Zero Waste Week at McGill

This week at McGill, ECOLE is hosting a series of events for The Zero Waste Challenge that will last all week. I’m excited to say that I’m joining in on this challenge, however I won’t be able to attend any events, with my crazy busy life. Today, they are screening The Clean Bin Project, which is a documentary about living in the city with the goal of producing no waste and not buying anything new. Throughout the week there are many events such as field trips to buy bulk groceries, used clothing and a trip to a recycling centre. At the end of the challenge, there is a little party and weigh-in of the waste produced by everyone who participated that I will make great efforts to try to attend.

This is my personal challenge for the week, and I invite you all to join in! I realize this is not easy, but it’s also not impossible. I’m very aware of the amount of waste I produce and I always make efforts to reduce it, but this week I’m going to be a little more extreme and careful, aiming to produce no waste at all.

Where to begin? How does one go about eliminating all waste? What are we considering as waste? Defining your own scope of what “zero waste” really means is key to this challenge. I tried to start a discussion about this at work to get some opinions and insightful perspectives, but was unsuccessful. This reinforces the fact that a lot of people don’t think about this the way I do and really have no idea of the impact of their consumption habits.

When defining your scope of zero waste, you need to consider what is feasible to you. Of course, there will rightfully be some inconvenience and compromise, but the important part is doing what you can to live more sustainably.

This week, I will consider waste to be anything that is a non-organic by-product of something I am consuming that cannot be re-used. For example, a compostable coffee cup and a recycled disposable water bottle are considered waste, but an apple core is not (as long as it is composted and not thrown in the trash). I believe this a reasonable scope of waste, although some may disagree and take it a step further.

The other week I was sitting on an extremely long bus ride and decided to pick up the Metro newspaper on the seat next me. I found a great article about a girl named Julie Gagné (she also has a wordpress blog!) who lives her everyday life, producing little to no waste and blogs all about it! If you can read and understand French I suggest you check her out on the link above. Some people would consider this to be a really extreme lifestyle, but I think she is inspirational, and she’s doing this-planet-saving-thing right! I don’t think there is such a thing as “too extreme” in terms of reducing waste and consumption because this is what our planet needs. If you take a look at the link to the trailer of the Clean Bin Project above, you’ll get the shocking facts of the waste problem that the western world is facing due to over consumption.

This is why I feel this Zero Waste Challenge is important. Even though it’s just one week, it will teach students and participants about more eco-friendly and sustainable ways of doing day-to-day tasks (such as grocery and clothing shopping) that are equally as feasible as their more wasteful counter-methods. Once you get into different habits, you’ll be likely to continue them after the challenge. It requires effort and compromise, but it is definitely worth it. It needs to be done to save our planet, the very thing that allows us to be what we are. We need to protect it and treat it right.

Change is Happening is Costa Rica

I’ve always had a strong opinion against zoos and aquariums, which is why this article really put a smile on my face and nearly had me dancing around the room because finally, I see change happening. I had my first realization about how terrible zoos are the last time I visited one. It was about 7 years ago in Quebec City when I saw a polar bear, who was obviously ill and/or having a psychotic episode. Who could blame the poor guy? Living in a box that is a tiny fraction of his regular habitat, staring at four walls all day, no interactions with other animals…  I would go nuts too. That was the day I was officially boycotting zoos for life. 

The documentary “Blackfish” is also a great example of why aquariums are awful too. It demonstrates how Orcas living in places like SeaWorld and other aquariums acquire strange and violent behaviours when they’re kept in captivity for too long. They are naturally non-violent creatures, but once locked up for a long time, and exposed to unnatural conditions and intense training, they become violent toward humans and each other. Keeping them in such small spaces is simply not natural, and it’s absolutely disgusting how we are harming these innocent animals just so that we could look at them behind a wall or cage bars. It’s all for money obviously, and it is absolutely wrong to harm wildlife just for our enjoyment and financial benefit.

Referring back to the above article, the argument in favor of zoos is that they save species from extinction. Well I could see how that could be, but at the same time, the polar bears (for example) would probably have a better chance of survival if they’re happy in their own habitat, with no human predators than staying in a cage for their entire life and not being physically or mentally strong enough to reproduce. Conservation of wildlife, in my opinion, is best done through the creation of protected areas, natural parks and hunting bans, not locking them up in cages.

The other argument for zoos is that they are good for research purposes. How accurate can the results of these studies be if the animals aren’t allowed to roam freely and follow their natural patterns? If a study about orcas was conducted at SeaWorld, I would seriously question the validity of it. They are not behaving as they naturally would, it’s simply an inaccurate depiction.

I have a true appreciation for the line “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.” Assurance of their well-being is certainly key to conservation, but in no other way can captivity be justified in my opinion.

The elimination of zoos is the movement of the future. I think all countries should follow in Costa Rica’s footsteps and ban all zoos and open up more natural parks and protected areas. This way, people can still enjoy the wildlife, observe it for what it truly is while the animals also enjoy they’re lives.

A Common Future

Before I begin a very intense rant, I think it’s important that you watch this video. 

Okay now that you’ve done that I suggest you take a five minute break until you’re able to close your jaw that I know is hanging open right now. If you’re jaw isn’t hanging open right now, it’s either because you’ve seen that video a billion times or you’re what Andy Revkin would refer to as a “climate ostrich” meaning that you’re in denial of man’s impact on this planet. It could also just be that you’re simply not aware. That’s okay too. This is what I’m here for.

Let me start by saying that the video is not an exaggeration. The speed at which all it occurs may be a little fast, but nothing else is exaggerated. It all starts quite small, with one insect and some snake boots, but quickly escalates to alteration of the Earth’s systems, destruction of many ecosystems and mountains of manmade, trivial objects collecting and polluting the planet. The ending is probably the most impactful of the whole video. The man collects all these objects and then suddenly everything goes quiet. Now that he has wiped out just about every living thing on the planet, he doesn’t know what to do with all these things. He just sits around on his throne, staring at the mess he made. What did all those things really bring him in his life? All he did was destroy the very thing that gave him life: the Earth (the aliens were so appalled by his behaviour that they essentially killed him). 

This is what we call unsustainable living and overconsumption. It is a lifestyle that cannot be maintained over a long period of time. Here on Earth, there exists two worlds: the developed world and the developing world. Here in the developed world, we have problems of overconsumption, and hold 20% of the population and 80% of the world’s wealth. This is an unrealistic standard to hold the rest of the world to. If all 7.4 billion of us consumed this way, I’m pretty sure the Earth would implode or something. The developing world holds 80% of the population and 20% of the world’s wealth and experiences problems of deprivation.

These two worlds are two separate extremes, neither are sustainable or appropriate, but they do have one thing in common: the future. Both worlds need to develop further (in different ways) in order to reach a sustainable middle ground, a point of convergence. They both need to work toward, the same, more sustainable future, one that does not over-exploit the planet’s natural resources, and one that leaves the Earth in better condition than found.

In order to reach this point of convergence, change needs to occur in both worlds. This cannot be done by changing the systems and substances of the Earth, the very thing that contains us and allows us to live, but by changing the human role in it. The environment cannot be managed appropriately without first understanding and changing the cultures that are embedded in it. This topic in and of itself could compose dozens of posts, but I’ll leave it at this. We don’t need to change nature so that we can live in it, we need to change our ways of living so that we can live with nature and use its resources in a non-destructive manner.