Op-Ed

Ottawa business Nu Grocery is a zero waste grocery store. Photo: Parker Townes.

We need to make environmental sustainability more common

There’s a lot of junk in space. So much so that it’s becoming a problem for space expeditions. This should reveal something about us. You probably haven’t heard of the Pacific Trash Vortex, but you’ve definitely heard of Texas. Imagine a mass of garbage the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. It’s growing everyday. We’re pretty messy, and that’s why we should move towards becoming more waste free.

As you can imagine, many people consider this a problem, and I think you should be concerned too. If you plan on having kids one day, think about them for a moment, and then think about the World Economic Forum study which estimates that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. If you’re at all concerned for the future of life on this planet, then that should alarm you.

So the question, is how on Earth can we fix this mess?

Thankfully, some businesses are already trying to answer that question. Nu Grocery, a zero waste store, just opened up in Westboro. I haven’t been to the store, but its gimmick is certainly the way forward.

All businesses should make minimizing waste production a priority. I find that my friends taking economics courses tend to point out that this will certainly hurt their bottom line. Sustainable, waste-efficient production is generally more expensive than callous, destructive, short-term exploitation of the environment.

Economists tend to be forward-looking people who place considerable faith in the innovative capacity of the market. Maybe a waste-reducing technology will be developed in the future that will make all of these problems obsolete and all of my worrying misplaced. (How I wish that will be the case.) But then again, maybe it won’t be developed, or it will be developed too late. For the time being we need to consider the reality that unless we change our ways, there simply will be no economy not that far into the future.

The problem is that large corporations produce the majority of our waste and can mostly get around pressure from the public. They can, technically, produce zero waste and simultaneously be filling lakes with trash.

Take Chrysler. If we managed to apply enough pressure to Chrysler and started to damage their bottom line, we might be able to force them to adopt a zero waste policy. But then there’s the problem of inputs. Chrysler is sustained by a large amount of independent ‘inputs’: it is both a producer and purchaser. One company makes the ashtray, the other makes the seat belt, another makes the tires, etc. These companies can go on producing incredible amounts of waste. Then what happens is Chrysler can say its assembly plant produces zero waste, even though the process of producing a single car still contributes fashionably to that Pacific Zortex.

Thus, we can’t take aim at specific companies. The modern economy is far too complicated. Even if we got the largest companies in North America to adopt zero waste policies the impact on trash production might be marginal. The only way forward is to make zero waste be the universal standard. Make every business be like Nu Grocery. Make every business sustainable.