Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Rubbish pleasures: Can you find happiness in reducing waste?

I've been pondering lately. 

I'm not sure why I need to qualify it with 'lately'.  I'm always pondering.  Pondering is something I continuously do.

And the thing that's got my braincells sparking this time is the subject of happiness and how more and more people who we nudge along through The Rubbish Diet are expressing a real sense of pleasure at the end of it.

The family that I helped in last year's 'Throwaway Britain' documentary captured this perfectly, when discussing their slimmed bin:
"When you lift it up to see such a little bag after two weeks it's absolutely a joy." said Graham Heap, whose family took the challenge to reduce their waste in just two weeks. He added "I never ever thought that the size of my rubbish bags would put a smile on my face."

I raised this point recently at a TEDx talk that I gave at Cambridge University earlier this month.  My talk was about how as individuals we have the power to revolutionise waste.  Helping to innovate the economy through recycling more, supporting our local communities by paying more attention to reuse opportunities and how when we focus on reducing what's left in our bin, our creativity excels in finding new solutions to abate waste.

And I ended with Graham's quote, whose family had to quickly develop new routines, embed whole new habits and reorganise their recycling very differently in order to reduce their waste so drastically.  For many, that would seem a total palaver.  Yet for the Heaps, the positive results and personal successes outweighed any former perceived hassles.

The Heaps aren't the first to express such surprise pleasure at reducing their waste so drastically.  I'd felt the immense rewards myself back in 2008 after I did that Zero Waste Week and there will be many others who had done so beforehand too.  

But it's only recently that I've started thinking about this feel-good factor in more depth and it's an area that I'd like to understand more.  For six years I've been talking rubbish and helping people take steps to reduce their waste and I'm going to carry on doing that.  However, where I was once just happy with the results of people's Rubbish Diet endeavours, the more I witness individual's and community success stories, the more intrigued I am to understand some of the science behind these unexpected 'rubbish pleasures'.

What really drives people like myself to strive towards a massive waste reduction target during a Zero Waste Week? 

Is it because we are natural goal-seekers who love beating targets?  Is it because we feel accountable to whoever has set the challenge?  Is it that fantastic feeling when we exceed our own expectations?  Is it the surprise that we discover in ourselves or possibly the innovation beyond our bins that captures our imaginations?

Perhaps it's the positive sense of well-being brought by being an active part of the waste solution after years of being part of the problem?  Perhaps it's the joy of saving money that we would have once thrown away as rubbish in our bins?  Or perhaps it's enjoying our belongings for much much longer?

I know for one thing, there is an amazing sense of satisfaction in not having to put out the rubbish bin so often.  And there lies a happy moment at its simplest.

From practical reasons to those that are more difficult to define and reach, I know that everyone's level of pleasure will be different and will be dependent on their individual motivation.

So, if you're happy to share your story and discuss with me your own experience about how it feels having reduced your waste, I'd love to hear from you, either through the comments below or by email.

Equally, if your experience has led to opposing feelings, I'd love to explore these too.  I'm now crossing my fingers that taking The Rubbish Diet hasn't resulted in a household rift or - heaven help us - a divorce!!!

And if you've never done The Rubbish Diet before and fancy testing out some rubbish pleasures of your own, you could sign up to the challenge here.   But don't expect it to be a totally easy ride. Most people have various hurdles they have to overcome, many of which are often beyond our control. 

Maybe that's the true source of rubbish pleasure.  In beating down those barriers, whatever they might be.


Master Composter said...

reducing waste makes me happy because it saves me money but there is also that satisfaction from doing the right thing - the kind of warm green glow you feel for helping keep the planet nice and green and clean and tidy :)

Almost Mrs Average said...

Thanks Master Composter. That's great. Really appreciate it. :)

Joey said...

I'm doing a challenge like this right now! I'm not doing it with any particular organisation, though. Just for myself, as a personal challenge. It is hard though! It's not an overnight fix, that is for sure.

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