Like all provident entrepreneurs, Brazilian environmental activist Fe Cortez doesn’t see her reusable cup company Menos Um Lixo – Portuguese for ‘one less waste’ – as a business venture. Rather it’s a symbol of a lifestyle that has been adapted to the realities of the planet, a mark of a buyer that isn’t afraid to look beyond the sugar-coated present state of nothing being too bad yet and realize that changes, even the smallest ones, must be made with foresight. Here, she spoke with Landscape News on why every cup matters.
When describing why you made your company, you mention the disposability of people and moments in addition to trash. Does changing our plastic waste mean changing our culture as a whole?
When I started to realize the amount of trash we as a society generate every day, at first I was very angry and thought it was just a matter of some specific things, like the trash bags, the cups, the straws. But then I started to think further about why we consume the way we do. I think we’re in a moment of time where we pretty much dispose of everything. Everything can be replaced. We use a cup and throw it away. Everything we’re using – a person, a computer, clothes, food – we just use it, and then whenever it doesn’t suit us anymore, we just get rid of it. And I think that’s a behavior of our society.
The trash is just the upper part of this huge mess that happens with the values of our society. I think we have to readdress them, readdress what capitalism says is good, and who we admire in our society. Because whenever who we admire continues to be who has more, then we’re not going to change the trash because we as humans are looking at the status of everything.
We are still measured by what we have and not by who we are. So, that’s for me the bottom of our problem. We value what’s disposable.
What was the general attitude toward the environment during your childhood?
Our family never had this sustainable attitude, because it didn’t exist in Brazil. We started recycling cans in 1991 here. We didn’t speak about climate change in school. I learned water was an infinite resource, we didn’t learn to take care of it. My family was never a family that would consume a lot, we were not rich, and my parents are not the type of people that like to change cars and have jewelry. They are simple, and so we didn’t have a lot to throw away. But we didn’t have this thought about recycling. When it started I was already grown up.
Climate change is still not something we really talk about here in Brazil; it is still very far from us. People don’t connect climate change with when we have very intense rains. Earlier this year in São Paulo, three people died at sea in a boat when a very big storm brought wind. But in the news, they didn’t mention any connection to the climate.
What needs to happen to change the public perception?
I work with organizations like Greenpeace and the UN but focus on reaching people ‘outside the bubble.’ There really is a stark divide. How can we pop this bubble and see more mixing and blending of such different worlds?
One key issue is the language we use. We are talking about things that connect to all parts of our lives, but we talk about them in a very scientific way. So the ones that are studying and researching – the scientists, the engineers – they speak in a difficult language because it’s so complicated. How can we talk about the carbon footprint, when most people don’t know what this footprint is? In my opinion, all the big organizations must put money on communicating.
And we have to change the language. We cannot use the word ‘resources’ for nature; we cannot call something broken ‘trash,’ because then we will see things this way. Instead of trash, we can call it a material – paper, glass, plastic.
We have to explain to people that the environment is not something to get in touch with only on vacation. We have to start talking about cities, about a better quality of life, and make it very clear that if we don’t protect the environment, we’re not going to be alive in a few years. We have to connect it to our daily lives and be more rough on the issues.
In light of Jair Bolsonaro’s recent victory as president of Brazil, how are you fighting back against his position not to address climate change?
What I’m seeing now happening here is something I’ve never seen happen before. All the environmentalists and big NGOs are getting together. Everyone used to have different agendas. And now, if we want to succeed, we’re going to have to get together as a unique agenda, just as agribusiness guys here do. They are a cancer, but they act together.
Here in Brazil, people still think that when you’re going against the environment, you’re going against progress, because certain sectors and politicians sell it a lot, they say it a lot. They say we have to deforest the Amazon so we can plant there, because there is no land in Brazil. It’s absurd – we don’t have land? But they say that, and because we have bad education here, people believe it.
But I think it’s similar to when Trump won and states rushed policies about climate. I think we will wake up. I’m going to suffer, you’re going to suffer. A country alone cannot decide if they want or don’t want to follow a climate change agenda, because it’s a human agenda, not a country agenda anymore
What are some simple things you and others can do to fight climate change in daily life?
When I changed my disposable cup for this Menos Um Lixo cup, in one year, not only did I save 1,618 cups, but I developed a new consciousness about trash. When you start with one thing, you create a new consciousness. You pay attention to the ways in which trash exists and then want to do something about it.
You can start by saying no to disposables, plastic disposables – the cup, the knife and fork, the straws. If you bring something with you, it’s like this lucky badge that you have, and you start to reconnect with your own power to change the situation, because you see that you’re powerful. And people see and start talking to you, and the movement grows.
Another easy thing to do is sign the petitions on what you think you have power to change.
When you realize your voice is powerful, then you can change the world, but you must start with the little things. We have to stop thinking the world as ‘us’ and ‘the environment.’ We are all one system that depends on each other to live in a healthy way. It is time to reconnect with our nature as human beings.
Fe Cortez will speak at GLF Bonn 2018, 1–2 December. Registration is available here.