Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Drink beer, save the planet?

We were in Colorado for a wedding until yesterday, and after all the wonderful festivities wound down, we had a day to poke around. We were staying about ten minutes from the Coors brewing company, it turns out, so we decided to go for a tour.

It was the typical stuff for the most part (not that I'm complaining - free beer is a good thing for me!) I certainly didn't expect to be too inspired while I was there, but I saw a quote on the wall that grabbed my interest: "Waste is a resource out of place."

The tour went on to explain the various ways in which the company minimizes waste creation - selling grain leftovers to cattle farmers for feed, selling "sad beer" to ethanol plants, and even using their cooling ponds to generate a small amount of electricity. I'm not writing this because I necessarily think this is the most environmentally responsible company in the world or anything, but because I really like that philosophy of rethinking waste.

The idea that all waste is just a misappropriated resource could fundamentally change the way we deal with our trash. Some of my fellow bloggers are already doing this: Chile is making stock out of veggie scraps. Heather is eating fruit scraps. They are doing what this philosophy asks us to - looking at "waste" and finding a place where it is no longer waste, but rather a resource. Freecycle does just that - although it can be tedious and tiresome at times - after we've decided we have no use for a resource, this site aims to help us find others who are eager to put it to use.

I'm going to be making a very conscious effort in the near future to re-think waste. In fact, I'm going to try to eliminate it from my life. Instead of seeing trash, I'm going to start looking at all those homeless resources and try to help them find their place. I think we need to start thinking this way on a larger scale as well. We need to start seeing the opportunities created by these orphaned resources rather than think of waste as something that is no longer useful, and in need of disposal.

After all, think about what the word waste actually means: to consume, spend, or employ uselessly or without adequate return; use to no avail or profit; squander. The very definition of the word tells us that when we create waste it means we have not used something to its full potential. Why is our attitude towards trash so casual? If someone were to tell you that you were using your money in your retirement account uselessly or without adequate return, you'd make adjustments, right? Why should we not approach the resources of physical things with similar care?

The western world creates a lot of waste. Imagine if we were able to view all of it instead as a resource. I wonder if then we'd finally realize how much we truly have.


Heather @ SGF said...

Welcome back!

Waste especially comes to mind on trash day. We've been putting our trash can out once every 5 weeks with one or two kitchen sized bags in it. Week after week, we watch our neighbors fill their cans up (some of them have 2 cans) and we can see the recycleables right there on top! All the cans and cardboard boxes, and plastic bottles. No!

Now I know it's not fair to compare so much with our neighbors (we don't have kids), but 2 full trash cans a week! We can't fill ours in 5 weeks, it's just the two bags. And then people complain that our trash bill just went up. Well, someone has to pay for the new dump they're building here, right?

You're so right. We ALL have to start rethinking trash. Maybe if the city started charging for quantity of trash instead of a flat rate, people would think twice about tossing it.

Chile said...

Gotcha! It's always great to see the light turn on for someone. While you're drinkin' your beer, you can check out the "Rethink It" challenge I hosted in January. The whole idea behind that challenge was going beyond the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle concept. Here's a link to all the posts with that tag. (Hint: scroll back to the first one chronologically and work your way forward.)

Theresa said...

Since I've been looking into Taoism and Buddhism, I've really thought about matter in a whole different light. Taoism especially focuses on the oneness of all things. Every single thing in the universe is made of the same 'stuff' just in different configurations/compounds. And I figure, why would I treat these elements and molecules differently just because they are in the form of plastic vs in the form of flesh and blood, for example. Why would I chuck out my old TV? It's made of the same particles of matter I am. So I try and minimize waste by just making sure I treat matter of all kinds respectfully.

Debbie said...

I am reminded of the old saying 'Waste Not, Want not' ~ unfortunately it seems our society would rather 'Waste more, Want more'. As I attempt to be more mindful, I will stop and think about the waste I am creating. Thanks for inspiring me - once again. Glad you returned home safely!

Kathryn B. said...

One thing that drives me batty: in an affluent society like ours, sometimes when you take steps to avoid waste, this makes some people view you as cheap/poor/a skinflint. I hate that! Waste is offensive!

One of my hardest waste challenges, though, is food packaging. I buy in bulk and all that, but still, unless you're milking the cow and harvesting the crops yourself, it's tough to reduce food packaging. Companies like TerraCycle have some great ideas for closing the food packaging loop, but it's only a partial solution, and we're still early in the game for addressing packaging waste.

Melissa said...

heather - we actually do sort of pay based on quantity here. not totally, but there are different sized bins - the bigger they are, the more we pay each month - and they're very strict about not taking trash not in a bin. We have the smallest one, and it's way bigger than we need.

chile - thanks for the link...great stuff! and a good excuse to tap the rockies ;)

theresa - that is a great way to look at things!

debbie - I think you are right; just as all the studies show that the more we have, the unhappier we tend to be. strange, isn't it?

kathryn - food packaging is something I also find the biggest (by far) source of waste in our home. I figure the more I make from scratch, the more I cut this down, but it's a tough one.