“…we have a joint obligation to preserve [the commons]. That’s because future generations will need them to live, and live well, just as we do. And our generation has no right to say, “These gifts end here.” This shared responsibility introduces a moral factor that doesn’t apply to other economic assets: it requires us to manage these gifts with future generations in mind.”
– Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0
I find it fascinating to note a new set of moral values creeping into my daily life: those surrounding garbage disposal, energy and water use, and the type of food I buy; in essence – my consumption patterns. If I leave the tap running for a little too long, a pang of guilt hits me. If I slip a piece of garbage into the bin instead of properly splitting it up into the recyclables, I feel a small twist in my tummy. I get a little queasy when my Starbucks cup isn’t clean yet and I get a paper cup in the morning instead. There are small things, and the guilt doesn’t bother me enough to actually curb my habits (too much) just yet, but they exist where they didn’t before (not really, and not quite like this).
A couple of years ago I visited my parents in Bangkok, Thailand where they lived for three years. Despite it being an apartment in a well-to-do building in one of the most polluted cities in the world, there was no recycling program. My parents, avid and devoted recyclers for the 20+ years they’d lived back in Canada and the UK prior to their sojourn in Thailand, easily and guiltlessly dumped everything into the trash there (minus any aluminum cans, which they gave to their housekeeper Thip who made spare cash by taking them for recycling at some plant nearby).
While living there with them for six weeks, I also picked up this habit of depositing everything into the trash. I shamefully brought it back with me to Canada when I returned. I continued to recycle regularly while living in my house in the suburbs (an easy thing to do when there is space to store the recyclables before putting them out in their appropriate bins), but when I moved downtown and began living the tiny bachelor-apartment life… well, there just wasn’t space anymore to store anything other than a small bag of trash. And a trip down the elevator every time I wanted to put one little thing in the recycling… admit it, it’s just not convenient.
I really think the city of Toronto should force upgrades to all apartment buildings in the city that would see them fitted with convenient recycling disposal units. It’s ridiculous that there is so much emphasis on us separating out our recyclables from our garbage bins when there’s no practical way to do that in our condos. Even new buildings aren’t being built with this kind of consideration in mind – and why not? If we’re going to change the habits of our residents, let’s face it – the new ways must be convenient. That’s all it boils down to.
As you can see from this, there is a limitation to these new moral values, and it’s mainly this: they are appearing mainly within the realms of convenience. I’m buying environmentally-friendly clothes washing soap, but I’m still using the washing machine. I will soon be switching to the same sort of soap for my dishwasher, but again will continue to use that (not the super-hot wash though!). Hey, I’m only one person, and I only have so much time in my day, and the truth is I just can’t afford the time it would take to handwash all my clothes and dishes every day (or, more accurately, I choose not to in lieu of other personal-improvement activities).
I’ll use this as an opportunity to link you to No Impact Man (who also posted the link to Capitalism 3.0), a person who is doing all these things, but who, however, seems to have the novelty of time to actually spend on this kind of thing. Kudos to you, NIM – I look forward to reading your book full of tips, and to the day when our economy may change enough to allow me to live in a more practical and sustainable way.