There are very few things that can upset parents, politicians, economists, environmentalists, or anyone who is thinking of growing a mustache more than simple, unapologetic waste. It will look different for each person or individual. And rarely are the monetary issues the largest concern. Growing up, there was nothing that peeved my parents more than opening a coke, having a sip, then leaving it out to get flat. A kid loading up pounds of food on his plate- taking a bite then throwing the rest away, spending by politician’s opponents, sprinklers on in the rain, or idling in an SUV for fifteen minutes on a trip across the street, are enough to make the skin crawl of some individuals. The common denominator is that we all have a point where we find wastefulness painful to watch. For some it is our kids (or others’ kids), our friends, celebrities, or even rich people.
So what exactly is the sin of unapologetic waste? Well, I use the tongue-in-cheek term sin as a notion in which all people understand as bad. Not necessarily in a religious sense, but something that cross culturally is accepted as unacceptable. The concept of unapologetic refers to the idea that someone is proud, guilt free, or boastful of their situation. Someone that trumpets their own accomplishments and waste without a hint of remorse. And wastefulness can be anything including encompassing money, time, food, relational capacity, transportation, or natural resources. Although most often associated with natural resources and wealth, the frustration of wastefulness is a shared emotion of anyone who has ever lived in America or spent time in a first world country.
The Economics of Waste
We often think about money and waste. But using the few examples from above we can see that often the frustration about wastefulness is less about the money but more about the waste itself. I literally know multimillionaires who still roll up and squeeze every last bit out of a toothpaste tube before they throw it away. The question we often ask in American is simply: Can I afford it? But I still think we are asking the wrong thing. Sure, I have plenty of money to buy whatever I want. I can easily afford a huge house. I can afford a large SUV, plane tickets around the world, air condition, and 100s of gallons of clean fresh water a month to flush down the toilet. Heck, I can even afford to use my 7000 watt dryer to fluff my jeans when I want. But should I? Does affordability dictate consumption? That is the American Dream.
The second frustration of waste comes when we see people just slightly wealthier than us (or simply extremely inefficient) let useful items waste away. Think about that person you know with a very new cell phone still in a drawer becoming obsolete. Or that spare beach house someone has that is used a few weeks out of the year. Or maybe that guy with the super expensive road bike sitting unsused in his garage while the tires dry rot. It is frustrating to watch wastefulness when you or I could be the ones using others leftovers. Maybe it is not stuff. Maybe you are frustrated by watching someone else waste their time, money, or natural resources. Are we that person to someone?
The Wealthy Tourist and Push back Against Waste
Take the example of the wealthy tourist. A small group of U.S. tourists decided to travel across the globe to a small impoverished town in southern Africa. The wealthy tourists spend their time on a sprawling safari, observing the people, and enjoying the culture of the small town. The last night they decide they would like spend some of their honest, hard earned money on a huge meal. So they set up a table in the town and bought copious amounts of the most expensive, tastiest, delicious food in the surrounding three countries. As they begin to eat, a small crowd of people who had nothing to eat and were very hungry began to gather to watch the feast. The Americans ate only the best cuts and stuffed themselves until they felt so full they were sick. Their copious amounts of leftovers are discarded.
This extreme example illustrates the idea that our lives are probably construed as wasteful to someone. It’s almost a story your parents would tell you when you left uneaten peas on the table. And it is easy to see the frustration that would abound from the hungry individuals in the parable above. Although the meal was probably extremely inexpensive to tourists, the perception they disseminated was one of unapologetic wastefulness. We have all been in situations where we were the wealthy tourist, and have probably felt like hungry beggars at a wealthy man’s feast as well. The point is simple, we should be aware of our waste and also our situations.
Moving Toward Ideal
I’ll be the first to admit that I am only touching the surface of personal efficiency when it comes to waste. The documentary No Impact Man started spinning the wheels, then reading financial blogs like Mr. Money Mustache and ERE motivated me to address many of the areas of waste in my life. Seriously, just a few short years ago I had almost no concern for my environment (a quick trip to India blew my mind on that one), and I was spending money on things that were bringing no value. Wasting time eating nasty things and drinking things were not making my life better. And I still have a long way to go. I still use far more resources than 95% of the world. I am still inefficient with time, and occasionally find myself unremorseful about where I am in life and the things I’ve accomplished.
I think the ideal is simply to live a life without waste. A life that is efficient. A life where my time is spent doing the things that are most important to me. A place where my money is spent on the exact things I enjoy without wasteful spending that does not bring me value. It also means treading a little more lightly on the environment and working towards consuming less and creating less environmental waste. It moves me to a point where I have time for the most important relationships and I don’t waste time with people or relationships that bring me down. It is the point where lifestyle design meets efficiency. I still have a long way to go but thus far I’m enjoying the process.
Finally, I’m still working to find that permanent place somewhere between the current American and the idealized Native American of the past. I want to get to the point where I waste little and, at the very least, become fully aware of the areas in my life where I am unapologetically wasteful. What about you? Are there any places that you notice waste that are frustrating to you? Do you find areas of your life where you find yourself unapologetically wasteful?