1) Re-framing Freedom
What underlies many of these suggestions is the task of re-framing our conception of what it means to be “free.” Due to various chapters in humanity’s history and our ancestral legacies a kind of culture has emerged that places freedom on par with consumption. Freedom is equated with monetary and material wealth and the implied “benefits” of that. By contrast, if we want to start living lives that are in line with our true values and with an awareness of interconnection with all beings, we need to start seeing freedom differently. It becomes a bit more about the collective, more about sharing, more about positive relationships and more about love. Beneath all this talk about creating less waste is a very fundamental shift in thinking that can deeply alter every aspect of our lives.
2) Less is More
The number one thing we need to do to create less waste in our daily lives is simply to realize and accept that we need a lot less (of everything) than we think (or have learned to believe…)we do. Scaling back our consumption habits is part of shifting the paradigm in which many people live today. It’s not only about learning to “live with less.” It’s largely about reconnecting with the aspects of life that are immaterial and which nourish us even more than the accumulation or consumption of stuff, whatever that stuff may be. It is about recognizing that the drive to consume comes often from a place of fear—fear of scarcity, fear of not being “enough” or of not being loved. Consumption is a mechanism by which we try and fill certain voids in our lives which would be better filled by spending time building healthy relationships with ourselves and with those around us.
Ok so maybe a lot of us grew up having to share (with our siblings, with playmates…) and thus have this deep seated desire to have total control and ownership over everything we use in our lives. Perhaps we have a fear of not having what we need when we need it. If you feel like that’s a principle by which you want to live your life, that’s your choice. Sharing goods can however be a great way of creating less waste! For example more and more urban dwellers are co-owning vehicles because for the most part living in the city you don’t need a car every day. There are a ton of benefits to sharing a vehicle. It’s cost efficient, means not having to deal with the dilemma of parking regulations and also serves to keep you connected to some of your friends by having shared ownership of something! This is just one example, but the same could be said of shared tools, kitchen appliances or just about anything else that you want to have available but don’t need to use every day.
4) Just Fix It
I’m always amazed by people a couple generations older than me who seem to know how to do just about everything. Seen in one light this is usually a case of “necessity” being “the mother of invention.” When you don’t have the option of going out to the local mall and buying a replacement for whatever it is that’s broken, well…you’d better figure out how to fix it! Unfortunately this new attitude of “just replace it” is causing a whole lot of garbage. Not only are all those unfixed things piling up in landfills, we’re also losing a lot of useful skills that we then aren’t able to pass on to the next generation! Sewing, carpentry, basic mechanics, plumbing…maybe you don’t want to become proficient in all of them, but figuring out how to figure things out is the main skill involved in fixing most household issues. Next time something breaks don’t leap to the conclusion that its totally irreparable! Why not see if you can’t just fix it?
Closely linked to the above, we have the idea of “DIY” or Do It Yourself. The term has become popularized in recent years, and for good reason. The DIY movement is one way of reclaiming knowledge that used to be commonplace as a result of necessity. Learning how to do things yourself can be an incredibly empowering journey for various reasons. It puts us in direct connection with the things that we use in our everyday lives. It shifts our perspective of ourselves and allows us to see that we are capable of much more than we may believe. It also usually means that we can find ways of creating a lot less waste by making things from scratch using materials that meet our criteria in terms of being sourced locally or sustainably.
6) The Older The Better (or “Quality First”)
Some of you may have heard of the term “planned obsolescence.” It’s a term used to talk about products being created to essentially stop working after a certain amount of time. This is basically a strategy that marketers and producers have come up with to ensure that people have to keep buying stuff. Back in the good ol’ days things were made to last. Now most things are built to break. On way to avoid the frustration and inevitable waste that comes with constantly malfunctioning goods is to make a conscious decision to invest slightly more in everything you buy but make sure to get quality products (as opposed to finding the cheapest option and then having to pay to fix or replace it in a year or two). Otherwise you can also scour your local pawn shops and second hand stores for older versions of the things you need. Objects made a couple decades ago are actually often more likely to last you than a lot of what’s being made these days.
