zERO WASTE x CLIMATE CHANGE
a SYSTEMIC CHANGE

BY MEHUL MANJESHWAR

Climate change is now a well-known, widespread phenomenon circulating headlines (almost!), and definitely having major impacts on our societies, communities, all kinds of species in nature. Many, nowadays, question, “how do we solve this problem,” or “how do we tackle this problem?” Realistically, the problem is already here, and we are already experiencing its consequences, from the natural disasters, to the heatwaves, to the floods and the droughts. The solution is really how do we slow it down as we move to a sustainable future, and usually the answer we all think of is renewable energy. Now, in my opinion, mitigating the effects of climate change is a multi-pronged approach that is connected in many ways. Moving to renewable energy doesn’t mean we can continue contaminating our waterways with garbage. For instance, garbage in our oceans, in addition to global warming has affected marine species and ocean health, an ecosystem that is so important to curbing climate change and maintaining the balance our Earth sits on for us to exist.
 
So while I agree that renewable energy is a solution, thinking about transitioning to a low-waste or zero-waste lifestyle is also important. Not only does this help with diverting waste from landfills and the environmental and health benefits that come with it, but it brings you closer to ground reality. With renewable energy, we typically can be reliant on government organizations or corporations, but living a low-waste lifestyle, almost immediately brings your attention to the life-cycle of various products and how energy intensive these products can be. Additionally, low-waste lifestyle isn’t just about the garbage you generate, it’s also about turning off those lights when you’re not using them!
 

As consumers, we tend to overlook all that goes into bringing a product onto the shop shelf you pick it up from. We visit the shop, we look at the price points, find an amazing deal and purchase the product. But we hardly slow down to think about the process that has to be undertaken for that product to become the finished product you see. 

And this is where we discuss the lifecycle assessment of a product. When we as consumers understand the behind-the-scenes of a product, we suddenly become aware of all the systemic problems that exist, environmentally, socially and economically. When we look at a across the world, later packaged in more plastic, and finally we purchase it. It doesn’t end here it gets mixed with organic waste and takes 700 years to decompose. Think about that acalled microplastics which are honestly blind to our naked eye. Mixing streams of waste warming.

Now, if we were to think of slow living and zero waste living as a solution, and finding sustainable alternatives in our own personal lives, all of a sudden as consumers we are supporting local, we are supporting a circular economy (an economy in which waste is being designed out of the system) while decreasing our carbon footprint and waste footprint. We often hear, “say no to that plastic toothbrush or bag,” and we think it’s only diverting plastic waste from landfills. But honestly there’s a huge trickle-down effect when we say no to single-use plastics that have no way to be recycled.

At one point in the past, corporations created products and tailored their messaging to consumers to make us feel we need it! And by this, we were manipulated to demand such products and further manipulated to get accustomed to convenience and price points being a major factor in our purchase decision. Similarly, by saying no to plastic or consuming food exactly the amount you’d like to, as a consumer, you are sending a message back. Without consumers, an economy is inexistent. The more the consumers question the system by living a more mindful life, we start tackling carbon footprint, and waste footprint. Various stakeholders in the system start thinking about why the demand is dwindling and start thinking of innovative methods to stay relevant and profitable, and how does one do that? By listening to consumers.

 Zero waste living isn’t just about decreasing the waste you generate. It’s about becoming aware of all the injustices behind the products we buy, it’s about becoming aware of the entire lifecycle of every single thing we use and it’s about asking questions as consumers. When we do this, we realize that there are sustainable alternatives out there to live a cleaner lifestyle. Additionally, the more we do this, the more we drive demand for sustainable alternatives, forcing others to green their supply chains.
recycling, characters, waste

This pressure on consumers is leading to climate change, sustainability and zero waste lifestyles being extremely daunting and the question arises, “will my personal actions even have an impact?”

Zero waste living is not just about ridding your life of plastic. It’s about asking why we even needed it. It’s about asking ourselves and our families, how life was before plastic? With the chase for convenience and profitability, the greed levels in our world have risen to an all-time high.

Yet, we zero waste has been made to be this daunting challenge, not realizing that generations ago, your dadis and nani (grandparents) lived a zero waste lifestyle; from carrying their own reusable bags to bazaars for bulk shopping, to using ingredients that are local to the environment we live in to neem sticks for brushing our teeth and lastly creating multi-purpose cleaners from ingredients and by-products available at home, rather than the chemicals we use to clean our homes today. Additionally, segregating your waste in dry and wet (organic) waste is a massive step in tackling our waste footprint, and composting is not a foreign concept at all, it was something that we’ve done in the past and can be done now.

Over the years, we’ve just been wired to think that once we throw out our waste, we need not know what happens to it, and this has led to us not caring about segregation, or how we dispose any of our waste! So when we put it into perspective, zero waste lifestyles is not about only buying sustainable, but it’s about tackling your existing lifestyle. By conducting more DIYs at home, composting your waste and even buying larger packs that last longer rather than the smaller ones, you’re already tackling your waste footprint in an affordable manner. Nowadays, zero waste lifestyle and sustainability has a grown into a rhetoric that requires immense change in how we purchase ONLY, but it’s bigger than purchasing. Soaffordability, check!

