[SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS] Start small, go big: education v.s. limitation

It includes ‘recycling’ but goes beyond recycling by taking a ‘whole system’ approach to the vast flow of resources and waste through human society.

— The State of Connecticut

The Zero Waste Movement became popular in the media five years ago when Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer fit the aesthetics of four years’ worth of trash into one mason jar. The term “Zero Waste” was first coined by cities in 2004 to label their programs to decrease their landfills’ number and size. The Zero Waste Movement, as marketed by social media accounts and dramatized television reports was one of a kind in the small world of publicized environmental issues and provided participants with one specific goal: no trash sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. Every city, organization, business, and person who has implemented a Zero Waste plan or lifestyle has a slightly different definition of the term. The United States Environmental Protection Agency created a page dedicated to quoting communities’ definitions.

King County in Washington defines Zero Waste as “materials of economic value, whether for reuse, resale, or recycling, won’t be put in the garbage and end up in the landfill.”
The state of Connecticut defines it as “Zero Waste is a philosophy and a design principle for the 21st Century. It includes ‘recycling’ but goes beyond recycling by taking a ‘whole system’ approach to the vast flow of resources and waste through human society.”
All definitions approach the idea of creating zero trash.

In 2018, Immy Lucas, known as Sustainably Vegan on social media, founded an origination with a similar goal: the Low Impact Movement (LIM).
The Zero Waste Movement, with no clear definition and a practically impossible mission in today’s society, limited the movement’s participants to wealthy individuals who lived in a city with access to bulk and package-free shops. The well-meaning movement lacked inclusion and appreciation for anyone who tried but didn’t wholly succeed. While similar to the Zero Waste Movement, the LIM focuses on sustainability within a participant’s life, intersectionality, climate justice, and the fact that climate change is made not of only trash but dozens of factors, including trash. The organization’s overall theme is education, using social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to share information such as the environmental impact of food waste, how to be an ally to environmentalists and people of color, how and where to protest, and tips to decrease your waste sustainably. Their posts often act as mini news stories with statistics and cited sources. They frequently have “Instagram takeovers” where climate activists do a presentation on the LIM Instagram Stories.
Racism is a prevalent issue within climate activism that the community has only begun addressing. The LIM is dedicated to uplifting people of color’s voices and including them in the climate conversation when statistically and historically they’ve been the most affected by climate change and the most silenced.
The LIM posted on their Instagram on June 5, World Environment Day, and said, “Climate change and social injustice disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous and people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and disabled people. Therefore we will only be centering these voices going forward. Our role is to amplify, to educate, and to fight for justice. Without intersectionality, sustainability is meaningless and we will no longer be complicit in an oppressive system that seeks to harm some and benefit others.”

While one person can’t stop climate change, a world of people trying to do their best will make a difference in the crisis.

— Hoogenakker

St. Paul Academy and Summit School has put out signs in the past, showcasing the term “Zero Waste” next to the trash, recycling, and composting bins during events. At lunch, almost all of the silverware and supplies are compostable, and they make an effort to show how to dispose of things correctly clearly. But these events and school days are not “Zero Waste.” There is still a trash bin in every classroom and next to every compost and recycling bin. SPA represents a low impact approach to waste, where the community is making an effort to educate each other and supply materials to limit their impact on the environment. One example of this is a design lab project to essentially create a machine and process to recycle materials in the school.

Upper School Design and Innovation Specialist Kristen Hoogenakker said, “I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my personal impact on the earth and once I started collecting [#2 HDPE and #5 PP] plastics over the summer, I realized how much waste I was producing. Another reason for this project is trying to reduce waste in the design labs – turns out making things generates a lot of waste. Whether that’s from ordering supplies that result in a lot of packaging from delivery or from not being able to efficiently use materials on the laser cutter. The third meandering thought revolves around how much waste we’ve been generating in the lunchroom since we’ve been back on campus. A lot of those containers we should be able to recycle back into raw materials once we have the shredder going.”

The LIM represents a lifestyle that anyone could adopt. Education and attempting to decrease waste is an idea that anyone could adopt into everyday thinking. While one person can’t stop climate change, a world of people trying to do their best will make a difference in the crisis.