Regular visitors to this site may be wondering if I’ve made any progress nudging my ‘untamed’ spouse towards less wasteful behavior. He’s not hugging any trees, but I do see signs of change. We now agree on some thermostat settings! Many of your comments on that post included great suggestions for nudging spouses, roommates and friends to be less wasteful.
As I pointed out in my recent post on the Sustainable Brands website, companies are doing a lot to make their operations, goods and services more environmentally sustainable. But they also recognize the important role that we consumers play through how we use and dispose of products. In the SB article, I suggest that companies, along with government and nonprofit partners, can nudge consumers to be less wasteful and adopt greener behavior by taking a page from the social marketing playbook — make it easy, fun and popular. Do you agree?
Make It Easy to Be Less Wasteful
While recycling is still a chore, clear instructions, accessible bins, curbside pickup, and reverse vending machines at the supermarket make it more convenient for us to dispose of newspapers and commingles responsibly, and to redeem deposit bottles and cans. Recycling of other items like rechargeable batteries and fluorescent bulbs is more problematic, and requires us to do some research. I find www.Earth911.org is a helpful resource, but surely it could be made easier.
I have a few burned out tubular and compact fluorescent bulbs stored in the pantry, awaiting a trip to my county MRF (Materials Recovery Facility). I shudder to think how many end up thrown in the trash, mercury and all, by consumers who lack the patience or storage space!
Don’t Throw it Away if It’s Broken. Fix It Instead
One barrier to making it easy for consumers to be less wasteful may be a lack of simple skills to extend the life of possessions. Better to sew a torn seam or re-attach a button than to buy a whole new garment. In earlier times, children learned cooking, sewing, carpentry and repair skills in the home, supplemented by Home Economics and Shop classes. Are these taught anymore? Should businesses or local governments step in with helpful webinars?
I miss the local hardware store where you could buy one screw to re-attach that ‘thingy’. I also miss repair shops for everything from shoes to lamps and vacuum cleaners that used to be in most neighborhoods.
As another blogger discovered, some consumers are literally taking matters into their own hands by joining Fix-it Collectives and Repair Cafes. The image to the right is the ‘Self-Repair Manifesto’ from ifixit.com, a website that provides guides and manuals to empower and encourage consumers to fix their stuff before throwing it away.
Companies Can Make It Easy to Be Less Wasteful
Companies are making it easier for us to be less wasteful via streamlined packaging, concentrated formulas, recycled and customizable products. Refillable products are great, but only if the refills are economical, uniform, and widely available. When was the last time you replaced a ballpoint refill instead of throwing the pen away?
Some companies try to make it easier to responsibly dispose of products and packaging by developing better How2Recycle instruction labels for packages. Electronics, cell phones, and printer cartridges that come with return envelopes or cartons are helpful, as are drop-offs and take-back centers at stores like Staples and Best Buy.
Of course, many nonprofit organizations like Goodwill have collection bins, drop-off centers and/or pickup service for unwanted furniture, clothing and house wares. Clothing retailers are making it easier to give away unwanted clothes and textiles to be recycled instead of ending up in landfills. For instance H&M has a garment collection and recycling program. The British company, Marks & Spencer is making it convenient to drop off unwanted clothing and ‘schwop’ for new duds on the same trip.
Designer Eileen Fisher has closed the apparel consumption loop further by setting up Green Eileen outlets where consumers can buy gently worn EF clothing and attend workshops where they learn to create items using leftover fabric.
Make It Fun to Be Less Wasteful
Some of us derive pleasure from the sheer challenge of reducing as much waste as possible and forming new habits like remembering to bring cloth shopping bags to the store.
Just as many companies are re-designing and re-imagining products and services, and bringing exciting eco-innovations to market, greener, more mindful consumers are finding a new creative outlet by figuring out inventive ways to use less energy, water, products, etc., and repurpose items that would otherwise be discarded. This collection of 50 creative ideas for purposing household items like toilet paper rolls, credit cards and old light bulbs from Twisted Sifter is fun and inspirational, as are the many postings on WeHateToWaste.com.
Games and Rewards: New Incentives to Waste Less
Game-like activities, feedback and rewards, can also nudge us towards waste-reducing behavior while we’re having fun. Examples include Recyclebank and The Fun Theory. One game designer who believes in the power of play has created a card game aptly named ‘Waste Not’ to help unleash creativity in rethinking uses for common objects that may otherwise end up in the trash.
Make It Popular to Prevent Waste
As social animals, we consumers naturally want to do what’s ‘in’. But despite the obvious environmental, economic and social benefits, sustainable consumption is still not the norm in our society. In our disposable culture, wastefulness lacks the stigma of shame embodied in the Japanese concept of Mottainai.
What will it take to make resource conservation more popular? Perhaps U.S. consumers will respond to a humorous campaign like this one that points out the ‘weirdness,’ not shame of — wasteful habits.
Policies Can Help Make Consumers Less Wasteful
Policies like bans on plastic shopping bags can also nudge us consumers to be less wasteful. School and company policies that systematize efficiency can help, too. When my college shifted the photocopy center default to two-sided copying, and switched to online versions of many forms and documents, people quickly adjusted and felt good about it.
Seeking Role Models That Exemplify Wasting Less
High-profile celebrities like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Ed Begley Jr. make conservation cool. Television, movies, and social media play an important role in popularizing ideas, styles and behaviors. While watching the Learning Channel show ‘Four Weddings’ (a guilty pleasure) recently, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear more than one of the bridal competitors express regret over the wasteful mountains of food at the reception. Could similar opinions and green behavior become as common as product placement on our favorite scripted TV shows?
Spreading The Word About Waste Prevention
As waste prevention activities gradually become easier, more fun, and more popular, we waste-haters can help spread the word in our own circles of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, with a creative, constructive tone, not a critical one.
We can join like-minded citizens and consumers to create community, share ideas, and advocate for change, in person or online. As I stated in the SB article referenced above, that’s the premise behind this WeHateToWaste community and website.
What Makes Waste Reduction Easy and Fun for You?
How have companies helped the process? What else can they do and we consumers do to make it more fun, easy and popular to waste less?