Defining Waste

No Impact Man wrote a post today about prioritizing resource use to improve lives. In his article he defines waste:

I’ve thought a lot about the definition of waste. The way I figure out, a good way of defining waste is the use of planetary resources that don’t improve quality of life.

I like this view a lot. Instead of environmental effectiveness being based on the restrictive view that we should simply “use less,” we should instead “use well.” This offers the intersection of environmentalism and human aspiration.

I like that he puts a more positive spin on thoughts about waste than most environmentalist. Most environmentalist just tell you to reduce, but he encourages prioritize what makes life worth living.

To what extent do we–as individuals and as a culture–prioritize what really makes life worth living?

How much time do we not spend with our kids or friends, for example, because we’re trying to get rich so that we can later, um, have the leisure time to spend with our kids and our friends? How much time–and resources–do we spend on big houses or better cars when really we just want to watch the sunrise?

On a cultural level, then, how much effort is spent on economic throughput when what we want is strong communities full of people that have the time and inclination to support each other? How much effort do we expend on making sure we can all have a third TV when what we really want is a great education for our kids or great theaters for our adults?

Which brings me back to my originally definition of waste. How many resources are we wasting–both as individuals and as a culture–on things that don’t even improve our lives? If we made a rule of targeting resources only at things that delivered quality of life, we would end up automatically saving the planet.

Matt and I have worked over the last couple of years at reducing, we still spend on stuff we don’t need every now and then, but overall we have begun to focus on what really matters to us and we are happier because of those choices. We are both more content then we have ever been.

I wanted to share this definition of waste, because a lot of environmentalist are a little extreme and that can turn off the majority of the population to environmentalism. I just wanted to remind people, myself included, that it is better to focus on what makes you truly happy. For most people that is not acquiring more stuff, but rather time with family and friends.