Take zero waste, for example. If we were to live in a true zero waste society, it is highly likely that we would have to take complete ownership of our consumption habits and be held accountable for them.
For this to work, it would involve a degree of authoritarianism. We might have to obey a law of some kind, a bylaw perhaps, and there would be patrolled enforcers in case we stepped out of line. Punishment could be metered out perhaps.
Within our homes, taking into account the vast array of material types we currently consume, we would probably have to separate our waste into over 30 different containers, making sure the material is washed and clean from contamination before we so do.
Some of these materials could be collected from our doorsteps, but if we own or have access to our own transport, we would be expected to travel ourselves to a local recycling centre or waste transfer station and take the time to sort it out on-site.
If this all sounds a bit too taxing, fear not. In Kamikatsu, 40% of residents are inclined to agree with you. This small community in the hills of eastern Japan has been operating such a model since 2008. And not everyone likes it.
Here there are no household waste collections. People have to compost their food waste. They grumble, but many have changed their purchasing habits to make things a little easier on themselves.
It’s not all bad. Some receive lottery tickets if they return certain types of materials to local shops that can be easily reused, such as bottles and cans. Others have learnt to dovetail their weekly visit to the recycling centre with their weekly shop.
What a scheme like this shows is that if communities are forced to adopt a certain way of living, then gradually they learn to adapt. And maybe realise a few home truths along the way. It’s an interesting thought.
So much work around sustainable consumption is focussed on engineering better products, better packaging, and the token piece of guilt-flavoured messaging. But we might need a stronger tonic if we are to make it to the end of this century. Because frankly, most people don’t give a damn.