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DOWN TO EARTH: Keep making individual changes in 2023 to help the environment

Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society monthly column
Jenny Howell is the water wise instructor and the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society. (Photo submitted)

By Jenny Howell

Down to Earth

At the Conservation Society, we regularly give out tips for ways that you can reduce your own personal ‘footprint,’ cutting your water or energy use and or suggesting ways to reduce waste. While making individual changes is important to help preserve resources, protect the planet and influence others around you, I think we all realize that preventing catastrophic climate change cannot rely solely on individual social responsibility.

You may have heard the slogan ‘system change not climate change,’ used by the global climate movement. This refers to making large scale socio-environmental transformations of our economy to combat climate change, so that we don’t have to focus as much on our personal actions; the system around us changes so that it becomes inbuilt that our daily activities have fewer negative impacts on the planet.

Some groups using the slogan have ambitious goals such as ‘transferring to an economy that is not based on profit and endless growth, but one that respects ecological limits and enables a “good life” for everyone.’ For others it is smaller municipal projects, such as improved public transport systems or ‘15-minute neighbourhoods’ where residents can bike or walk to fulfill most of their daily needs.

This week I found a couple of examples of successful ‘system change.’

In the 1990s, Taiwan was able to transform its whole garbage system, going from streets full of garbage to being one of the world’s best managers of household trash.

Residents do not put their garbage out in bins for collection, but sort it at home and then bring it out in the evenings to directly deposit it in the garbage trucks. The trucks announce their presence with loud classical music, collecting recycling and food waste as well as garbage. Residents buy and use government-mandated bags for a small fee.

Garbage volume is down by two thirds, and Taiwan now has one of the highest recycling rates in the world (at 55 per cent). This system also has the spin off community building effect of giving neighbours a chance to connect and chat as they hand over their waste.

Another example of system change; South Korea now recycles almost 100 per cent of food waste (in contrast, for the US it is almost zero). In 2005 burying organic waste in landfills was banned, then in 2013 dumping leachate, (the liquid part of food waste), into the ocean was also banned. Universal curbside food waste pick-up was started simultaneously and it became mandatory to separate out residential food waste. Residents pay a small amount for the required bags but have almost daily pick up. Food waste then becomes biogas, animal feed or fertilizer.

While there are still issues and problems to solve with both these system changes, they have taken the onus off the individual to ‘do the right thing’ and made it part of a bigger societal change. These programs mean reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are shared more equally and built into citizens’ daily lives.

So please, do stick with all the great individual changes that have resulted in lower water use and garbage production we’ve been seeing locally. We also need to continue to encourage and support the broader system changes that will shrink humanity’s cumulative ecological footprint.

For more information on Water Wise or Waste Wise and any of our school and community programs, contact the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society at or visit the website at

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