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But what can "I" do ..? The problem is so big and my contribution is so small, what is even the point ..? Too often this is the answer to the increasingly gloomy news about climate change. But as the task becomes more urgent with every news story about the deluge of our waste submerging communities far away from our clean, green shores, it is becoming clear that we need to do something.
What "can" you do?
Lots of things. Tiny things. Baby steps.
Starting can be the hardest part. Having some guidance in how to begin can help. Someone who has done the hard work and shown that the results weren't terrible and life as they knew it didn't collapse, perhaps even became a little better in lots of ways (not least being able to bask in the gentle glow of knowing you're doing a Good Thing).
Hannah Blumhardt and Liam Prince from The Rubbish Trip have broken this ground for you. They've been living zero waste for about four years and it's been fun. They don't have the Spartan existence you are imagining, just no rubbish to deal with (well only 1.5kg a year, almost none).
Hannah says, "In terms of managing the waste you do create, the first thing you can do is get organic waste out of your rubbish. The average rubbish bin contains 30% organic matter. This is what produces methane gas in landfills, and is contributing to climate change".
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming capability over 21 times that of carbon dioxide, so we should probably all take responsibility for our contribution to it, instead of just complacently placing all the blame with the agriculture and dairy industries.
They have stories, tips, resources, and recipes that will make your tiny steps easy and will inspire you to make positive change. For example, their ethos, "Refuse, Replace, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot", offers a path to follow when contemplating your consumption of resources, food, clothes, cleaning products, whatever you're thinking about buying. Refusing can be the hardest part because we're so used to having whatever we want, whenever we want and the undertones of deprivation are off-putting, but research from the University of Arizona is actually showing the opposite. Sabrina Helm, the lead researcher on a project about the effects of a sustainable lifestyle on happiness, said, "Reduced consumption has effects on increased wellbeing and decreased psychological distress".
It's encouraging to see Hannah and Liam bringing their knowledge back to Dunedin - there's an appetite for change here, overtly manifested by the recent election of a Green mayor and the rise of startup businesses such as change-maker UYO, and Spout Alternatives, which supplies cafes with locally sourced milk in kegs rather than plastic bottles. These sorts of businesses, operating out of Dunedin, can in time, have a marked effect on the waste and recycling streams. Spout Alternatives early adopter Otago Museum has been using nearly 7500 2-litre milk containers each year and has added milk kegs to the list of baby steps it's taking to reduce its environmental footprint, along with a lift that generates its own electricity through gravity - and welcoming Hannah and Liam with open arms.
Zero waste is about taking personal responsibility for your impact on the planet, and gives you back a feeling of control against the backdrop of the dire reports of ecological breakdown. New Zealand's share of global greenhouse gas emissions is small, but our gross emissions per person are high.We all need to start doing our bit. A good place to start is with The Rubbish Trip's free talk at Otago Museum on Tuesday at 6pm or Coronation Hall, Milton on Sunday, November 24 at 2pm.
All journeys begin with a single step, the starting line is here.