I’ve been zero waste since 2017 and during that time I’ve heard a lot of farfetched stuff – some more outlandish than others. There are so many zero waste myths out there I felt it was time to finally settle the score. Misinformation is education’s worst enemy, after all. When you’re new to a movement, it’s imperative you don’t get filled up with falsities. The last thing you need is to be scared out of trying something new. That’s why I’m debunking these zero waste myths – and explaining why they’re just not true.
5 Zero Waste Myths Debunked
Myth #1 – it’s only for hippies
Nope. It’s for everyone and anyone who wants to give low waste living a shot.
In fact, it’s more of a survival thing. When you care for the earth, you do what you can to protect it. If that includes reducing your reliance on single-use items, so be it. In fact, that’s something we should all be striving for, considering the average American makes 4.9lbs of trash per day.
Truth is, we’ve made more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic since its initial creation in the 1950s. And only 9% of that is actually recycled – the rest is landfilled, incinerated or ends up in our environment.
Not counting covid waste, 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year and it’s estimated by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.
And, to further prove how much plastic has a hold on ALL of us – plastic was found in human feces, lungs, placentas, and our bloodstreams. So no, reducing our trash and plastic intake is NOT just a hippie thing. It’s a “lets save the earth and humanity” thing.
Myth #2 – it’s super expensive
This is one of the most common zero waste myths.
A lot of people often worry they have to spend a ton of money to go zero waste. But that’s not necessarily true! I realize a lot of the zero waste products being marketed towards you may be pricy (and maybe even out of budget), but here’s my take on that.
The way I see it, there are a lot of swaps you can make without spending a dime. It costs nothing to reuse an empty glass jar of pasta sauce as a container for storing leftovers. Nor does it cost a dime to bring reusable utensils from home with you to work or school.
There will be some swaps that might require you to make an initial purchase. Sometimes there are ways around this (ex: for a water bottle, you can reuse any empty ice tea glass), but often the reusable you’re purchasing will save you a lot in the long run.
Here’s an example from my own life – before going zero waste, I would purchase disposable pads every month to help with my period. Each pack had about 24 pads in them. So, in other words, I was sending about 36 pads to the landfill in just one period cycle.
Then, I decided to switch over to reusable pads and period underwear. While the initial purchase was a lot of money, especially because I had to buy several to feel comfortable on my period, it actually saved me money in the long run.
Each disposable pad pack costed me approximately $8, excluding tax. That amount certainly adds up: At the end of the year, I was dishing out at least $192 on disposable pads. But if I keep all my reusables for just five years, I’d be saving a whopping $960 I would’ve spent on disposables.
So, as you can see, some zero waste items should be seen as an investment that pretty much pays for itself over time, and then some.
Myth #3 – you have to fit all your trash in a jar
This zero waste myth annoys me to no end. No. Just no. You do not have to fit all your trash into a jar.
A lot of people believe in order to be truly “zero waste” we have to fit all our year’s trash into a mason jar – and that’s just not realistic. There’s a lot of upstream waste we don’t see, and a lot of waste we couldn’t (and should never) put into a jar.
Here’s an example of this: Bulk food stores tend to get a lot of their products in big plastic bags. That’s hidden plastic waste you’ll never see, nor be able to add to a trash jar.
The same can be said about certain things you shouldn’t add to a trash jar. For example, you wouldn’t go adding a condom to a trash jar would you? That’s unsanitary. Nor that soiled plastic-coated paper plate you were FORCED to use at your aunt’s BBQ? Exactly.
And how are trash jars feasible for a family of 4? That’s a LOT of waste to stuff into one jar, even if you do manage to get it down by a lot.
Trash jars are overrated. Period. You don’t need them to be zero waste. Instead, just focus on reducing waste where you can. Taking a trash audit can help!
Myth #4 – you can’t be stylish or wear makeup
Okay now this zero waste myth is honestly so silly. A lot of people believe just because someone is zero waste, they can’t be fashionable or wear makeup. They probably expect us to walk around in shapeless outfits made from nothing but organic cotton, hemp, and linen all the time. And while you certainly could do that, it’s not the only way.
Let me start by saying fast fashion is definitely bad for the environment. But that doesn’t mean zero wasters have to walk around in burlap sacks. There are tons of sustainable fashion brands out there (I love Pact, Amour Vert, Reformation, etc.). And, when in doubt, thrifting for your clothes is always a wonderful option that’s budget-friendly and eco-friendly. You’re keeping items out of the landfill and giving them a second life.
And the same goes for makeup!
Makeup tends to have a ton of plastic components and because of their small size, it’s difficult to ensure they get recycled. But again, there are tons of zero waste makeup brands out there (like Kjaer Weis, RMS, etc.). Some even offer refillable products!
So trust me, you don’t have to look like who-did-it-and-ran to be zero waste. There are so many sustainable ways to express yourself and get dolled up.
Myth #5 – you must be perfect
No. You DO NOT have to be perfect to be zero waste. Say it with me.
I cannot stand this myth – and sadly, a lot of people in the zero waste community are the ones reinforcing it. Perfection isn’t even achievable because we live in a linear economy, not a circular one. And that’s not on you, or me! It’s the system – and we need a better one.
It’s okay if you need to order takeout, shop fast fashion (cause that’s all you can afford), or find certain plastic to be unavoidable. Don’t let anyone guilt trip you into thinking it’s not.
Instead of getting mad at individuals, and turning against each other, lets get mad that better systems aren’t in place.
In order for zero waste to become more mainstream, we need to make it more accessible to everyone. And we can start by calling, emailing and tweeting our local reps!
Demand for better access to recycling or composting services in your neighborhood; Email brands and restaurants about their packaging choices and plastic use; Vote for people who CARE about the environment. These are just a few ways we can make a more collective impact.
Here are some resources to help you make an even bigger impact:
- How to Contact Businesses About Their Packaging
- How to Build a Zero Waste Community in Your Neighborhood
- Environmental Racism is a Zero Waste Issue Too
- 8 Black Environmentalists You Need to Follow On Instagram
- What Is Food Justice + Why Is It Important?
So don’t beat yourself up over that plastic fork you had to use last Friday. Or that straw you drank from today. Instead, lets come together, demand better, and find solutions. Imperfect environmentalism is where it’s at baby!
What do you think about these zero waste myths? What are some outlandish zero waste myths you’ve heard before? Let me know in the comments below!
For more zero waste beginners tips, check out The 5 R’s of Zero Waste.
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