Waste Not Want Not: Sustainability and Social Good

For our final post on improving material wellbeing through sustainability, let’s turn our attention to social good. These 5 suggestions are just the beginning of the good you can do when you start making connections between helping others and waste. And while there are many local opportunities to act on, you might think globally as well.

Tip #176: Coordinate a prepare café

If you’re really handy, you could organize a Repair Café group. Repair Cafés first popped up in Amsterdam a few years ago to connect people who are skilled at fixing things with others who need things fixed. There are now over 1,000 Repair Café groups operating in 25 countries. According to Martine Postma, founder of the Repair Café Foundation, 

groups generally meet once a month and repair on average 25 items with a 70 percent success rate. In total, that’s over 200,000 items repaired per year. And that’s a good amount of waste to keep out of the landfill. Bonus: Repair Cafés provide opportunities for positive social interactions and strengthen community networks.

Besides sustainability, the social aspect is a great reason to get involved.

Tip #177: Donate gently used goods

Donating our gently used durable goods is a way to help others participate more fully in a circular economy. When I was young, my mom would lead us a yearly purge of outgrown-yet-still-decent things to contribute to our church’s rummage sale. I’m not sure that our church ever made much money from these sales. But since our church was in Detroit, where over 42% of the residents live below the poverty line, those who came to shop from the neighborhood definitely benefited.

As an adult, I follow my mom’s example and donate stuff we no longer need. Goodwill takes clothing and household goods, as does Veterans of America or Salvation Army (both of which will pick up your donations). Habitat for Humanity’s Restore shop accepts donations of furniture, appliances, building materials and other home goods. Thanks to these organizations, increasing sustainability couldn’t be easier.

Tip #178: Seek out recycling charities

Some organizations accept donations of a single specific thing. If you’d like to pass on an old bike, for example, local cycling groups and shops often run bike refurbishing and redistribution programs or can connect you with one. Like Kids On Bikes, which provides bikes to under-served children in Colorado. Shoes (especially running shoes) are another item that can be recycled through the manufacturer or through school shoe drives. And don’t forget cars! Our local National Public Radio station makes it easy to donate cars to them, so they can use the funds for their public-service programming. By taking the time to find new homes for our well-loved things in these ways, we can help others by closing the loop, if only a little bit.

Tip #179: Recognize global waste pickers

Did you know that there is a Global Alliance for Waste Pickers? A waste picker salvages reusable or recyclable materials (typically from a dump) for sale or personal consumption. Waste pickers more commonly work in lesser developed countries, but their presence is growing in industrialized nations as well.

The global alliance comprises thousands grassroots waste picker organizations from 28 countries. They have organized to prevent persecution, raise recognition for their work, improve working conditions, and share knowledge that will help achieve their shared goals. For waste pickers, who often suffer from economic and social exclusion as well as poor health, this collective action is vital for their long-term wellbeing. And their work is equally vital for global sustainability.

Tip #180: Give waste workers praise, not pity

Compassion is perhaps the most obvious feeling that arises when we think of waste pickers—after all, they scavenge in the garbage to survive, and this livelihood brings its own forms of suffering. But we might also feel gratitude. Waste pickers provide a sustainability service for the entire planet by bringing underutilized assets back into circulation (i.e., reducing the world’s total waste). In fact, this is now a recognized part of the Global Alliance for Waste Pickers’ mission. At the First World Conference of Waste Pickers (held in 2008 in Bogotá, Columbia), those present composed a 4-point public declaration, which included this point:

We declare our rejection of incineration and landfill-based technologies and agree to demand and create processes that promote “zero waste,” or the maximum utilization of waste (such reuse, recycling, and composting). These alternatives represent viable socioeconomic alternatives for informal and marginalized sectors of the global population.

The question now is: what can we do to make waste picking a more desirable career path?

Next Week…

We’re starting a new month, shifting to a new element of wellbeing and a new wellbeing goal! The new focus is on community wellbeing, namely, how to develop community wellbeing through giving (and boost your own wellbeing at the same time).


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