We’ve fallen into reliance on ‘them’, government and business, but as my previous blog outlined, we householders have significant power to create real change. We seem to hang back, challenged by the loneliness of embarking on a journey such as zero waste by ourselves.
So, why not make it ‘easy as’ and a whole lot more fun by doing stuff together with others? This blog explores how getting together with others seems central to household adoption of zero wastefulness.
‘Nelson Mandela had this genuine belief – and he often argued with me about the provability of it – that human beings are essentially ‘good-doing beings, beings who do good’… He argued that, “If you follow human beings from the moment they get up in the morning until they retire at night, you would find that most of them do the proper things most of the time, and that erring is an aberration” ‘
I guess you recognise, as I do, Mandela’s viewpoint in your own understanding, perhaps partially buried under layers of social conditioning to the contrary. It’s not surprising, given that recent research finds humankind the most empathetic and altruistic of all living species; we have evolved to naturally form small groups to work together for the common good.
It was clear in the interviews last year as part of my Masters research that shifting to zero waste lifestyles improved physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Localising food production and introducing sharing schemes also led to a greater sense of community. It got me thinking , ‘Could we join together with others whose company we value, our friends, our neighbours, or our colleagues, to make the journey to zero wastefulness a fun way to flourish both individually and as communities?
For me, the journey to zero wastefulness has given me a core sense of my unique purpose which was reason enough for me to change my habits. I believe Mandela is right, we’re caring beings, but of course we each prioritise our caring into different areas and I’m aware that not everyone finds reducing waste an enjoyable and challenging adventure! Reflecting on our district, there’s certainly no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to waste reduction.
Drifting, anchoring, voyaging or treasuring?
Figure 1. Four levels of householder behaviour towards waste
Just as the varied species create the beauty of our New Zealand bush, so too, much of the charm of the Far North District comes from the diversity of our householders. With so many unique individuals, it’s hardly surprising we have such varying attitudes towards zero waste goals. The model in Fig. 1 above describes 4 types of householder behaviour I notice here in the Far North. Of course, responses to waste shift between levels depending on circumstances, my own included, but perhaps you recognise yourself or others in the descriptions below?
A Drifter meets their own strong need to belong by following market trends, doing whatever they believe their peers see as ‘on trend’. Drifters shift like flotsam and jetsam flowing in and out with the tide. Not everyone has the resources to deal with change, and Anchors stick with the way they’ve ‘always done things’. Blocking out alternative options, even ways to minimise waste that might now better meet their needs, may be easier than opening up and grieving alone over awful environmental issues. Voyagers, on the other hand, need to connect with values they view as important, and so adventurously set out on a journey to reduce their own wastefulness amidst a sea of Drifters and Anchors. It’s a lonely journey though, in a culture averse to conflict, but eased when they catch sight of Treasurers, beacons of light who can inspire and guide their journey. These Treasurers are the rare people at any age who choose to treasure what they have. These inspirational people find greater meaning in what they do and their connections with their brothers and sisters of all living species than in what they can purchase.
So, with all these different types, how will the message of zero wastefulness ever infiltrate the wider Far North community? Anchors and drifters seem to hold back a flourishing Far North, don’t they? Well, I think not, they just need to get together with like-minded others, and here’s one way it could happen.
Spreading Positive Change – the Big Organising Model.
‘Big organising’, a new model for spreading positive change was used in the 2016 Bernie Sanders US election campaign. With little money but such a transformational vision for change that it inspired people across party lines, in just 7 months, Sanders shifted from just 3% name recognition at the start to gaining 46% of the votes. It is believed one further month would have tipped Clinton out of the nomination and the Trump campaign would have been defeated. Such are the hindsights of history, but the important thing is how the campaign used volunteers to connect directly with 75 million Americans.
At public meetings, volunteers were asked to sign up to host a ‘house party’ inviting others around to their home to work together to spread the word. After signing up, house party hosts came to the stage to tell others what would be unique and fun about their own house party. It was a model that worked, with the confidence of others creating similar groups, with guidelines, support and by sharing ideas, they were able to decide for themselves how best to spread understanding of the Sanders vision. The Big Organising model has now been used around the globe. Local leadership is not appointed, but arises out from the work the volunteers do, other people join in and the first wave of volunteers hands the baton on to others.
Would a public meeting with an invited panel of ‘Treasurers’ discussing a waste issue relevant to the community similarly inspire offers to be house party hosts? I believe so, polls show that the majority of the NZ public is highly concerned about waste. My expectation is that some people will be moved by relevant speakers to want to gather a few friends, neighbours, or colleagues together and give some aspect of waste reduction a go. Hosts could be provided with guidelines, followed up with support from peer-to-peer text messaging, and results can fed back to monitor the movement. The Big Organising model avoids a common problem of campaigns, burn-out of volunteers; hosts can ‘hand on the baton’ to one or more of those attending to hold a further ‘house party’ with their own friends and so forth.
Zero waste priorities and constraints, as already mentioned, are very different for different people. However, as you will see from the following scenarios, appropriate house party gatherings could provide the peer support to engage not only Voyagers, but Anchors and Drifters too:
- a farmer inviting other farmers for a ‘zero waste bbq’ to discuss how they can reduce toxic plastic waste
- a teenager gathering a group of friends to talk together about what would work for them to transform their school
- a lunchroom get-together of colleagues to talk about what their organisation can do
- mothers with young babies bringing to the coffee table the plastic concern that bugs them most and discussing ways to get around it
- a couple of senior citizens hosting a machinery repair or clothing alteration session for young neighbours.
So, why wait for ‘them’, be they government, council or business sector before change towards zero wastefulness and 100 % vitality happens? Remember ‘Sihamba nabahambayo’ (‘We take along with us those who are ready for the journey‘)? What if every Far North householder is ready? It’s just that like any journey, it’s a whole lot more fun with like-minded companions.