What is Zero Waste? Is it an inspiring call to action or an impossible goal? After spending the day with some of the best and brightest who have dedicated their lives to finding opportunity for profit in pollution, I’ve come away with renewed hope. And here’s the thing: there isn’t time for any other kind of reaction. Guys like Jeremy Rifkin say that we now have less than 100 years to transform our systems though a resource revolution.
And revolutions are never quiet events.
To kick the transformation into high gear, Metro Vancouver bravely opened the process for all to contribute. They did this knowing they would be criticized for considering burning the waste we all produce. But who is really responsible for keeping the incinerator as a concept on paper rather than a construction project? As long as we continue to communicate our compliance with exporting our personal waste to some of the poorest countries in the world, and holding species hostage to our unsustainable lifestyles, it’s tough to rationalize our revulsion to the same unhealthy fate in our own communities.
But let’s be honest: can any of us pretend any more that what happens in small-town China is any less relevant to what’s happening in our own neighbourhoods? Last time I checked, those rivers and oceans flowing across the planet carry along with them tonnes of discarded plastic, and they have no concern for national GDP. If there is plastic in the water in China, there is plastic in the water in Canada.
Ah, the pesky biosphere. Being reminded of our place in nature is always a bit like going to the dentist, isn’t it? A painful reality check. Biologists are inoculated against the shock of our precarious place in the universe because they don’t forget about its significance. But I need to be reminded now and then that there are 30 million species living today, and that they represent about 1% of all the species that have ever lived on the planet. The good news is that these species have 3.8 billion years of research and development on how best to develop efficient systems. We can emulate nature’s genius by following a few principles:
- Make just what you need.
- Keep what you have.
- Turn waste into a resource.
And even if we haven’t been at this for as long, there is one advantage that our species has over others. David Suzuki has been talking about this secret to our success for decades, and while it’s simple, it holds the key to unlock transformation: foresight. The ability to look ahead, predict an undesirable future, and adjust our course to avoid danger.
Get serious about your waste for the same reasons that you visit the dentist. You never know if you’ll live until you’re 90 years old but if you do, your teeth will come in handy. And if you’re still here then, what kind of world do you want to live in?