~‘Waste’ may be out of human sight in one area, but it is never out of the global mind.~
How ‘waste’ is discussed determines the level of the problem and the remedial solutions. If overconsumption is the problem, then solutions target consumerist norms. However, waste disposal and placement is seen as the problem, then solutions target management, waste collector organization, planning for waste sites, etc. Although these latter strategies address where we ‘see’ waste, they do not question the output of waste and how we can ultimately aim for less waste vs. better-managed waste. This disconnect is seen even with well-meaning citizens who participate in beach cleanups, only to throw the waste cleaned up from the day’s hard work into the landfill. Moving these waste/wasted resources from one environmental context to the next might accomplish peace of mind, but for the environment, waste in either of these contexts is disruptive, especially if it contains harmful plastics and chemicals. The throw-away cultural norm is strong worldwide and will take a lot more strategizing to arrive at a culture of zero waste and a circular economy.
Contrary to discourses that say ‘I am just one person, what can I do?,’ our daily purchases and behavioral choices affect our system and feed into social norms. Individuals are not powerless, and have an important voice in de-perpetuating the norms of consumption (Luke, 2005), and also reading out to companies and government to start shifting institutional practices. Acting alone is not enough in a system that is rigged to create waste as an externality. Emerging worldviews and strategies for change include actions like degrowth; zero waste; circular economy; and reimagining the commons for circular resource use, that can help shift practices towards ‘waste as resource,’ and create regenerative material flows to right the current destructive patterns of resource extraction, production, use, and disposal.