My waste-saving efforts are wasted

I grew up being taught that recycling is the way, so it came as some shock recently when I read two different books that suggest it’s not the best solution to reducing waste.

Household waste only makes up a very small fraction of all man-made waste – the majority is output that is never seen by us, from the factories that produce everything that we can’t live without (and plenty of what we can). The position the books take is that it whilst it is commendable to recycle, you should not think that your duties to a healthy planet stop there. One author even suggested that big industry lobby groups actively promote household recycling as the best solution – and try to make you feel guilty for not doing it – just so that your attention is focused on your own small contribution rather than their massive one.

The author’s preferred household contribution would be to continue recycling of course, but understand that until regulations are in place to limit waste upstream then nothing will really change. Taking this one step further, they suggest putting your plastic to paper by writing a letter to your politician demanding regulation action is much more effective than sorting your paper and plastics.

There are two parts that prevent me from taking this action, the first – which is a no-brainer to solve – is that I’ve never written to my parliamentary representative before, and find the concept a little daunting. The second – which I’m happy to have debated out of me – is a growing belief that they actually don’t do much unless there’s a bit of ‘something’ behind a suggestion to ‘push them in the right direction’. I don’t have that kind of ‘something’.

I’m planning on procrastinating about writing a letter, and remain conflicted that this is the best mode of action. At least I’m aware of the facts now. Until I put plastic to paper, I’m going to continue to try and take the first step in producing less waste – by avoiding it in the first place. The best way I know how to do this is to buy food from bulk food stores – they stock a wide range of products in big sacks direct from the producer, and you take either your own container or fill a paper bag there, thus not using yet another can or box or disposable container.

My favourite store in Adelaide is Goodies and Grains in one of the Central Market Arcades, I have found one in Göteborg called Fram Livs near Linnégatan, and don’t know much for Melbourne – suggestions for there and any other city welcomed, along with good tips for avoiding waste!

Small Habit, Big Change – Find a bulk food store to start avoiding waste. It means soaking beans etc overnight, but what where you doing at 4am anyway. It’s cheaper and you can store more, therefore spending less time and energy shopping.

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11 thoughts on “My waste-saving efforts are wasted

  1. You neatly present the perenial double-edged sword. On one hand, we all need to be responsible for our contribuions (positive and negative) but on the other, until the big end of town is held accountable, our paltry efforts are wasted (other than assuaging our own consciences).

    As for writing to your MP – don’t be daunted. Dear X, I’d like to bring your attention to XYZ and would be interested in a reply is all you need. On one hand, it ends up on the desks of public servants who are also constrained in how much they can achieve but on the other, if there is a vocal enough group saying the same thing, it is a good way of swaying government. To borrow a corporate by-line – Just Do It! Tick.

    • Thanks Ania,
      In terms of what you say regarding my letter ending up on the desk of an over-worked public servant, if I don’t have a really convincing argument then it’s unlikely to result in any action? I don’t know that this particular group of letters would be vocal enough to persuade change. Also, in this issue, I don’t have much knowledge other than what I just read. Although I recall a draft letter in the back of one of the books, so I may just pop on over to the library now to check it out. Hopefully the people that have read this post try to take the habit change tip, another post detailing the amount of waste we produce might help too.

      • Dear Dr Schurn,

        From the desk of a public servant, i can tell you that any written letter to your local MP or the relative Minister has a compulsory response clause. That is, they need to respond.

        I’d recommend the relative Minister, as your local MP is likely to direct you down that path or to bugger off.

        According to this silly piece of paper on my desk, the SA rep is:

        The Hon. PAUL CAICA, BA, JP, MP
        Minister for Environment and Conservation
        Minister for the River Murray
        Minister for Water
        Member of Executive Council

        I’d say Minister for Environ & Cons is your best bet.

        Much luck.

        • Thanks Pipe. Yep, they must respond…in case you hadn’t guessed it, I’m a sceptic of them firstly even reading it, secondly giving it more than a moments notice, and lastly (even if they care) having any influence at all to change anything. If it doesn’t fit party policy it won’t happen. Someone convince me otherwise.
          Case in point being the recent meat export thingo – media creates a storm, people complain, the government bows to public opinion, then when they think everyone’s not watching or something else has come up, bend over again before the industry types.
          Generally that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog, spread ideas that people can change right now, without waiting for governments to take care of it. Being a public servant you would know how long that takes hey!

  2. I have been a member in the past of the ACF and they are able send you pre-written templates to add your details to before sending on to your MP. Takes the legwork out of it and in theory will increase the number taking action. Would you consider doing the same through this blog? May be an idea.

    • Yep, nice one Ben my man. I do enjoy a good ‘click-and-it’s-sent’ ACF or GetUp or Avaaz protest or petition – although I still wonder about the effect 10,000 letters that all look the same have on whoever reads them – do they just get it and think ‘OK here’s yet another person thinks differently to me’ and delete? I’ll check out the ACF page again and might put a link in somewhere.

  3. I hear you schonny, but this should not stop you from recycling, just know it’s one part of the larger picture. Another area is waste from the building industry, I never thought if it before but while reading an article on Eco houses, they said they built 2 houses with the waste left over that filled only 1 skip. So imagine how much land fill is created by normal house construction.

    • Thanks Campbell, I can assure you I am the most diligent of recyclers, and trying hard to avoid it in the first place, which is the better option but way harder to do! Interesting to see how the different systems work across borders too.
      Nice point re the building industry I’ll have to look into that one. Waste waste waste everywhere waste hey.

  4. totally share your letter-writing scepticism O Tjurn – wrote to every Senator in SA asking them to act on the live export trade, including Liberals Senator Mary Jo Fisher. Not only did I only get about three letters back from some 25 sent, but Mary Jo said she supports the trade and will work to lift the ban, signing off by saying, “Thank you for letting me know your views. Whilst you might not share mine, I hope you can respect my right to have them.” – um, is it not the job of a politician to represent my views, rather than their own?
    (nb. Mary Jo is now facing court, charged with stealing $92 worth of groceries from Frewville Foodland. T’rrific, a government clearly in safe hands.)

    I also agree that we can’t simply wait for the government to change things, and making educated decisions where we can, especially consumer choices, has the potential to make large-scale change. The prevelance of fair-trade coffee on supermarket shelves is a good example of this. However if we stop participating in the process of democracy, the corporate lobby will simply make decisions for us. To quote John Ralston Saul’s “The Unconscious Civilization” – “Both democracy & individualism have been based upon financial sacrifice, not gain. Even in Athens, a large part of the 7,000 citizens who participated regularly in assemblies were farmers who had to give up several days’ work to go into town to talk & listen.”

    My 2 cents on housing – the Earthship concept is awesome, great long term savings from self-sufficiency, & creates almost no waste I believe. The only limiting factor seems to be council development regulations, which might be an area that could benefit from some continued community lobbying?

    • Yep sign me up as a sceptic. Bad news on the live export trade letters it seems, keep trying hey. This is why I like communities like GetUp and Avaaz, they have weight of numbers and are an easy ‘in’ to the process of democracy as you say, but our single letter to the politician ends up being read and answered by a lacky.
      Gonna check me out that Earthship concept, and trying to figure out a good way people can share tips and links like that one somehow on this site. Any ideas?

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