7) Give Away
There are many beautiful ceremonies and rituals that exist in traditions around the act of giving. In most cultures that practice earth-based spirituality, accumulation of wealth or goods is not seen as “natural” for lack of a better term. When someone has been blessed with abundance they share that abundance with their entire community because…well it just makes a heck lot more sense in the context of any “system” (society, culture, etc.) based on relationships (which is what every healthy ecosystem is!). Rather than holding on to things because you might need it tomorrow, consider giving away what you don’t need! It’s true that giving is a way of strengthening social connections in a way that almost guarantees we will also be on the receiving end at some point. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that this doesn’t mean we will one day receive from the very people we have given to in the past. The cycle of giving and receiving is on a much larger scale than we sometimes choose to see. This can cause us to see anytime we “give” to someone more as an “investment” with a future “return.” Having this kind of attitude when giving can often sour the whole thing because it also leaves people feeling stress and pressure to give back. Practice giving without attachment.
8) Ask For What You Need
In direct relationship with the principle of giving is being able to ask for what we need. “How is this related to making less waste?” you may ask. Well, as with giving stuff away, being able to ask for what we need is pretty key in avoiding going out and buying new stuff! If you aren’t able to reach out to other people around you and tell them what you need, you obviously won’t get it! Asking for things from people often means letting go of pride and of our whole upbringing within a “debt” oriented system. As I mentioned above, I think there’s something very healthy about getting back to a balanced place where we able to give and receive without seeing things from the limited perspective of direct “investment and return.” Think big picture. Act from a place where you ask for what you need when you need it and you give what you have to give when someone else needs it.
Another way of organizing this whole giving and receiving thing, and thus avoiding unnecessary accumulation and waste, is through trades! Be it goods or services, we all have something to offer. Trading on a local and interpersonal scale is a huge part of building healthy communities (by recognizing and nurturing interdependence!)
10) Go Local!
I cannot emphasize enough ho important buying local can be. Number one you cut way down on the amount of international transportation you are funding through your consumption habits. These days almost everything we buy comes from far away unless we are conscious of choosing products that are made locally. Of course depending on where you live your local options may be limited, but often if you do a bit of research you’ll be surprised by what you can find! Number two, buying local strengthens the local economy and allows your neighbors to make a living. Your choice to buy local may also influence those around you, thus causing a ripple effect. In terms of food, you’ll also be getting much fresher and often better quality goods without conservation agents and irradiation necessitated by long-distance transportation.
11) Everything Has Multiple Uses
This is about giving second, third and fourth lives to the things we own. The first example that pops to mind, random as it may seem, is friends who’ve made their own sandals using old car tires. If you’re not the crafty type, there are still usually ways to make things live on after their seeming end of usefulness. There’s also something to be said for having tools that serve multiple uses rather than having to have a separate thing for every task. One currently popular example of this is the use of mason jars for both canning and food storage and as the new hip water or coffee container. This principle is basically an invitation to get creative! Think about the various different ways you could reuse something as it ages, or choose things you buy for their multiple use potential.
12) Drive Less (Or Not at All)
Having a car may be presented by the media as a sign of prestige and independence buuut really when it comes down to it it’s also a financial burden and a contributor to global warming and air pollution. Sure there are others things that are bigger factors, but every little bit helps! Flogging yourself every day out of guilt for owning and using a car isn’t going to solve anything, but being conscious of our use is part of the whole big picture of shifting individual habits and effecting social norms so as to influence large scale change. Driving less is not only good for the environment, it’s good for your health and will also most likely influence you to become a slightly more localized, slightly less overstretched person in your daily life. Some of us may not have the luxury of not driving. If it’s a big factor in your life, maybe you want to consider how you could change the constraints of your regular occupations so as to decrease your driving or make public transportation or ride sharing more of an option.
13) Eat at Home!
For a lot of folks this is a financial must and less of a personal choice, but either way, eating at home and cooking more can prevent a lot of unnecessary waste. Of course this does depend on what types of places you go out to…maybe you only eat out at restaurants with %100 recyclable or reusable dishes and cutlery and where all the food is sourced locally and is all-organic. If not, then there is probably some extra waste going on at some stage of the whole exchange.
14) Bring Your Own
If you just can’t kick the habit of eating out or have a lifestyle that makes it hard to organize to make your own meals, one thing you can do is start carrying your own take out containers. This avoids the still too common Styrofoam or otherwise non-biodegradable containers used by most places. Carrying around your own water allows you to avoid buying water and thus circumventing the plastic bottle issue. Even if you have longs days away from how, there is usually always somewhere to refill when you’re out in the world. The third “bring your own” of major consequence is shopping bags. It’s becoming pretty common in a lot of places to charge an extra fee for grocery bags but many people still don’t bring their own. A helpful thing to do is to get one or two made of extra thin fabric (or make some!) and keep them in whatever bag you usually carry around with you so you’ll always have one on hand.
