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But what if nobody gives a fork?

Having been buried deep in contemplation over the prospects of what a zero waste future would look like over the past few days of assignment writing, today’s trip to the conventional supermarket shocked me back into reality. PLASTIC! As far as the eye could see. Everything looked shiny and exciting and somehow ordinary boring purchases like bread or tomatoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes (the packaging that is, not the tomatoes, supermarkets like their produce uniform) and looked like wondrous, delicious toys. On yet another ‘mission’ to shop waste free I headed to the deli to get some ham for the omnivore hubby with my own container for pizza making purposes. Just to backtrack a little… we used to buy meat from the local butcher and get it put in our own reusable containers until the butcher changed (possibly ownership) and their deli-goods started to taste horrible. So anyways, with Ged working away from home a lot I haven’t really had to buy much meat to bother sorting out an alternative.

Approaching the unfamiliar counter with a smile I politely asked the deli assistant for some ham in my reusable container. After which she looked at me with stern facial expression that suggested I was an inconvenience, and very little interest in my motives. Her expression reminding me of the school principle I had in primary school, whose sole purpose in life was to ensure that no student EVER wore their sweater tied around their waist. With fear rising inside me (the same sneaking fear I had felt being busted with my school sweater neatly wrapped around my hips) I briefly went on the explain that the purpose was to reduce plastic waste. And if she tare the scale with the container on it, add the meat, then stick a sticker on-top then it would be all good (I’ve bought sushi rolls from the sushi counter at the same supermarket with this method). Unfortunately they didn’t seem to have implements for lifting the meat into the container and she used a bag. Feeling the frustration coming from her and knowing too well that the bag would be thrown away after she used it to put my ham in the container I gave up the eco-game and said to just leave it in the bag (that way I can wash and recycle it at a REDcycle station). Needless to say, the walk home after this incident left me feeling pretty pissed off. Wondering why it’s often SO difficult to shop in a way that’s not harming the planet with excess packaging and chemicals. Why it’s so damn difficult to consume consciously!? And most of all, wondering why it’s my job as the customer to have to battle so hard to get my items san-packaging. Isn’t the customer always right?

Waste really is for tossers.

My current waste managment class has required me to have an in-depth look at the statistics behind the waste managment in my local area. While I was already quite aware of how the system worked (due to previous units I have studied and my exciting Waste Weigh Up journey) I was shocked to learn that most of the waste from my region comes from households not industry. In the Sunshine Coast region the stats look like this:

  • 134,676 Total Tonnes of waste , 87,511 Tonnes sent to landfill , and 47,165 recycled from kerbside and self haul waste streams (the stuff that comes from your house).
  • 70,215 Total Tonnes of waste 53,818 Tonnes sent to landfill and 16,397 recycled from commercial and industrial waste streams.
  • 27,393 Total Tonnes of waste, 18,129 Tonnes sent to landfill and 9,264 recycled from construction and demolition.

It’s scary to contemplate these stats as this landfill (both household and commercial and industrial) is usually made up of organic matter that emits non-desireable methane gases (that increase global warming) and plastics that never really biodegrade, they just break down into smaller pieces of plastic that are even harder to keep out of waterways and the natural places we love. Stuff that either ruins the atmosphere, or damages the environmental flows. The sad truth behind all these hard to swallow figures is that we are being ‘fed’ a diet based on marketing. Products are packed to look pretty and appealing so that lots of different people can make money from the same items. Canned tomatoes are the best example. Pretty much all canned tomatoes are the same, the only points of difference that I can spot would be organic vs. conventional, diced/crushed/whole, country of origin, and whether or not they have added any spices, salt or flavours. Despite this tinned-tomato-is-tomato reality the shelves are loaded with different brands. Purely so lots of different people can make money from one product. The video above (that came to me as part of the #grexyteaser Give a Fork campaign) highlights the importance of marketing in an otherwise very straightforward matter. Water.

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Compassion fatigue and the shopper.

It’s pretty easy to fall victim to compassion fatigue when you are fighting what seems like a ‘David and Goliath’ battle just to buy some kale without a plastic wrapper. Compassion fatigue is typically used for those caring for people or animals, but is often used in environmental awareness circles to describe that feeling you care so much it starts to hurt.

Compassion Fatigue… is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper“.

When one starts to feel this way, be it over ham in a plastic bag, shark finning, or not being able to find ethically made sneakers, it can be easy to feel depressed and hopeless (like a storm is brewing over your head). You may even start to feel like there is no point in trying in the first place. There are times (like today) when I personally wonder why I keep battling ‘uphill’ when it would be so much easier and faster to just accept the plastic wrapped life. These feeling can be compounded by the fact that when you are feeling negative you can be drawn to the negative. So the moment you feel like the eco-mission is hopeless you will start to see litter EVERYWHERE, and notice all the supermarket trolleys full of individually wrapped children’s treats. Unfortunately the more time you spend feeling negative about it all the more likely you are to give up asking the tough-but-important questions.

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Why stay positive?

Without you and your pesky questions nothing would ever change! The economy may work on a ‘growth at any cost’ measure of success but there is no definition of how this growth must happen. While we currently rely on fossil fuels for our ‘growth’ there is just as much opportunity for the growth of renewable energy sectors. There just needs to be enough demand for it. How does demand happen? You… the consumer… start using your dollar and voice to vote for it. Same goes for packaging and marketing. The more you demand (either by purchasing from a competitor product, refraining from purchase, writing letters or emails, or signing petitions) for items that are made with minimal impact and waste, the more you will see them in your daily life. The only reason why you get a plastic bag at the deli or a straw at the bar is because not enough people have asked for alternatives. If companies were forced to develop more innovative differentiation ideas then we would likely see more ‘naked’ products or biodegradable options. Biodegradable is not always ideal (due to the resource and energy inputs) but it would help for all those tossers out there who will never learn to put their fast food and junk food wrappers in the bin. The reason we get fashion seemingly out of ‘thin air’ is because companies aren’t asked to provide the details of how their clothes are made. Why would they bother wasting time and money on something that no-one seems to care about? You are the fashion revolution.

We are a planet on auto pilot and unfortunately the flight path we are taking is for environmental disaster. Without you nudging the cabin crew to ask those in charge to change course, then nothing good will happen until there is a crash! You and your seemingly little voice is more powerful than you could ever realise.

Ps. how cute is the little collapsable stainless steel cup I have just added to my on-the-go reusable collection. It’s perfect for days you don’t want to lug around a big bottle of water and seems to fit well in my smaller handbags. Rewarding your eco-efforts with little items like this that help you reduce waste is a great way to stay positive and on the ‘green’ track. 

Have you ever felt a bit ‘meh’ about your eco-efforts? Have you ever given up? Perhaps you have a way of dealing with compassion fatigue you would like to share? Let us know below because believe it or not we all get a case of the ‘eco-mesh’ once in a while.