In Praise of Practical Projects

As with all environmentalists, I often find myself having moments of crisis.  Those moments when you’re confronted with the state of things can can’t help but think, ‘How can we possibly make a difference?’  During my first week working for Action 21 I have had my fair share of those moments, but I’ve also been able to feel pretty inspired.

Action 21 run two second hand shops in Leamington Spa, the Recycle Warehouse and the Re-Useful Centre, in order to divert good from landfill.  The Recycle Warehouse is based on the tip site, so is able to intercept goods that people bring to be dumped.  They do a fantastic job, September 2010 saw them divert over 2o tonnes of furniture, books, electrical items etc (basically anything that you can think might be thrown away) from landfill.  But as I was being shown round the shops, that voice of doom started to set in.  So basically, it said, the amount of stuff that you see here (and there is a lot of stuff) is the kind of thing that gets needlessly thrown away and end up in landfill in every other town in Britain.  I started to panic, how can we possibly make a difference??

But we all need to start somewhere.  The practical projects that Action 21 runs and promotes do make a difference, albeit a small one.  Being part of these projects does make me feel like I am doing something towards a larger goal.  We are starting to see lot’s of communities starting their own practical projects, often as part of Transition initiatives, and it’s these grassroots projects that will add up to contribute to the bigger picture.  There is no magic instant solution to climate change, to excess waste, to pollution… instead we have to celebrate the  communities around the globe that a coming up with their own solutions.  We can only work as hard as we each can and hope that together we will make a difference.

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3 thoughts on “In Praise of Practical Projects

  1. I had a thought the other day along these lines (i.e. asking if we can ever make a difference). It seems initially quite negative – even destructive – but may offer a beacon of hope somehow. Mind if I run it past you as a fellow environmentalist and free-thinker?

    My idea is that the ‘waste’ doesn’t happen at the point of landfill, but at the point where the natural materials are extracted from the Earth and converted to a consumable object in the first place. As soon as the materials have been extracted, the ‘spending’ of them has happened, no matter how long we manage to save it from officially being scrapped.

    A manufactured product is destined for landfill whether we make the most of it or not. To reuse or recycle is mere interception. ‘Landfill’ is the object’s ultimate destination even if it outlives humanity itself.

    Would it be better to direct our environmentalist energies at the other end of the product lifecycle: instead of intercepting products at the landfill should we somehow try to discourage the manufacturing process at the source?

  2. Rob, I actually completely agree with you. I think we should be manufacturing a lot less and that consumerism is one of the biggest things the environmental movement should be tackling (instead of asking people to change their lightbulbs for instance). I see re-use as more than just saving goods from landfill since if something is re-used then (hopefully) nothing new is being bought. If we can change people’s attitudes away from a throwaway consumer culture and towards repairing and re-using goods, then this could reduce demand and thus discourage the manufacturing process. Or do you still see this as too removed from the point?

    • You’re totally right. In fact, we had a couple of friends over last night and I ran this past them. We concluded that an instance of reuse removes a consumer need from the cycle. So we must not give up on reuse.

      It feels like ‘not quite enough’ in some ways. Even if I were to consume 100% reused product, Womble-style, I would still only remove one consumer (me) from the mix. But I guess that is where blogs like yours come in: to spread the word and get more people on the boat, maximising the impact of reuse.

      They say “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”. I do think that “Reduce” (tackling consumerism, as you say) is the most neglected and the most powerful. But the other two must happen. It’s common sense, innit? We should do all three.

      Ooh. My partner directs us to this.

      Anyway, sorry to ramble. This is a smashing blog. Don’t be disheartened by the ecological challenges ahead. We can all do our bit. It is not eccentric to care.

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