I grew up in a househould where almost everything was reused, food was composted and long consideration was given before making a purchase. Granted a ton of things were saved to be used for later, and that verged on the edge of hoarding, but still, everything had a purpose.
Recycling is only part of the equation and it should be the last thing we think of, not the first. Instead we need to reduce consumption and reuse items.
I listen to Debbie Millman's podcast Design Matters, which I highly recommend. She interviewed Susan Szenasy who is the editor-in-chief of Metropolis Magazine.
Here is an excerpt from that interview:
"I think the idea of recycleability is one small partof this and if we kind of always stress recycle blindly...what do we do about materials in the first place that don't need to be recycled but reused somehow. Why don't we have chairs, for instance, made of materials that could be decoupled and reconstructed into something else. Why don't we think about the end of life of things, instead of just designing for something that is for the garbage heep. This is a resource to begin with if it is how to melt it down safely and with as little energy as possible, or if not to melt it down, how to decouple it and how to reuse it to build something with or make it so spectacular that it will never be taken apart and it is so well performing that generations will use it. We want some bigger ideas that include the whole system of something. "
Instead of trying to figure out how to get rid of items-either through donation, recycling or the trash, we should be looking at ways to extend the life of those things.
I'd actually take a further step back and determine if you really need that item. I find that sometimes I turn to shopping as a pick me up and I end up with things that I don't really need in my house, or my closet. Sometimes it is hard to say that I don't actually need an item, and to acknowledge that I was just shopping to satisfy some emotional unmet need, or as a way to avoid feelings (ugh, don't even get me started on having to feel my feelings).
Initially when I started thinking about sustainable design, I was only thinking of the environmental impact. Yet, there is a very steep human price that is paid for the goods we consume. I would love to see design that is sustainable and also community driven and respects human rights.
Buy with intention. Buy items that are going to last. Find stores that sell local and sustainably made items. Even if you don't have a store like that in your neighborhood there are a lot of online options. If you are purchasing something because it is in front of you and it is cheap, stop for a moment and ask if you really need it. Chances are you don't and you can put it back on the shelf. I have a friend who has downsized and doesn't buy much. She would rather experience life instead of owning things.
I know that it can be overwhelming sometimes because there are so many causes and so many things wrong with our world. Yet, I think if we slow down and live our life with intention and make small changes in regards to our buying habits that we can make a difference.
Photo Credit Kevin Dooley.
Originally published 6/18/14