Valuing our Resources
More Use – Less Waste
July 29, 2019. That was Earth Overshoot Day in 2019; the date when people used all of the biological resources that our planet could renew in a year’s time. Everything we made and used after that date depleted the resources that would be available for future generations – resources like fresh water, soil fertility, fossil fuels, ocean fisheries, and rare metals.
Every thing we buy takes energy to make so when we use less — and waste less – we’re actually reducing greenhouse gases and our fossil fuel use.
What’s Your 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 US 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 minimizing 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 it 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 loved ones 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 means collecting rainwater and wash water and tap water and making it go twice as far (for example, you can reuse pasta water as a thickener when making soup). Reuse extends to food. If you’ve never eaten leftovers, you are missing out on convenience, flavor and cost savings.
- Did you wait too long to get back to those leftovers? Chickens and worms eat food scraps, and 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 it’s the best option. Is there another brand with less packaging? Could you choose something of better quality that will last longer? A good Minnesota example is winter boots: cheap boots last one or two years and aren’t warm. High quality boots can last a decade or more, likely can be repaired, and do the job better. Give yourself bonus points if you buy quality boots at a reuse store (Repair Lair focuses on quality used outdoor gear, but you could have luck finding quality boots at any reuse store). You can also buy 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.
Companies spend billions every year convincing you to buy. But more people than ever are stepping off that treadmill. The minimalist movement, the tiny house movement, the zero-waste movement: If you want to make a change, you’re in good company. An excellent book to spur outside-the-box thinking about what really matters is Your Money or Your Life, by Transition Whidbey member Vicki Robin. Check it out at your local library. Then give yourself a few challenges in living life differently to see what works. This can be an interesting adventure.
Help Your Community Create Change
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.
- 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”
- 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
- Build home compost bins or worm bins
- Host classes on canning, dehydrating, and fermentation to help people learn how to save their harvest and 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.
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.