#BeTheChange: Embracing the “Waste Not, Want Not” Philosophy

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Growing up with grandparents who founded their values on scarcities through a World War and global depression, they based their principles of raising their grandchildren on the idiom ‘waste not, want not.’ I honoured the ways in which their shared experiences influenced our development by creating my own set of values built from these principles. I made a pledge to myself, and ultimately the planet, that I would be mindful of how I utilized resources in this world, including consumption and disposal.

Counter to my pledge, my generation saw the 1980s boom of consumer capitalism and packaging progression, including increased plastic production. These changes, along with my own personal studies around the Anthropocene, created a hypersensitivity in my awareness of the impacts that human consumption and waste was having on the planet. I acknowledged my sensitivities early on in life and created actions for myself along the way for how I not only managed my consumption, but how I mitigated my waste as well.

An illustration of horseshoe crabs

Horseshoe crabs are true ‘living fossils’ with an evolutionary history that predates the dinosaurs. Today, they are one of many species imperiled in the Anthropocene by overharvesting, shoreline development, and the loss and degradation of their essential spawning and nursery habitats.

In a civilization where ‘things’ have become ever more disposable on a mass scale, I believe the cycle of reusing, reclaiming, and trading goods over continually purchasing new products within supply chains is critical in minimizing both our consumption and waste. Keeping goods in circulation and out of landfills was one action that I set for myself early on and continue to live by. In this article, I’m talking primarily about the ‘fast furniture’ industry and why purchasing/trading second-hand can mend the negative impacts that this industry is having on the planet. The fast furniture industry is based on the adage “buy cheap, buy twice.” Cheap isn’t just a monetary measure; it is also a quality measure. Fast furniture involves the unsustainable design, manufacturing, and marketing of mass-produced, affordable furniture. The same environmental impacts of “fast fashion” are also having a significant impact on the design and décor of living, working, and community spaces. As someone who is particular and passionate about art and design, while also being considerate and mindful of the planet, I found ways around the lingering taboo and limited knowledge of purchasing and trading second-hand. It all started with a mindset that has now turned into both a hobby and a collectable investment that are beneficial to sustainability and the planet.

A photo of a landfill

The methane released by landfills is 84 times more effective at absorbing the sun’s heat than carbon dioxide, making it one of the most potent greenhouse gases and a major contributor to climate change.

Minimizing consumption and waste starts with a mindset, including developing a different attitude towards ‘things’ and how we come to obtain and dispose of them. Being mindful of how new products are made, what they are made of, and how they are packaged, shipped, and disposed of is vital in understanding our contribution to consumption and waste. New products require a tremendous number of resources and energy to produce. They also create expansive waste before they live out their short life spans and ultimately end up as waste themselves. Every material used in just one product comes from its own supply chain that generates its own consumptions and waste. Once produced, the item is packaged, which requires even more material, more manufacturing, more energy, and more waste. As it makes its way from the manufacturing plant to your home, it has already contributed tenfold to its carbon footprint. The consumer must then dispose of all the packaging and ultimately of the product itself. As with a lot of new products, commerce and capitalism have led to cost reductions for increased capital gains, which ultimately leads to diminished quality. Products are no longer built for integrity and often become obsolete within a very short span of time and require replacement – sending the ‘old’ product to a landfill and repeating all the steps above. Over time, this consumption and the waste it produces has severe impacts that are perpetuated by supply and demand and a growing population.

A photo of a seating area in the mid-century modern style

I have always been a proud supporter of purchasing second-hand and bartering trades as this reduces consumption and waste significantly, if not entirely. It can be done in a fashion where high-end quality and elegance are made affordable and achievable. From an interior design perspective, creating a unique space with what feels like a ‘one of a kind’ authenticity also elevates the character of a space. As an art and design aficionado who partakes in vintage and/or second-hand trades and purchases, I have been able to create a space that mingles comfort, aesthetic, function, character, and quality without sacrificing sustainability. A large percentage of my entire home is vintage designer furniture, décor, and art. I am particularly fond of the 1945–1970 Scandinavian mid-century modern (MCM) design movement. I began my collection over 20 years ago which has since turned into a hobby. When a piece that I have been seeking becomes available, I will sell, donate, or trade an existing piece to make a new home for both items. I am also extremely selective and only purchase / trade what I truly want so that I’m not just trying to fill a space or creating clutter. I try to follow the principles of living a more minimalistic lifestyle, including how I use the space within our home. I apply ‘waste not, want not’ in many different contexts to many different areas of my life.

There are so many avenues this day in age where you can find incredible pieces that do not lack in character or quality. Vintage and second-hand markets are growing rapidly, providing influence and availability. I am sharing a few rare and exciting finds that I have personally sourced through local shops (which includes the added bonus of buying local and supporting local businesses) and local/close proximity online shops. In establishing relationships with those in the industry and the market, you can typically make connections that increase the opportunity to find what you may be looking for. I am sharing my story and these images because I hope that it will serve as a reminder that we can be the change. It starts by developing a new mindset, and in this case, it’s a mindset centered around how we consume and how we dispose of our consumption. We can do away with misinformation, taboo, and lack of knowledge in order to make choices that will reduce our carbon footprint and ultimately the impact that we have on the climate and our planet. One by one, each individual can do their part. We may not change the world entirely, but we can influence others in the ways in which we care. The more we come together to care, the more difference we can make.

At RVA, we believe that climate action not only relies on what our organization does, but on the individual choices we make each and every day. Our #BeTheChange stories seek to inform, challenge, and inspire people to learn about the impacts of climate change, and empower them to take make responsible choices at home and at work. By increasing climate literacy and promoting a culture of sustainability within our firm and beyond, we can help drive collective action at the scale required to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon future.