Ignorance *was* Bliss

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Brian Nunnery:

Brian’s an Austin native with a passion for intelligent city design and sustainability. When he’s not busy helping in.gredients get off the launchpad, he loves cycling, drawing maps, and great conversations!

I walked into my co-working space yesterday with a sack lunch – that is, a reusable bag filled with a ceramic plate, a cutting board, a fork and knife, and three glass containers full of leftovers. I didn’t bring my espresso machine. If it fit in the bag, though, I would have…

Some insist there’s a level of social appropriateness I may not be reaching by carting half my kitchen into a small workspace every day. The important thing, I contend, is that I’m not wasting anything – no paper bags, no packets of black pepper, no foil, no plastic cutlery, no nothing. All it took was a little change in thinking.

When the Brothers Lane and I began planning in.gredients over a year ago, we knew we’d be challenging norms and proposing changes in behavior even we’ve had to spend time adjusting to. For example, in the past year my wife and I have switched to hankies and cleaning rags in our house – eliminating tissues and paper towels in order to cut down on household waste. For the first few weeks, it wasn’t easy! I remember having guests over to the house and thinking “wait… we’ll have to give special instructions about where to put used hankies,” and later spilling something (I always do) in the kitchen and instinctively looking for the paper towels.

In terms of packaging waste, up until recently we’ve had the “ignorance is(was) bliss” experience. After becoming aware of the facts about how much packaging is wasted in the US – and how much of it’s actually unnecessary for product quality and safety – we could no longer walk into a store without thinking “there’s packaging… everywhere… just imagine the… oh my…” We’ve discovered the simple brilliance of reusing containers at the store – and how much needless consumption it saves. Sure, packaging that’s not necessary for product integrity can be convenient for customers for the purpose of portability and portion size, and can also serve rightfully as marketing space for the manufacturer – but at what (and whose) cost?

This was our eventual epiphany: a majority of the waste we generate makes our lives really, really convenient. Putting individual bags of chips that may or may not be recyclable in kids’ lunch boxes makes getting out the door in the morning a whole lot easier. And grabbing a paper towel, wiping, and tossing makes cleaning a breeze! But we realized that as great as these things are, we were making our lives easier at the expense of the environment. And when we thought further, that expense was actually billed to us in two ways: (1) in taxes, since the more waste we generate, the more our local government has to tax its citizens for waste management services, and (2) as a negative health impact, since we can’t get away with storing mass waste on the earth without it impacting the air we breathe, the soil our food grows in, or the water that sustains life.

In short, we realized we can’t just think about us. We’ve got to think about the collective health and prosperity of our community. The studies done on consumer waste are overwhelmingly clear: as a society, we have a waste problem, and it’s got to stop. I’m excited in.gredients can take this on as a business and not only make it easier for folks like us to avoid excess waste and make changes to our lifestyles… but to show other businesses that minimizing waste as a retailer is completely possible, and educate the public on how easy it can be to live sustainably.

That’s in.gredients to me.

4 Responses

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  1. Great post Brian.


    January 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm

  2. We have always used cloth hankerchiefs (yes, even when both my husband and I were kids) so I always laugh a bit at the big ‘wow, we don’t use tissues any more, what a shock’ thing, but I am sure that there are a lot of things I have only recently discovered (like making my own laundry and dishwasher powder, or cleaning my face with almond oil) that I think are a big change and plenty of people would scoff and say ‘but we have been doing that for *years*…’ But you are so right about packaging – how much there is, and how things change when you are aware of it. Best example lately – my son received a gift, it was a box of ‘eco-science toy’ stuff to make toys and robots out of scrap around the house. Opening it, his first comment was ‘I thought this was meant to be eco, why is there so much packaging?’ And he’s seven. Hopefully not only can we change our ways, but also make seeing how important this stuff is second nature, for the next generation at least.


    January 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm

  3. “Thumbs Up” Brian! Our society is so “convenient driven” that we just plain forget about washing a hankie or washing a dust rag and look for the disposable solutions. It’s not that it’s hard, we just have to retrain our thinking. Thanks for bringing light to a very important issue. Good luck with in.gredients!


    January 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm

  4. REALLY inspiring. After following the Plastiki Expedition and educating myself about the perils of plastic in our environment, I finally found one of the first movers or the culprit to the sudden influx of food allergies (myself included) that seems to be devouring more and more people daily. I agree with Jared. Great post. I’m a fan of in.gredients.


    January 23, 2012 at 12:05 am

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