Since the beginning of this tour, I have been trying to determine what my personal point of intervention is. On the surface it seems simple, Zero Waste falls under reclaim. We are working towards a world where landfills are a story from the past. Something about reclaiming resources doesn’t seem to fully encompass the work we do at PLAN or the direction I see our team going. Rather, I see the work we do at PLAN falling under redefine and redesign — redefining the definition of Zero Waste, redesigning the way that universities manage materials, and redesigning the systems we operate within.
To get a better understanding of these systems that we are working to redesign, I have been practicing reuse in my personal life. As I moved to Boulder, a place praised for its access to a Zero Waste lifestyle, I continue to question how feasible this idea of individual lifestyle and action as the solution to waste really is. My first attempt to reduce my personal waste was to take reusable jars to the grocery store. As I tared and filled my jars, I noticed the plastic containers lining the shelves underneath the bulk items I was looking to buy. As I was ringing up my items, the cashier informed me that they did not know how to tare the jars and that most customers used the bulk dispensers to fill the plastic containers supplied by the store rather than bringing their own jars. If individual action is the solution to our Zero Waste crisis, I assumed brining jars to the grocery store, especially in a place like Boulder, would be a lot simpler for both the cashier and myself. Even though this is a minor blip in the waste generated in food production and distribution, it gets me thinking about both the achievement and the limitations that an individual seeking to reduce their waste at the site of consumption has.
One of the benefits of intervening at the point of consumption is the ability to start conversations around the waste generated throughout the latter half of the linear consumption economy. On the other hand, I have felt more impact and empowerment from the individuals in Boulder that band together to form larger Zero Waste communities. Even in the few months that I have lived in Boulder, I have seen the community’s Zero Waste movement grow. For example, the owner and operator of the Zero Waste store, Refill Revolution, hosts events for community groups to follow their passions while reducing waste at the same time. By watching her mold individual reuse and Zero Waste practices into larger movement building, I have seen the power of redesigning the conversations we have regarding Zero Waste along all points of the linear consumption economy. From both her work, and the work our students within the PLAN network are spearheading on their campuses, I see how essential it is to redefine Zero Waste to include more points of intervention and redesign systems in order to make that a reality.