The Way to a New Materialism, How We Can Turn This Crisis Into an Opportunity For Change

The compulsory sitting or working at home led to the early start of the big spring clean-up at my house. When we took some old stuff to the appropriate waste bins, I soon found out that we weren’t the only ones who had started cleaning up. The amount of waste normally produced by humans already can hardly be processed by the system and during the corona crisis, we started to produce even more waste. This increasing problem is piling up, but the crisis also allows us to change the current system to some new kind of materialism. How do we get to this new materialism and what is the role of the government in this opportunity of change?


From open mindset to societal change

Old furniture, textiles, paper, glass and many other things were thrown out in large numbers last months. Not only I but half of the Netherlands seemed to have caught a cleaning virus as well. Not being able to work or be together gave us more time at home and more freedom to manage our time. We finally got to do the things we never found time for. It made us reconsider and change the way we are living our ongoing, daily lives. Why not use this opening of our mindsets to create an even bigger societal change? If our society makes us create more waste we have to change the way we process and look at our cast-offs. We should use this crisis as an opportunity to change the current waste processing system and start dealing with our own trashy problems by high-quality recycling our cast-offs.

‘We should use this crisis as an opportunity to change the current waste processing system and start dealing with our own trashy problems’

The pitfalls of our current waste system

‘Why isn’t the current system recycling most of our waste already?’ I hear you ask. The high-quality recycling of residues has become more complicated over the past years. Many companies have outsourced their production to other countries like China to reduce their costs. This made them lose the overview of their production process but more importantly, they lost control over which materials are being put into their products. The combination of the materials that a product contains, determines how the product should be recycled. These mixed materials in our products make it almost impossible to recycle all materials completely. As a result, companies feel little incentive to invest in the high-quality recycling of their residuals. Therefore cast-offs often end up in incinerators and valuable materials go to waste because there is simply no demand for it.
The pandemic showed us that the current system is very vulnerable. We’re producing even more waste which leads to more cast-off items than the amount that the sorting companies normally have to deal with and the system is standing still. Borders are closed which makes the exportation to countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, hardly possible. Moreover, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe do not benefit from this: we are dumping our leftovers and thus making it impossible for tailors and other small companies to make a living. Now that we cannot dump our waste out of sight anymore we have to start dealing with our own trash. Our waste is not only piling up because we are producing more, also far fewer people are allowed to work at the sorting companies due to the corona measures. Annoying, although all of this may mean that our cast-offs will get a more responsible final destination in the longer term. High-quality recycling is now receiving extra attention.

The role of the government

To achieve change you need to invest in solutions. But you need money to invest. The economy is at a loss and if companies have still some money left they are not willing to invest it in the recycling solution right now. They are under pressure and doing everything they can to survive financially. Is this not the right time then to turn this crisis into an opportunity to change the system?

‘By stimulating sustainable choices, the government can use the science that money makes the world go round for the better’

Exactly now is the time for change. The system is standing still and is financially inadequate, leaving little room in the market. The government must step in to keep the system running and can therefore choose what they want to stimulate. By stimulating sustainable choices such as recycling and making them commercially attractive, the government can use the science that money makes the world go round for the better. They can force a different use of materials by linking financial benefits to sustainable choices and taxing polluting ones.  Companies will look different at their material choices and cast-offs and probably change the way they process them. The demand for innovation in recycling will grow which will make companies want to invest in the recycling solution after all.

Make recycling easier for the future

This reform will not only make the interest in recycling grow, it will also make recycling easier. Many people do not opt for a sustainable product when it is more expensive than a new product. The financial support for sustainable choices will increase the demand for sustainable materials. Due to this growing demand, sustainable materials will be produced on a larger scale and sustainable products can be offered for a cheaper price. The difference in price between new and sustainable will reduce which makes the choice between them a lot easier. More people will choose a sustainable product than before and companies will gain their overview in the production process back which makes recycling much easier in the future.

The crisis has turned on a collective light. The current system is no longer tenable, we are depending too much on other countries and polluting the earth. This is the chance for the government to turn this dire pandemic into something good and lead us into a better way. Hopefully, we will not let this opportunity for change go to waste.

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