We love stuff. So much that in 2006, a study of LA middle class homes revealed that 90% of garage space was being used to store stuff, not cars. In Secondhand, Adam follows the life and death of stuff, and explores how manufacturers have been placating us with cheap and low quality goods.
In perhaps the most evocative part of the book, Adam begins by introducing us to Empty The Nest. Empty The Nest is an organisation that cleans out homes, and passes objects on to places where they can be resold and reused.
But our personal identities are shaped by the objects we possess. And because of this connection, it can be hard to let go of our stuff. Sharon Kadet, the account manager of Empty The Nest, shows Adam how most of the stuff we hold onto actually has little value. Adam draws up scenes of huge clean ups, which are carried out on the houses of deceased relatives. Wholly sentimental items are simply thrown away. Old envelopes, old letters—I think of all the cards and notes I have kept from friends and family, that have little meaning beyond my own life.
Tetra Paks are difficult to recycle because they are made out of a number of different materials.
The main material in a Tetra Pak is paperboard. This is made out of wood and helps to keep the package stable and sturdy.
This paperboard is layered with polyethylene, a type of plastic that protects the paperboard from being damaged by moisture. It also protects the packaging from the product inside. Polyethylene allows the paperboard to stick to the aluminium foil.
The foil then protects the Tetra Pak’s contents from oxygen and light. Along with the use of sterilisation, this foil helps to keep perishable food inside safe for months, without refrigeration or preservatives.
Tetra Pak caps are also made from HDPE, a type of plastic derived from sugar cane.
Since the industrial revolution, we have undergone five waves of innovation. These waves have brought new technologies and have radically transformed society. This book predicts the sixth wave to come, a period that will be defined by resource efficiency.
Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev put forward the idea that Western capitalist economies go through waves of innovation. These waves are like mountains, with a rise at the beginning and a fall at the end.
We are stuffed and starved. Stuffed, because we produce more food than ever before, and there are 1 billion people who are overweight. Starved, because at the same time, 800 million people are hungry.
These two factors are symptoms of the same problem: the control of giant corporations in the food industry.
Raj provides a helpful diagram outlining where power is concentrated in the food industry. At the top and bottom of this diagram are billions of people, who take the form of consumers and farmers. But in the middle, there is a much smaller bottleneck. Here, the number of companies in play is much less than the number of farmers and consumers. These companies buy food from farmers and sell it to consumers. By controlling this gateway, they have the power to control—and exploit—those who grow food as well as those who eat it.
Paul Hawken is also the author of The Ecology of Commerce, and so there are similarities between the two books. Both explore ways to reduce toxic waste and combat the waste of throwaway products. But Natural Capitalism also talks about how to reduce other kinds of waste.
The book refers to a concept called muda, which is Japanese for waste, futility, or purposelessness. This concept was coined by Taiichi Ohno, who defined waste and therefore muda as “any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value”. Therefore, other kinds of waste can be included in this definition, such as wasted time and wasted human resources. This is what natural capitalism is: a new kind of industrialism that promotes “economic efficiency, ecological conservation, and social equity”.
Working in a food caravan means that I’ve looked through all the packaging and cutlery available in the bulk section of Moore Wilson’s. There are many disappointing plastics. But what’s also disappointing is to see products made out of wood or sugarcane that are in an outer wrap of plastic. Even though we buy non-plastic packaging to avoid plastic, we still can’t seem to escape it. The non-plastic packaging is still packaged in plastic.
The first brand I called was BioChoice, which sits under the great umbrella of Bonson. Bonson also sells plastic packaging, so I wondered how receptive they would be.
When we were organising our zero waste challenge, my friend and I agreed to just collect the trash we produced during the month. We wanted to see how much we could reduce, rather than trying to collate all the things that we bought before the challenge (although I will also talk about that later).
Before the challenge, I thought I was already pretty good at reducing my waste. But holding myself accountable has helped me to create many new and valuable habits. However, in the first week, I did start to feel pretty stressed. I was thinking of all the things I would have to implement, and I felt like I was carrying this great overwhelming responsibility. But once I took it easy, telling myself to focus only on a few urgent things at a time, I was able to work through the challenge better.
A few weeks ago, Greenpeace sent me a mailer because I had previously made a donation. However, the envelope came with a plastic window. And Greenpeace is the organisation that I least expected to do this.
My friend and I are trying to produce as little single-use waste as possible from 6 May - 6 June. We're trying to reduce waste of any kind, whether it's paper or plastic. This distinction was important to me because many unassuming plastic products are lined with plastic, such as takeaway packaging and thermal receipt paper.
I've made a list of my current methods to reduce waste in Wellington, as well as any other methods that I can think of. Any additions are welcome!