It’s 2019. A war has been declared on single-use plastic. Upcycling and repurposing are suddenly in vogue (recycling is dead, long-live the reuse revolution!). People are fleeing their three story mansions in droves, downsizing their living rooms and their lives to squeeze what’s left into tiny off-grid homes. High priestess of the zero waste movement Bea Johnson has taught her minions to refill glass jars at bulk stores across the planet and arrange them in aesthetically pleasing ways in pantries, drawers and cupboards. Meanwhile, sergeant general of decluttering Marie Kondo has triggered the great purge of the 21st century (she’s also triggered a lot of white people).
If it isn’t clear by now, it soon will be. Several niche lifestyle movements that have been bubbling under the service for years have suddenly hit the mainstream like a climate change-enhanced hurricane and it’s giving consumer culture an identity crisis. You can blame millennials – so that’s what happens when you rig an economy and screw an entire generation! Fun experiment *insert side eye emoji* – but you can also look at it as a natural response akin to overstuffing your face at an all you can eat restaurant. After decades of the most extensive (and expensive) accidental research study in history, the people have concluded that the answer is yes, you can indeed have too much stuff.
Our overflowing closets tell tales of sales past, tags glaring at us from shirts in seasonal colours that never suited us. Our junk drawers give lectures on the evolution of cell phone technology and act as graveyards for dried up pens with missing lids and conference swag we never wanted but never thought to refuse. Our garages contain exactly everything except for our cars (yes, of course you need all that gear for your annual camping trip – psyche! No you don’t). Our storage units are mausoleums dedicated to china sets, puke green couches with puke orange floral patterns and extensive useless trinket collections. It all sparks anxiety but you feel bad for grandma so into storage they go.
But what comes after the decluttering? It’s not enough to go on a spark joy purging trip through your home once a year and then dump the rejects onto the doorsteps of unwitting thrift shops to absolve yourself of consumer guilt. No. It’s time that decluttering go the way of recycling and we adopt practices that avoid the creation of clutter in the first place.
Say Hello to Mottainai – Your New Lifestyle Practice
Mottainai is a state of mind rooted in Japanese culture expressing regret at wasting resources and reflecting an awareness of the interdependence and impermanence of all things. Naturally, this mindset favours and upholds things like reusing, repairing and repurposing materials that already exist so as to minimize waste and to put respect for the planet at the centre of our relationship to resources.
As we make the shift from a linear economic model of resource use to a circular economy where waste is designed out, I would like to suggest that we apply Mottainai as the underpinning philosophical framework for a new way of relating to our things.
The first thing we can do is acknowledge deep respect for the planet we live on and use that as a guiding principle for all our actions. This involves understanding that each time we consume something, we are using Earth’s resources which are not infinite and take time to regenerate. The Earth itself is an organism and if we take too much at one time OR use items that the planet can’t digest, we risk disrupting its natural systems. We need to acknowledge this and be mindful of the interconnected nature of our actions and the well-being of all life on earth.
Makes it pretty hard to pump the air full of carbon, decimate essential-for-life-on-earth forests, pollute global waterways and force species extinctions with that as a guiding principle, doesn’t it? It follows naturally from this that one of the first steps we should take in implementing respect is awarding personhood to the entire planet.
From respect flows practices for accessing the stuff we need in ways that reflect the above: reuse, recirculate, repurpose, repair. And lucky for us, in Toronto each of these is becoming increasingly more available.
Reuse involves taking materials that already exist and using them again – wooooh, what a concept *insert mind blown emoji*. For example, this could involve taking a jar that once contained pickles and, rather than chucking it, reusing it to store bulk food items in. Reuse could also include bringing a reusable cup, container, bag, cutlery, etc when on the go, such as carrying a zero waste kit. Or it could involve using a reuse service, such as Dream Zero who bring reusable cups to events and pick them up when the event is over to be washed and readied for another event.
Reuse in Toronto: places to fill your own containers or get quality reusable items
- Bare Market
- Saponetti Inc
- Dream Zero
- Zero Waste Station
- Karma Coop
- Anarres Health
- Unboxed Market
- Eco and Amour
- Urban Bulk Emporium
- Organic Garage
- Green and Frugal
- Strictly Bulk
- The Sweet Potato
- Bulk Heaven
- Bulk Barn Foods
Recirculating goods involves reimagining our perceptions of ownership while creating the infrastructure that makes it possible to share, borrow and exchange things as a community rather than buying new. For example, you likely don’t really need to own a drill – what you need is a hole in the wall. Why have a garage packed with tools you use occasionally when you can have a community hub that makes things available and accessible for everyone to use when they need to?
Recirculate in Toronto: places to swap, trade and borrow things you need rather than purchasing new
- Toronto Tool Library and Sharing Depot
- Fresh Fashion Library
- Freecycle and Trash Nothing
- Rent Frock Repeat
- Really Really Free Market
- Secondhand Sunday
- Boro It
- Regenesis York
- Common Sort
Repair involves taking an item that is broken and fixing it so you don’t have to throw it out and can therefore avoid replacing it with a new item. For example, your handheld steamer stops working, you open it up, discover calcium build-up in the tube, remove it and it starts working again (true story – Repair Cafe Toronto is a stuff-saver).
Repair in Toronto: places where you can access the knowledge and tools you need to get your treasures fixed
- Repair Cafe Toronto
- Toronto Clothing Repairathon
- Sew Be It Studio
- The Denim Doctor
- Toronto Tool Library
- Bike Sauce
- Bike Pirates
- The Workroom
- The Stroller Spa
- Sole Survivor Toronto
- Shoppe and Tailer
Repurposing could also be called upcycling. This involves taking materials that used to be one thing and turning them into something else. This keeps the materials in circulation longer and avoids using new resources to create the thing you need. For example, turning an old t-shirt into a reusable bag.
Repurpose in Toronto: places where you can learn to make your own upcycled things or purchase things that have been made with upcycled materials
- Creative Reuse Toronto
- Boomerang Bags Toronto
- Fugitive Glue
- The Upcyclery
- Common Threads
- Sew Be It Studio
- Shine the Line Studio/Brille La Voie
- Toronto Tool Library
Know a shop or service that isn’t on the list but should be? Let me know and I’ll add it in!
In all seriousness, we have a real opportunity here. The foundation for a new way of accessing what we need in more environmentally and socially responsible ways is already being laid. Waste is nothing more than a cultural mindset rooted in the notion that we can take whatever we want, whenever we want and dispose of it however we want. Cultural mindsets change and we’re already in the midst of a shift. Changing our relationship with the earth and its resources has the potential to spiral out, transforming how we relate to each other, to money, our concepts of work, and so much more.
Imagine libraries of things in every single community and every condo. Imagine reuse centres all over the city that have all the tools and knowledge in one place to create, repair and innovate with upcycled materials. Imagine malls but instead of new junky products, they are filled with reused, repaired and repurposed things.
You don’t have to imagine all that hard, because the pieces needed to get to that future have already been put in place. We have very nearly arrived, it’s up to us to keep up the momentum. Get rich or try sharing ✌️ and stay wasteless.
This is a guest blog from @itsahashtaglife – blogger, social media manager and content creator for non-profits and charities in Toronto. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet. #LetsGetWasteless