15) Focus on Unwrapped Goods
When I go to the grocery store one of my criteria for buying food is to find things with the least packaging possible. I completely avoid Styrofoam (because it takes an incredibly long time to biodegrade) and choose jars (reusable for many purposes!) over plastic containers whenever possible. Bringing your own bags can help you avoid using those little plastic bags they provide for loose fruits a vegetables like mushrooms or cherries. Things packaged in cardboard are preferable over plastic as well because they can biodegrade way faster.
This has become the most cliché advice our there, but I still think it has merit. Recycling goes far beyond the concept of relying on government organized recycling programs and facilities and connects to many of the other suggestion included in this checklist. It can also be very interesting to check out the nitty gritty details of your home area and find out what they actually recycle and where. A small town in Quebec called Racine is currently causing a ruckus over the fact that Quebec is one of the only provinces not to properly process and recycle glass. Why not check out the local laws and see if there’s room for improvement? Also, thinking outside your own home, if you own or work at a business place of any size that doesn’t already recycle, why not? Can you make it happen?
It boggles my mind that composting is not a common practice everywhere yet. Some people argue that organic waste in landfills decomposes anyway so whats the big deal? Part of the big deal is that the soil, that lovely living organism from which all our food is grown, is built through the natural cycles of decomposition. When we send our organic waste to landfills it becomes contaminated with all the other stuff in their, much of which is highly toxic. We cannot then use it as natural fertilizer. It also would cost businesses and individuals far less in waste transportation is local composting was an option! If it’s not already in your area, see if you can create a neighborhood compost for use in local gardens and lawns, or partner up with some local businesses for an even larger scale project OR find someone else who`s passionate about this whole issue and support them however you can (without having to be in charge…).
18) Cooperate With the Elements!
I’m talking about simple things like having a laundry line where you can dry your clothes in the instead of using a drying machine (contrary to popular belief, you can dry your clothes on a line in the winter as well!). Or putting heavy curtains over your windows in the summer instead of blasting the air conditioning. Grow some vines on the outside of your house or plants trees around it that will shelter it from the direct heat of the sun in midsummer. Maybe there are some rooms you don’t actually use in the winter where you can turn off the heating. If you get the chance to design your own dwelling, look in to ecological methods and building materials!
19) Cherish Water
Water is an incredibly precious thing. In most parts of the world it is not to be taken for granted. Unfortunately in many parts of North America/Turtle Island and especially in Canada water is used at an alarming and unnecessary rate. Not doing things like washing the car on a regular basis, not watering the lawn in the middle of the day when all the water is going to evaporate, using a broom instead of a hose to clear leaves from the sidewalk…these are all pretty basic. You can also alter little things like switching your shower head for a more efficient one, fix any drips and leaks in your sinks. You can install a dry/composting toilet or get one that uses less water to flush, or even put something in the tank that decreases the amount of water necessary to fill the tank (e.g. a bottle full of sand).
20) Keep it Clean
When it comes to personal hygiene there are also lots of ways to decrease waste. Diapers and feminine hygiene products are both big contributors to household garbage. Reusable diapers may not be the most pleasant of things, but they are often actually better for your child in addition to not being headed straight for the landfill. Reusable diapers often cause less rashes and come without any added scents or bleaching products that could cause negative skin reactions. The same goes for disposable pads versus homemade ones or “diva cups.” Most tampons and pads are bleached and it has been found that absorption of the bleach can cause whats known as “toxic shock syndrome.” There are companies out there making biodegradable, unbleached sanitary napkins and tampons, so that’s also an option!
21) Gifts That Keep on Giving
So…there seems to be a significant cultural thing around giving gifts at certain times of the year. Birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries of all sorts…etc, etc. It has irked me for a long time how the act of showing love and caring for people close to us has been co-opted for consumerist purposes. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t like giving and receiving gifts. Rather than seeing this as being in a bind I simply make all the gifts I give people. I only buy things to give when there is something veeeery specific that I know someone I care about really wants and would never buy for themselves. You may be surprised, but often a thoughtful card can go a lot further than a gift. Instead of being a stressful shopping to do list, expressing our love for people at significant moments becomes an opportunity to let ourselves get creative!