Sustainability is a struggle. One everybody has to face as an individual because nobody can change your habits but yourself. But sustainability is also something we struggle with on a much bigger scale. And the truth is, we cannot make significant changes if we don’t address the bigger picture.
One of the most unsustainable things in our culture is our economy. And we will continue to struggle in our path to lower the impact we have on our environment until we manage to change the rules on which our economy stands.
Let’s start with the basics.
The system we currently live in is capitalism. It’s not the best system in the world, but it’s not the source of all evil either. If we manage to move away from it to a system more supportive of the social values we have, brilliant!
But that’s not exactly all that likely. Given how much the older generation loves capitalism and sees it as a solution to all the problems in the world, it’s a fight we’re not likely to win any time soon.
Especially given how reliant capitalism is on the linear economy we have right now.
What is a linear economy?
Linear economy means that raw materials are used to make a product, and after it’s used any waste (e.g. packaging, etc.) is thrown away. The life of a product can be depicted in a straight line from the producer to the consumer and to (inevitably) the landfill.
It’s the least sustainable economy we could have, because it produces 100% of waste. With the limited resources we have, it’s unlikely that we as a planet will be able to survive on the linear economy much longer.
Thankfully, not all of our economy is linear. If you take a closer look at all the recycling and second-hand shops, you’ll see that a reuse economy is slowly gaining in popularity.
In a reuse economy, some of the waste produced is recycled and reused in new products. Waste glass is used to make new glass. Recycled paper is used to make new paper. Some of the plastic is recycled as well.
The zero waste movement does have an impact here as well because one of the rules of zero waste is to try and reuse some of your waste. Which means that before throwing things away, you look at them to see if you can use it for a different purpose, or if you can pass it on to someone else (by gifting it to friends and family, donating it or simply selling the items) so they can continue to be used. Cutting your old Tshirts for rags, buying stuff in antique shops or thrift store is all part of the reuse economy.
It’s a step in the right direction.
But it’s not the model we should be striving for.
What we really need to truly lower the impact we have on the environment is to change as much of our economy (if not all, ideally) into the circular model.
In a circular economy all waste is reused in production of new products, along with the raw materials required. With that model no commercial waste is produced, resulting in no landfills filled with waste that can’t decompose.
We’re a long way away, obviously. Given that big corporations produce huge amounts of waste in their production process, on top of all the waste that their products produce in their lifecycle. But we are making steps in the right direction. Some companies already either accept packaging from their products to be reused or distribute products unpackaged. The recycle rates all over the world are going up. The awareness of consumers is going up as well, thanks to the Internet (and sites like this one).
We’re on our way to where we need to get.
Next time you’re throwing something away, ask yourself: are you contributing to the linear economy? Is there a way for you to step away from that model and try for a more sustainable one? Can you contact your favorite companies to convince them to adopt a more sustainable packaging?
Remember: even the Reuse economy is better than this linear bullshit we’re living right now.
We can do it, people!