Back in 2017 I stumbled across the zero waste movement by chance. I had never resonated with a lifestyle so strongly before, so I decided I’d take the challenge and dive right in. Fast forward 6 years later and I’m still here. It’s safe to say being zero waste is engrained in me now. But I’ve also learned a lot during this time. I figured it would be cool (and probably helpful) to share my findings with all of you. If you’re interested in living this lifestyle, this will be particularly helpful to you. Being zero waste for years is an accomplishment, but it’s also been far from simple. Here’s what I’ve learned.
I’ve Been Zero Waste For 6 Years: Here’s What I’ve Learned
1. It’s more than aesthetics
Back in the early days of the zero waste movement everyone was obsessed with pinning images of aesthetic mason jars, plastic-free pantries, and bamboo cutlery. But the truth is, zero waste isn’t picture-perfect all the time.
You don’t need a bunch of perfectly matching mason jars to be zero waste. In fact, using the Tupperware sitting in your cupboards is probably the most zero waste thing you can do. That’s because using what you already have actually saves resources.
I think getting too caught up in how zero waste looks is also very limiting and inaccessible. Lets be real, who has the money to run out and buy ALL the zero waste aesthetically pleasing stuff? Probably white rich women.
In order to make zero waste more accessible, we have to move past the “oh that looks so pretty” part of zero waste and focus more on “that’s functional”. So choosing to make rags from your old shirt instead of buying cloth napkins; Using the cutlery you already have in your drawers instead of bamboo utensils; Using a brown paper bag to store food scraps in instead of a compost pail, etc.
It doesn’t have to look pretty. It just has to do the job: Cut back on waste.
2. It’s okay to be imperfect
I used to really beat myself up if I forgot my reusable water bottle, reusable bag, or cutlery at home. Now, if I do, I don’t sweat it. I just try to avoid purchasing any disposables when I’m out and about. But if I do, I tell myself “Ariana, this isn’t worth making yourself sick over.”
Truth is, there’s too much responsibility on the consumer. And I’m not big on guilt-shaming people into being sustainable. We cannot (and shouldn’t!) be responsible for the end of life of ALL packaging. That should be on the companies making/manufacturing the product.
Have you ever noticed with Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, we often gloss over the other to R’s and just focus on recycle? This is done on purpose. Recycling is a huge marketing ploy to make it okay for businesses to continue making wasteful products. Shelbi talks about this best in her YouTube video “Why You Should Quit Recycling“- definitely give it a watch for more info.
I think our individual actions absolutely add up and matter. But we should also know we don’t need to be perfect. More responsibility for the end of life of products needs to be put on the people making them!
3. Plastic packaging isn’t always the villain
I feel like plastic is demonized in the zero waste movement (and trust me, I get why). A new Greenpeace report estimates that only 5% to 6% of U.S. plastics are being recycled.
But plastic is so hard to avoid, and sometimes, you won’t be able to. So shaming people for making certain choices that contain plastic isn’t very helpful or constructive.
For example, since moving into my new apartment, I’ve agreed to pay for most of the groceries. For the two of us, setting aside $150 for groceries every week/other week has been more than enough. But…
It depends on where you shop. Where you get the most bang for your buck matters when you’re on a budget. Personally, I’ve found shopping at Trader Joes and choosing the frozen organic option wrapped in plastic film is cheaper than buying that same item package-free somewhere else.
Should it be like this? Absolutely not. But this is what it is. This is the hand we’re dealt. And sometimes, you’re going to have to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision.
Personally, I will always choose organic over package-free. In an ideal world, they’d be both (AND affordable). But the reason I’d choose organic every time is because I know that food was grown in a way that doesn’t erode our soils, pollute our waters, or exploit farmers. And that matters more in the grand scheme of things.
That said, I am typically able to find everything I need at the summer farmers market that checks off all these boxes!
4. Not everyone will get you
Most of my friends and family get my lifestyle and accept it by now. But there have been some incidents in the past that didn’t go as smoothly.
In one such case, I was told I was “drinking the koolaid” for blogging about sustainability. Yeah. OK…
The point is, not everyone is going to see eye to eye with you. Or accept your lifestyle. While it’s NEVER ok for anyone to insult, yell or belittle you, people are technically entitled to their own opinions.
However…there are opinions. Then there are facts. And I feel like a lot of people mix the two nowadays.
Fact is: The average American creates ~4.9lbs of trash per day, and only 5-6% of plastic waste gets recycled. THOSE are facts. And no opinion on it will change that.
Here are my top 5 tips for dealing with judgmental people. Hope it helps!
5. There’s more to zero waste than plastic waste
Kind of bouncing off #3 here, but I feel like plastic waste is the only thing zero wasters talk about. But there are SO many other forms of waste too.
I could go on. Point is, there are other forms of waste that all point to one thing: There’s a problem with our system.
We live in a linear economy, opposed to a circular economy (which is what zero waste strives to be). That makes it harder for us to have a zero waste society.
Lets not forget about these other forms of waste or gloss over them. I encourage you to do research into each. I have some resources on my blog, but looking outside my blog is great too. So many talented authors have written about these topics en masse!
6. Zero waste is JUST the beginning
Zero waste is a great way to get into the sustainability movement. But it only accounts for one part of a product’s production: It’s end of life.
There’s so much more to a product than just what you do with it at the end of its usefulness. The carbon footprint of each product varies heavily based on so many things. Aka, we should be assessing the products we buy cradle to cradle (start to finish).
Also, beyond products, there are so many aspects and topics to talk about in terms of sustainability. Climate change, renewable energy, regenerative farming, reforming fisheries, environmental justice, protecting pollinators, conservation. The list goes on!
Using zero waste as a kind of gateway to step into the growing climate talk is a great thing to do. I am ALWAYS learning. Never once do I close myself off from expanding my knowledge.
So don’t let zero waste be your end all – use it to make individual changes, then let it catapult you into other sustainability fields!
Here are some nuanced sustainability topics to get you started:
- 8 Black Environmentalists You Need to Follow on Instagram
- Environmental Racism Is A Zero Waste Issue Too
- How Does Construction Affect the Environment?
- How to Create a Pollinator Garden
- What Is Food Justice + Why Is It Important?
- 20 Ways to Fight Climate Change
- 6 Sustainable Instagram Accounts That Focus on Climate Optimism
- What is a Refillery + Why Do We Need More?
- The Best Tips For Rewilding Yourself
- 6 Ways to Avoid Microplastics
- Is Cork Sustainable? Here’s What You Need to Know
So, what do you think of this reflection? How long have you been zero waste? Let me know in the comments!
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