This lifestyle is NOT time consuming. It’s actually the opposite. Once again, over the years, we have been conditioned that we need to hustle, we need to get to point B extremely efficiently and fast, or that if we don’t make to a certain end goal, we’ve failed. But instead, through this pursuit of happiness, or pursuit of richness, we’ve lost the real essence of life, and that’s to admire the small things in life and appreciating all it has to offer. And while this sounds philosophical and spiritual, it’s called mindfulness which ties hugely into zero waste living. Slowing down to understand the real truth behind your consumption habits just makes us become that much more empathetic towards people who we are directly impacting without knowing. Slowing down helps us realize the intricacies of nature, the workings of composting, and how we can use orange and lime peels (that we’d usually throw out and ends up in landfills due to lack of segregation) to make bio-enzymes!
 
Based on these very points, such as affordability, or being mindful of time, it is definitely possible in cities and rural areas. Cities are developing at a rapid pace and due to this rapid pace, it is being developed with short-term visions. Short-term visions, one can deduce, is synonymous with an unsustainable, unequal, and corrupt world. However, with awareness levels also rapidly rising, the number of bulk shops, the number of families and younger generations looking at ways to tackle their waste footprint (not necessarily only buying “green”) is amazing to see. With that said, considering the rate of growth in cities, government intervention along with corporations taking the initiative to change their ways can expedite solutions. While the change does start from consumers as our behaviours shape the economy, the employees of a specific company are still people! We need to change the system parallelly, from consumer perpsectives definitely, but also the producer perspective. The rhetoric behind consumers being responsible to bring about change is growing, unfortunately, due to the power of digital media, and there is a lack of pressure on other bodies like governments or corporations. With that said, this pressure on consumers is leading to climate change, sustainability and zero waste lifestyles being extremely daunting and the question arises, “will my personal actions even have an impact?”

In today’s world, to drive profit, people and planet have been sacrificed. 

Before I highlight my thoughts on whether this is possible in rural areas, I’m sure the last question in the previous paragraph got you nodding your head in agreement! And yes, such questions along with the above highlighted pressures leads to anxiety and depression, eco-anxiety to be specific. This is because once you’re aware of the complications and consequences of your actions, it is extremely difficult to go about life as is and you are motivated to bring about change, change that we need to understand will take time! Think about the transition we made to the industrial revolution. We were living harmoniously with nature at one point in time, but with population growth and chase for a better life, we started implementing systems and innovations to make processes easier. While this is great, taking it to extremes is the real problem, and we took the industrial revolution to an extreme, that is the world as you see it today. We need to strike the balance between technology, urban sprawl, population growth, and environment. With that said, when you realize that bringing about large-scale change will take a long time, it’ll automatically become less daunting. Secondly, start researching on your own and you’ll realize there immense change happening already, from social enterprises to NGOs to entrepreneurs – change is happening but it is not reported on your daily news channel because it dwindles their profits. Be mindful of what you’re exposing yourself to through headlines, as this can have a negative effect on your mental health. Be in control of the information you choose to expose yourself to and absorb.

Rural areas have been living low waste lifestyles for ages! When you visit such areas, you’ll find that their sourcing of vegetables, to cooking habits to their rainwater harvesting methods leads to an extremely minimalist lifestyle. What we fail to realize is that rural areas is potentially far cleaner than cities because there is less waste being generated for a waste infrastructure that is already far too outdated. With that said, those living in rural areas have a primary goal of moving to cities, or living the life that one seems to live in a city. This  has made single-use plastic an admirable goal for many in rural areas. And the “hustle” lifestyle. In reality, rural areas and those within it are the rich while the ones husting in the cities blindly without being aware of what we are consuming, how we are consuming, why we are consuming and what is happening to it all are the ones that are “poor.” 
Now I know I didn’t dwell into statistics on how much waste we generate and the fact that there will be more plastic than fish in our seas by 2050. I wrote this piece simply to speak to whoever reads this, not scare you. While we all need to be alert and solution driven, change doesn’t happen overnight. We are an interconnected world with a huge population, with so many factors that divide us all, from races, to income, to religion and so on. We all are living our own journeys and it can be difficult sometimes to think about the environment. But when we think holistically, you’ll find that this isn’t just about the environment. This is about finding the balance between the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
In today’s world, to drive profit, people and planet have been sacrificed. And until we realize this, even a solution like renewable energy can become exploitative and result in unequal distribution. Tackling our own personal footprints as a first step is integral in understanding the delicacies of the problem we are experiencing, how it is all intertwined and how the solution is more than just decreasing our carbon footprint.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

mehul Manjeshwar

If you wish to get in touch with the author of the article, you can email her at 

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Mehul Manjeshwar, born and raised in Qatar and Canada, currently leads the marketing and sustainability communications at Bare Necessities. He shares the story of the brand through meaningful partnerships, words, and actions. Being a firm believer in the impact of communication, raising awareness, and education being the foundation of change, he has always been passionate about sustainability. Mehul completed his MBA in the field to learn about the life cycle of products and how every process has an impact on the environment. He spent years studying and volunteering his time for environmental causes in Canada, Costa Rica, and Indonesia to raise awareness of the problems that our world faces today. Mehul is a Climate Reality Leader having had the opportunity to be trained during the Climate Reality Leadership Corps with former Vice President Al Gore among other knowledgeable experts in the sustainability field. He continually inspires communities to create a better lifestyle and live sustainably. With the conviction that the world is capable of finding a balance between technology and non-conformism, Mehul believes that sustainability is not about giving up either side completely but about finding the best of both worlds.

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