This is a guest post from Tom Szaky, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of TerraCycle, which provides free waste collection, and then turns that waste into sustainable products.
As trash takes over the planet via overflowing landfills, the growing Pacific Gyre, endless litter, and needless consumption, meanwhile something very important is rapidly disappearing – and you should be concerned. More and more trash, less and less… clean water.I’ve dedicated my entire life to one environmental issue: Eliminating the Idea of Waste. When I met some of the talented folks at Art Takes Over (ATO) and Participant Media (producers of top films like Food, Inc. and An Inconvenient Truth), and I heard about their new documentary, "Last Call at the Oasis," I realized that while recycling and reuse should remain a top priority and top concern, there’s an environmental issue much bigger facing the 21st Century and that’s clean water.
I recently mentioned to you in my post about sustainable fashion that I think art is an incredible medium for pressing messages such as the need to recycle. TerraCycle had the pleasure of speaking with Jessica Yu, the Academy Award-winning director of "Last Call at the Oasis," for our podcast this week.
When Jessica mentioned to us that making a film about water was appealing to her, she talked about the intense imagery provided by water that they used throughout the film such as waterfalls, geysers and oceans. The contrast of these images with those of barren deserts, contaminated waterways and dried up life is stunning.
"Last Call at the Oasis" shows us why we need to be concerned about our water, even if we seem to have clean water in our homes day to day. Jessica told us that there are over 80,000 chemicals swimming around the lakes and streams here in the US, and only five of them are tracked and controlled. Even cities that today seemingly have plenty of water and no worries could run out of water by 2050 if we don’t start being more cognizant about our actions.
Water waste is just as bad as trash
While I listened to Jessica’s interview, I realized that I’ve focused so much of my attention on recycling and waste that I sometimes forget about other kinds of waste, like not turning the faucet off when cleaning dishes or when brushing teeth or shaving. Tons of water are wasted in these instances. Taking note of our own personal behaviors and tweaking them for collective change is imperative for making a difference.
Jessica noted that potential for improvement in the water crisis is huge because there hasn’t been too much done yet. When we recycle and upcycle, we can’t forget about other core issues. Putting a plastic bottle certainly helps keep it out of the ocean and off the street, and then taking a shorter shower can help conserve that unpolluted water. However, water conservation can’t just be a personal act. Consumers, governments, corporations and NGOs must all come together to address this issue, while there is still time.
Make it personal, and then take it to the community
We often reduce recycling to the personal level and then put it at the community level – recycle on your own, and then get other people to do it with you. Take shorter showers, and then encourage your friends to do the same. If you recycle with TerraCycle, you can even donate clean water to people in need by sharing your points with charity: water.
My point here is that there’s room for improvement all over the place when we talk about environmental issues. Water is going to be a crucial focus of the 21st Century because there hasn’t been much progression previously and it needs urgent attention now.
One of the first steps to take? Go see "Last Call at the Oasis" so you can understand the depth of the water crisis and learn what you can do. Even as a leader in sustainable business I was stunned by some of the things I learned. The documentary premiers May 4th in NY and LA and will be in selected theaters across the country later this month. I, for one, will be taking shorter showers and turning off the water while I brush my teeth – just for starters.