linden Hills and Kingfield neighborhood are sewing Boomerang bags to donate to nearby grocery stores. These cloth bags can then be returned to the store later.
  • Transition groups in Media, PA and Howard County, MD, host Repair Cafés (like Hennepin County’s Fix-It Clinic), a pop-up repair shop where people can bring a broken item and learn how to fix it.

Waste Reduction Challenges

Waste reduction challenges – like Hennepin County’s zero waste challenge – are relatively simple to do. Just remember to take measurements so you see progress.

The Story of Food Waste Movie
WASTED: The Story of Food Waste (movie)

Waste is a Justice Issue

How we produce and handle our waste can result in air pollution and water pollution, particularly in poor and rural communities. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has a specific focus on environmental justice. Individuals and groups can advocate on policy and take practical action. For example, the MPCA has citizen science water monitoring projects that document toxins in our water supply. If you don’t know the pollution is there, you can’t take action.  See the Waste resource page for environmental groups you can partner with on pollution and waste justice issues.

Whether you choose to buy less or waste less (or both), join us on the journey.