Perhaps I've been a bit slow to figure this out, but one day, while we were getting ready to make a trip to the recycling center / landfill, it occurred to me that the only things we throw away come from things we purchased, not from things we produce on the homestead. While we waste nothing that we grow, gather, produce, or raise for ourselves, our trash bags were filled with wrapping, packing, boxes, containers, broken parts, broken items, all from things we bought. On top of that, I am required to buy those trash bags just to throw the stuff away. This is frustrating on many levels. As a conscientious inhabitant of the earth, it goes against my sense of responsible stewardship to throw anything away. As a consumer, it's frustrating to know I've paid for every scrap of packaging and filler I have no use for, because those costs are passed on to the consumer. Plus, it takes time and fuel to dispose of the stuff, either mine, or a disposal company's (with the additional cost of paying for their service). As a homesteader it can be downright discouraging, because it means I'm still far too dependent on the consumer system.
Industry's answer to this recycling. Many products and packaging are now manufactured with recycled materials. Well, we should have been doing that all along. But have you noticed how these products almost always cost more? In my way of thinking, if the manufacturers are really wanting to do something to help the environment, shouldn't these cost less, to encourage everybody to buy them? Instead, it is expected that we will willingly pay more, for the sake of saving the planet. I don't get the thinking here. If their bottom line is money, doesn't it follow that mine is too?
The eye opener for me was when we lived in Florida. I was researching staring an herb farm, and somehow got a free subscription to a small business owners magazine. The first issue was about businesses going green. This was right up my alley, so I read it from cover to cover. When I set the magazine down, I was dismayed. Not one article, column, tip, ad, or letter to the editor, ever once mentioned environmental concerns, responsibilities, or motivations. The entire gist of the magazine was about profit, and concerns about losing profit because "green" products are more expensive to manufacture. The advice focused on advertising tips, semantics, gimmicks, how to balance the cost with short cuts, and using environmentally friendly products to bait customers.
Something else that bothers me, is that thanks to advertising, the media, and a few well meaning but out of touch environmental groups, there is a trend to make the consumer feel guilty about destroying the planet. While we do have responsibility in regards to our personal habits, I can't help but point out that in our modern way of life, we can only choose from what's offered to us. If I go to the store and am offered six brands of toilet paper, all wastefully manufactured, what can I do. I doubt the greenest person on earth is going to deny themselves toilet paper just to make a point. I know that's a silly example, but if we don't have a choice, or can't afford the "right" choice, then why are we being blamed for the problem?
I think most of us will agree that our 21st century lifestyle, with all it's choices and conveniences, comes with a price. That price comes in the form of overflowing landfills and pollution from the byproducts of the manufacturing process. Recycling is one good answer, assuming the recycling process is more energy efficient than the manufacturing process, which it isn't always. Even so, it is only a new innovation because trash and garbage are a relatively new innovation. Before the industrial age, folks had less. In having to make do with less, they were creative and clever with what they had. They produced very little actual waste. This was their way of life.
Now, our economic system is based on manufacturing rather than agriculture, and on ever increasing profits and "consumer spending," rather than meeting needs. Consequently, we have become trapped in a buy / waste cycle, so that the only way to truly waste less, is to buy less. However, we are repeatedly told that confident consumer spending is the key to economic health and growth, the key to pulling us out of the recession. When folks stop purchasing, companies lay people off, jobs become scarce, and we approach economic disaster. So. More buying = more waste = destroy the planet. Less buying = less waste = economic disaster. What a conundrum!
Such realizations demand action, and I'm no exception. I'm not however, going to jump on any bandwagons. With all respect to those for whom they are important, movements are not the answer. Not that they don't stem from good motives, but movements tend to turn into advertising ploys, fads, and political weapons. I say, let's just start doing what we ought to have been doing all along, and training our children and grandchildren to do the same.
What we ought to be doing as consumers, is learning how to make do with less. How to do without. How to be creative with what we have. How to be content with what we have. How not to be suckered by advertising, fads, and trends. How to resist impulse buying. How to analyze whether or not we really need a thing. How to accurately appraise the value of that thing. How to do more for ourselves, grow more for ourselves, make more for ourselves. You frugal folks understand this. And the economy? Well, I've said it before; the economy never should have been based on a consumer / profit system in the first place.
Is a no waste way of life a realistic goal? Is it something we can actually achieve? Honestly, unless given enough time, I don't know. I do know however, that without a goal, no progress is made, and that this is an area in which I still have freedom to make choices. So, no challenges, no invitations to join me, just sayin' what's on my mind. Something for each of us to think about.