VOICE: Consumption and climate change


What you buy, how you use and reuse it, and whether you repair or recycle it all have huge effects on our planet’s climate.

The unrestrained growth of consumerism has been a major factor in the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) production and the growing impact of climate change.

When considering the wide range of carbon and methane emissions generated by consumption, from extraction and harvesting through processing and manufacturing and transport to market, and finally the elimination of products and packaging that we no longer want, unusable and often useless, it is becoming obvious that the impacts of our consumer society are a major cause of global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental organizations have estimated that the GHG impacts of consumption exceed 40% of all human activities. The zero waste mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” offers us a way to solve the problem locally.

The manufacture, distribution and use of the goods and foods on which we depend in our daily lives, as well as the management of the waste that results from them, all require energy. Since the mid-1900s, our consumer addiction has been keeping pace with the sharp increase in carbon emissions.

Traditional “waste” management practices generate up to 5% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, primarily methane from organic matter. Methane is now considered to be a greenhouse gas 70 times more powerful than CO2 over a period of 20 years.

Most importantly, we need to move away from the old concept of “waste” management and instead embrace a sustainable materials management strategy, one that considers impacts and “cradle to grave” solutions.

Zero waste management isn’t just about maximizing diversion through programs like recycling and composting. As Annie Leonard, author of “The Story of Stuff,” rightly says, “Recycling is what we do when we run out of options to avoid, repair or reuse the product first. ”

Sustainable materials management is focused on aggressively maximizing waste reduction by minimizing waste production. Controlling consumption then becomes the centerpiece of the new paradigm.

It is an approach to use and reuse resources in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible throughout their lifecycle. It seeks to minimize the materials used and all associated environmental impacts, including the most often toxic, destructive mining practices.

By 2030, zero waste strategies could reduce GHG emissions by over 400 million tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent of removing more than 20% of US coal-fired power plants from the grid!

Zero waste strategies focused on reducing consumption and optimizing recycling and composting can be among the most cost-effective actions that local governments can take to reduce their community’s GHG emissions.

Using recycled materials to make new products requires much less energy than making products from virgin materials. This means we burn less fossil fuels and produce fewer GHG emissions.

Instead of using trees, oil, natural gas and raw minerals to make new products, when manufacturers use recycled products they can save 30-90% of the energy they would use to manufacture at from new raw materials.

Another key element of sustainable materials management is the management of organic matter, primarily the increasing volumes of food waste that ends up in our landfills every day. Recycled or composted, our green waste and our food waste can enrich the soil, reduce dependence on pollutants, petroleum fertilizers and sequester carbon from the air.

For holiday gifts this year, consider zero-waste alternatives: certificates of service (massages, manicures, haircuts, etc.), consumables (a food basket filled with fruits and locally grown produce) or sustainable necessities. Check out the Zero Waste Kaua’i website, zerowastekauai.net, for more gift ideas and how you can support local actions to become more sustainable.

John Harder, aka Dump Doctor, was Kaua’i County’s first solid waste coordinator, and is a member of the Kaua’i Climate Action Coalition and co-founder of Zero Waste Kaua’i.

Don’t miss our next Kaua’i Climate Action Coalition Virtual Forum on Wednesday, December 8 at 6 p.m., on Ocean Acidification, with Special Guest Speaker Christopher Sabine, Professor of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii ‘ i in Manoa.

To attend, register and RSVP at the link below or at http://bit.ly/kaauioceanacidification. Or you can watch on the Live Zero Waste Kaua’i Facebook page.


Laurel brier is involved in the Kaua’i Climate Action Coalition. The KCAC meets via Zoom on the third Monday of the month. Email [email protected] to register or for more information. Education forums are held the second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. For more information, visit the Zero Waste Kaua’i Facebook page or register at http://bit.ly/eprkauai.


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