In a fast-paced world saturated with information, the sheer volume of what’s pouring out at us from the ever-present screens can feel overwhelming. But it’s not just the amount that we consume. In educating ourselves about current affairs, we can read about the issues from multiple standpoints. This can help broaden our horizons but can also feel paralysing in situations where action is required.
This is also true when it comes to the climate crisis and sustainability, which have been getting more media attention in the past few years. But why is there so much to read, is anything being done and how can you take the first steps into being a climate-positive individual?
The persisting negativity is only one aspect of this coverage and can cause ‘eco-anxiety’, which Working Abroad has looked at more closely here. Some of the techniques to help deal with this fear suggest balancing the negative out with positive news from alternative sources or taking action. While both can be immensely helpful in managing these feelings, I have often found there to be confusion around sustainable behaviours. This is naturally partly due to the complexity of the issue and the multitude of factors that need to be considered when assessing the sustainability of habits and products.
Such as: does compostable packaging biodegrade and under what conditions exactly? Is plastic the real issue or is it the throwaway culture that we’ve been applying to its usage? How effective is recycling?
It is becoming clear from the emerging pattern that waste management of items that are at the end of their life cycle is vital in helping to close the loop on some materials and contribute to a more circular economy. But while there’s a lack of consistency in what can get recycled by different local authorities and what the packaging advises the consumer to do, the confusion and frustration are likely to persist. Additionally, some environmental groups have pointed out that only a fraction of plastic used daily gets recycled, which is likely to have raised a subsequent question about the futility of recycling as a whole, possibly discouraging some completely.
True enough, the government has taken a step forward to addressing some of these issues through the Environment Act 2021, which comprises a set of environmental targets from air quality and biodiversity to increased recycling and waste reduction. It also aims to phase out single-use plastic items and apply the principle of extended producer responsibility, which would see producers pay for the waste management of packaging they place on the market based on its recyclability.
While the intentions are good, the process of implementing these principles nationwide keeps getting delayed. Some more information on what the UK’s extended producer responsibility system for packaging is going to look like has been released but its functional details are still vague.
While also important, these solutions are mostly focused on fixing the symptoms of the problem rather than its root, which is overconsumption. At the same time, reducing consumption would be the most straightforward sustainable behaviour we can adopt, with no small print. But we are much more often advised to buy a new, more sustainable version of a certain product than to not buy at all.
The document suggests that “we’re only just starting to learn the lessons of overconsumption – or we’ve only just started to listen to the concerns of those who have identified this problem”. Indeed, the problem of overconsumption was highlighted amongst the ‘sustainable development goals’ the United Nations set back in 2015, including reducing food waste which remains one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Separate collection of food waste across local authorities is also part of what some of the legislation in the making is set to mandate.
There’s still a lot to do but conversations about consumption are now becoming more mainstream and we’re starting to recognise that we need to do better,” the report notes. Change is certainly underway with emerging legislation and slowly shifting consumer behaviours. The research’s findings show that Gen Z is emerging as the largest group of consumers by size, representing 40% of all global consumers. They are also “adopting more sustainable behaviours than any other demographic, putting sustainable choices above brands in their purchasing decisions, setting the trends and shaping the market”. There might be reason for optimism after all.
How can WorkingAbroad help you?
At WorkingAbroad we have our own low-carbon manifesto which tells you all about how we ensure that our volunteer projects are as sustainable, ethical and beneficial for our world as we possibly can. We also promote slow travel, the art of taking more sustainable travel alternatives to flying.
Consuming less where possible is not only good for the planet but also helps you save money that could be reinvested into experiences more fulfilling than material items, like travelling. Travelling is also a great opportunity to remind ourselves how little one needs in their day-to-day life, helping us gain perspective by observing communities that don’t own much.
Working Abroad offers projects across the world that could help you do just that, with the added benefit of doing something good for the planet – find yours today.
Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Barbora Vaclavova