If you live in a neighborhood that happens to provide a “single stream” or “single-sort” recycling program, you’ve no doubt questioned its effectiveness. What paramount of modern technology could possibly sort and separate paper, plastic, metal, and glass? Frank Korten, upon the transition of his town from source separation to single stream, had the same doubts about how effectively this could be done.
He was lucky enough to tour his local recycling facility and documented the most unlikely results: single stream sorting works. Rather than feeling jubilant at the high-tech innovation, however, Korten describes feeling melancholy over the realization at the sheer amount of stuff we produce. In response, he has suggested ways to limit our impact individually and communally in Four Steps to Less Wasteful Communities.
Korten documents his personal commitment to low impact living, such as recycling, composting, plastic bottle avoidance, and wrapping gifts in newspaper. However, he stresses that this problem requires, “solutions bigger than individual action.” After all, if there is an identifiable problem – you work to transition society en bloc. The larger effects of even the most well intentioned individual choices are still limited. He therefore offers system-wide suggestions to businesses and local government in line with the goals and methods of The Zero Waste Alliance (ZWA).
The suggestions he offers, as he points out, have already had drastically beneficial effects in Seattle. The evidence reinforces the point that ecological health depends on a web of factors and that change cannot occur with just one person.