I know a lot of educated people to include doctors, lawyers and teachers. When I survey them…ummm, bug, harangue or otherwise attempt to share my viewpoints, most agree with reports that climate change is something real that needs to be addressed. When I ask them what they do to make a difference, most say they are too small to make a difference; that one person isn’t enough to affect change. This frustrates me to no end. If you don’t believe me, just ask any of my closest friends.
The United States makes up only 5% of the World’s population, yet we manage to consume somewhere between one quarter and one third of all of itsresources. So, no matter how critical we are of Europeans and their craving for sparkling water or the five cent per gallon gasoline of the Middle East, WE are the ones using way more than our fair share.
The problem is at the beginning, not the end.
When it comes to most things related to sustainability and the environment, we spend a majority of time focusing on recovering material that has already been wasted. The waste hierarchy, or 4Rs—Reduce, Reuse then Recycle and Rot/Compost—is deliberately structured; that’s why it’s called a hierarchy, right?
Recycling has been transformed into a ubiquitous end-all-be-all term that is not only misunderstood, but also gives a false sense of hope that recycling is good enough. With a recovery rate of 85%, AB2020aka “the Bottle Bill,” is the most successful recycling program in the United States. Eighty-five percent sounds like a solid number until one realizes that the remaining 15%, totaling a massive 3.11 billion eligible bottles and cans go straight to the landfill.
A simple hierarchy I made for my students
Reduce is at the top of the list because there are so many small steps that, when taken collectively, have a huge impact. Ever been to a coffee shop in Europe? Everything is served in a porcelain “for here” cup. They don’t even ask, but assume that you will be taking a few moments to enjoy your beverage before moving on. With the exception of the Intelligentsias of the world who ask if you are staying or going, when I grab a cup of coffee I am routinely the only person in the shop drinking from my reusable cup. Most coffee shops could easily serve all “for here” orders in porcelain and get more serious about incentives for bringing reuse containers. Customers could also simply make the decision to bring their own mug.
We have the power.
This sounds like such an easy concept, yet educating, motivating and encouraging people to the realities of climate change so that they may make better, more informed decisions, is way easier said than done. Sadly, it really is that amazingly simple. Choose to use a refillable coffee cup or water bottle. Choose to accelerate less aggressively in your car. Choose to use a low flow shower head. These are all things that are so easy to do, but for one reason or another, we choose to drink out of plastic water bottles and throw away coffee cups. We choose to accelerate quickly and drive fast. And, we are still hung up on that high flow shower head. What will it take give up our obsession with single-use items in favor of the good old days of consuming only what we need out of reusable containers?

Check out www.zerowasteguy.com to learn more.