Where is "Away"? (As in "Throw it Away")

A conversation with a friend gave me something to think about and a lot of hope for the future.

He’s a creative director at a large corporation, has two kids and lives in a house in Upstate New York. They’re living as much of a zero waste life with circular elements as they can. Vegetable scraps become compost or vegetable stock for soups, some weekend afternoons get devoted to taking apart dad’s old dress shirts and resewing them into simple tops and bottoms for the little ones. They’re the kind of people who bring their own canteens to a Starbucks. This family of four plus two canines produces half a bag of trash per week. It’s admirable.

Even the most eco-enlightened parent is not beyond getting some additional education so when he recently instructed his 7-year old to “Just throw it away!,” his daughter took him to class: “What do you mean when you say ‘away’?,” she asked, “There are only two “aways”: the ocean and the landfill”

The force is clearly quite strong with this one. This second-grader had already grasped that the “away” in “throw it away” refers to actual places where our discarded stuff ends up and where it has unpleasant and increasingly devastating effects (causing pollution, greenhouse emissions, etc.).

Language really matters when we’re thinking and talking about the need for a world with less waste. Much less waste. The stuff we discard doesn’t just “get disappeared,” out of sight out of mind style. You may have rid yourself of it, but it still exists and is now the planet’s burden.

And if it’s the planet’s burden it will become the burden of following generations.

We can trust these generations that are growing up with the fantasy worlds of Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and the likes of that to raise some hell if need be. Like the protagonists in those books, these kids have been raised on a steady diet of stories where the adults invariably fail to step up to the plate and it is up to the children who bravely risk everything to avert danger and destruction. Whether the wizarding world is at stake, a sister needs to be saved, or the Hellmouth is about to open, every child is secretly waiting to be called upon. Those kids have been ready to come to the rescue and shift the world back to a better state since they were in their single digits.

I’m not saying that the young people will save us all. But they might push us to save ourselves.

If we can find engaging ways to frame the world’s environmental problems and possible solutions in a way that really gets kids going, the earth will meet their most devoted defenders yet. They will quickly become the environmental watchdogs in a family and won’t let their moms or dads get away with buying items that can’t be repaired or reused and slipping up on recycling habits just won’t be an option. And they will become forces for environmental good in their communities, fearlessly put pressure on their representatives, and call out corporations that are resisting necessary change and transformations.

In the US, we are seeing what the younger generation is capable of around topics like school safety. We’ve seen nothing yet. These young people are ready to fight for their lives and these young people will win.


Talk & Workshop for Agencies: Designing for a Sustainable Culture

The New Economy Is Circular