Welcome to our series of posts on the A-Z of zero waste!
An overview of everything that has been shared so far can be found here.
Oh yes, it's a big one this week. Today we are talking about how we can move beyond individual actions to take part in large scale policy change.
We discussed back in the first article that zero waste isn't really achievable because of the society we currently live in. If we want to be more successful in going zero waste, and make it more accessible for other people to do the same, then we need to change the society that we are living in
If we want quick, wide reaching, systemic change, then one of the simplest ways to do that is implementing green policies within governments. However simple of course doesn't mean easy.
Many of us are fortunate to live in democracies, which is good, but this does have its challenges. Politicians are elected by a majority of people, and they usually try to stay in power by supporting actions and policies that help the people most likely to keep them in power. You would hope that this is their constituents, but it can mean that politicians are supporting the interests of big corporations who have the money to fund their re-election campaigns. However the views of the constituents are also important as they are the people who actually vote in the politician.
This is why our individual actions are important.
When individual constituents are making changes in their lives to be more sustainable, then this is noticed, and if enough people are making these changes it can be clear to politicians what the values of these people are. When a group's values are clear, it is easy for a politician to try to support areas that align with the individual's values.
So how can I share my values with my politicians?
There are lots of different ways to share your views with your local representatives, and here are five.
1. Support campaigns and petitions.
This is one I hope you're already doing as it requires very little effort, and is a way for politicians to see what issues the general public care about. Signing up for petitions and campaigns doesn’t often have a large impact, but occasionally petitions can have a great result if many people also sign. The UK Government and Parliament petitions site has a guaranteed response at 10,000 signatures, and if it gets 100,000 it is considered for a debate. But even other petition websites, or petitions started by different organisations can gain great power and momentum if enough people sign them. Individuals signing petitions and then sharing them with their friends and family. can create a shift in awareness within political parties about the will of the general public.
Action: Subscribe to emails from charities and impact groups you support and sign petitions from them that match your values. How about signing one petition every day for a month? If there isn't a petition you agree with, you can start one!
2. Go Vote
I am also hoping that this is something that doesn't need to be said but you need to vote whenever you are able to. Democracies aren't prefect and the voting system in the UK isn't perfect by any means but voting is still essential. You do need to do a little bit of reading about the local candidates to find one that reflects your views if you're not sure of who to vote for, but its worth it. You might not think your individual vote counts for much but imagine if everyone felt that way.
In the recent EU referendum, there was a voter turn out of 72.2% which is nice and high. But the results were in a few percent of each other so if the extra 27.8% of people who were eligible to vote had actually turned out, the result may have been very different.
Even if your vote doesn't actually get the MP who agrees with your views elected as your local MP, voting has other important measures. Politicians, as we have talked about above, care about the views of voters. Even if an environmentally friendly political party doesn’t increase the number of MPs it has at a general election, if the number of total votes it received nationally increases dramatically then this can show a desire for more green policies which can be implemented by any political party hoping to increase their vote share. Research also takes place to see what areas matter to voters, and the views of people who don't vote don't get counted. If you care about the environment but don't vote, then in research the proportion of people polled who care about the environment will be lower than accurate. Politicians use this research to campaign with and to influence policy so if your views aren't represented there, then they aren't being represented in parliament.
Action: Check that you’re registered to vote even if there isn’t an election scheduled yet, then when there is one, make a plan of how you will vote before the day comes around.
3. Write to your local MP or local councillors.
The average person is unlikely to write to their MP unless they are very passionate about the issue they are writing about. It is often widely accepted that if one person cares about it enough to write, then other people also care too. Write to them about topics such as supporting renewable energy, removing subsidies from fossil fuels, investing in public transport and implementation of national waste management strategies.
You can write to any of your local representatives, but in the UK the two main ones are your local councillors for local services and your Member of Parliament (MP) for national issues. You can find out your local representatives, and contact them at Write to them, where you can also see your MPs voting record to see whether their values line up with yours.
Action: Look up your local councillors or MP, and by next Monday, have contacted them about supporting a green policy you are passionate about. If your MP has a pretty good voting record, how about proposing a new idea to them?
4. Join with community groups campaigning on behalf of the environment.
As we’ve talked about, politicians want to represent the view of people who can get them re-elected. Joining with other members of your community, either locally or nationally is a way to demonstrate that there is even more widespread support for your cause. It is also often easier to organise campaigns with a greater impact when there are more people on board. Even just a local group collaborating to write similar letters to their MP will have more impact than someone doing that alone. Join in with projects, strikes, marches, and campaigns to clearly show your local representative what their constituents are passionate about. It's even been found that groups where they manage to engage 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change! (1)
Action: Search for local groups campaigning in your area, and sign up to their mailing lists so you can be informed of any event they’re putting on - and then go to it!
5. Get your business or work place involved
Similar to making a community group, getting your work involved has great power to influence government policy. Businesses have the potential to impact politics in an even greater way than community groups, as any country is reliant on business for its economy and workforce, so the government is always trying to work with companies to support them. Perhaps your work place or business already has a good record with environmental policy and could join with other businesses to call government to support green policies? If your work place uses green energy, could they call on the government to subsidise renewable energy?
Action: This action will depend on what your business is and how it is structured, but this week start to have conversations with colleagues and your line manager about how your business is best placed to support green policies. If there is a sustainability department, speak to them first to see if anything is already being done that you can join in with.
So there you have five ways, with action points, of how to engage with government to get green policy change. Zero waste living is a great way to show people what we are passionate about but if we want to see it go further, and have any chance of actually being ZERO waste, then we need to see a massive societal shift which will only happen with policy change. So next time you see a petition, or a local group, or a chance to vote - see it as an extension of your zero waste essentials!