The key to staging a successful zero waste event is sorting. It really is that simple since mixing random unwantables in bags or bins or landfills is what makes them trash to begin with. Intercepting at what I call the “trashpoint” and empowering Person A, who is done with Random Thing A, to set it aside for Person B, who is prepared to absolve Random Thing A of it randomness and turn it into treasure, is all you need to do.
Depending on how long it’s been since you last supported the false notion of an “away,” you might need to prepare for your event by sorting out yourself. If it’s been less than a year, go to the mirror and tell the person you see there that there is no such thing as trash, and, therefore, no need for trashcans or rubbish cans or landfills. Then move on to practicing the looks of bewilderment you’ll need when you are manning your sort station and someone comes up to you and asks for a trashcan. You will need a variety of looks because you will get a variety of people in various stages of denial. Those aged 2 through 4 (who barely know the difference between a trashcan and a potty chair) deserve a break. I recommend a Good Witch of the North smile filled with beneficence. “Why you darling child, there are no trashcans in the beautiful land where I come from. Now repeat after me: There’s no such thing as trash. There’s no such thing as trash.” Chances are they will be in the company of an adult who, if you are nice and don’t traumatize their child, will come away from the interaction riddled with guilt. . . thereby yielding two for the price of one.
For everyone else, it’s no holds barred. For those aged 5 through 7 (those just recently programmed to overcome their innate animal instincts and NOT throw stuff they don’t want on the ground) a simple “Are you speaking a foreign language?” bewilderment will do. No doubt the basis of that programming was the myth that EVERYONE uses trashcans; so just acting like you’ve never heard of one will go a long way.
Beyond these demographics, age doesn’t matter, and you will be responding to the question according to how well the person asking it can go forth with your reply as a Johnny or Janey Zerowasteseed. Over time your instincts will develop and you will know who needs inspiration and who needs a kick in the pants. Obviously anyone who works for or oversees the county departments of environmental management or public works is due the latter.
As for how to inspire the rest, go back to your mirror and practice your smiles. Here’s one that works for me: “Yes, I am elbow-deep in stuff others don’t want, painfully aware that this sort station of mine equates to removing a drop in a vast ocean of waste that is being generated in every direction as far as I can imagine from mountain tops to sea floors and even the Earth’s orbit, but what I am doing makes me smile. . . and I see a very different future in the smile you give back to me.”
Kristine Kubat is the former editor of Big Island Weekly who now works for Recycle Hawaii.