April 2023 marks Earth Month which is important to us here in Zero Waste Alliance Ireland; our work for the last 24 years advocating zero waste and the Circular Economy has shown us that in spite of the many well-meaning policies, programmes, European Union Directives and International Conventions, the amount of waste produced by societies worldwide, and here in Ireland, has continued to increase. The amounts of materials recycled have increased, but the overall rise in what we produce has overtaken recycling to the extent that waste volumes have not decreased.
What is the answer to this, and what should we do? We have learned during recent decades that our simplistic understanding of the world in which we live is no longer fit for purpose; and our lessons or takeaways may be summarised as:
- We need to critically address and bring about major changes in the political systems and power dynamics which to a large extent determine the current world order; especially the nature and roles of global institutions that dominate and perpetuate the status quo;
- The current economic ideology fundamentally under-prices and undervalues the environment and human labour, and ignores negative impacts on nature and societies;
- There are deep-rooted structural inequities in the way the global economy operates, and therefore we need to critically evaluate the structure and damaging effects of the current economic models;
- Climate chaos, environmental degradation, excessive waste generation, widespread poverty and perverse inequality have been defined as separate multiple crises; but in fact they are different aspects of what we might understand as the metacrisis. These crises are interconnected not only in their social and economic realities, but more fundamentally in their source and they share the same deep root: massively extracting and wasting the Earth’s resources;
- It is impossible to reconcile free-market ideology with environmental sustainability and wise resource management; by letting common resources be exploited by an unregulated free market prevents these finite resources from contributing to long-term economic prosperity and wellbeing for all; and,
- Making the transition to zero waste and real sustainability will require a new political philosophy for human progress which will place collective welfare over individual rights, abandon unimpeded consumption and reinterpret the definition of prosperity in an era of constraints.
Let us celebrate Earth Month by reflecting on these lessons, learning from the Earth herself, and by loving and caring for our “small blue dot” – the planet we call Earth.
– Jack O’Sullivan
Founder Member and Director, Zero Waste Alliance Ireland.