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The Necessity of Moderate Minimalism

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on November 18, 2019 10:18

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Recycling is a band-aid solution unless we counter our over-spending and over-indulgence.

Despite being hailed as a path towards sustainability, recycling is not the solution to our waste challenges.

Before 2017, America outsourced most of its recycling to developing countries -- mainly China -- for them to manage. Low wage Chinese workers would sort through the heaps of recycled objects and sell the waste to recycling companies.

This changed when China decided that they weren’t going to be the world’s trash can anymore. They drastically decreased their purchases of plastic waste exports, jarring the world’s recycling system and leaving many developed countries overflowing with scraps. 

Wealthy nations soon turned to even poorer countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. Unequipped and overwhelmed by the influx of waste, these developing nations often resorted to discarding the plastic in the oceans and land.

To prevent more pollution, the United Nations has launched the Basel Convention, a treaty granting poor nations the right to refuse exported waste. The treaty will go into effect in 2020. 

American cities have already been drastically impacted. While Chinese recycling companies readily bought our waste, their American counterparts are more reluctant to because of the contamination. 25% of the objects that people place in recycling bins are simply not recyclable. With the waste accumalating and nowhere for it to go, cities have resorted to using incinerators, releasing harmful toxins. 

The recycling crisis is especially alarming given that America is producing more waste than at any point in history. “In 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available, America generated 262.4 million tons of waste, up 4.5 percent from 2010 and 60 percent from 1985,” The Atlantic noted. “That amounts to nearly five pounds per person a day.”

For decades, nationwide advertising campaigns have purported recycling as a “fix” to our environmental problems. While the practice is vital to ensuring a clean planet, it will not solve the over-spending and over-indulgence that produced the excess waste in the first place.

The only meaningful, long term solution to our waste challenges is moderate minimalism. 

Extreme minimalism requires one to live by their basic necessities, owning less than one hundred things. This lifestyle is unsustainable and unreasonable for most people. On the other hand, moderate minimalists are critical consumers. They strive to reduce the environmental impact of their expenditures and activities. 

For example, the moderate minimalist will drink from a reusable water bottle. They will bring a sturdy, cotton bag to the grocery store so they don’t have to buy plastic ones to carry their purchases. This Thanksgiving, they will cook a quantity of food that their families will be able to finish -- not contributing to the 200 million pounds of turkey that will be wasted this holiday season. 

Moderate minimalism is not only beneficial on an environmental level, but also on a financial one. People will live more intentionally and give greater thought to what they use and buy. 

In other words, consumer culture must develop into critical consumer culture.

 

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on November 18, 2019 10:18

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