Is "Zero Waste" REALLY Necessary...?

Monday, August 20, 2018
I first discovered the Zero Waste trend on Pinterest.  I was immediately sucked into the rabbit whole of reusables, compost bins, mason jars with a year's worth of waste in it, super minimalist homes, living walls, and elaborate apartment balcony gardens that grow everything from basil to strawberries to tomatoes and back again.  I was hooked immediate.

"*shouting from next room* Okay."

The more I delved into it, the more my enthusiasm turned to guilt.  I made a post about swapping out commonly used disposable plastic items for reusable, sustainable items and yes, I actually do own and use all of the items in my post.  But I could get rid of everything, and I felt like I was a bad person because of it.  I was still buying soy milk at the grocery store, tofu in packages, and I would sometimes forget my reusable bags when I went to the grocery store.  We did switch to buying produce from the Farmer's Market, but our vegetable seller packaged some of their stuff with twist ties.  I always felt like no matter what I was doing, it was never enough.

If you're feeling like this, KNOCK IT OFF.  Anything you're doing to help the environment is something.  Plus, I'm vegan, which is a HUGE help to the environment in itself and one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint (high five for my vegan pals!). By using all of the items from my plastic swaps post, I am for SURE reduced a ton of waste that would end up in the oceans and landfills. And people are giving Starbucks shit for replacing plastic straws with new cup tops (that also happen to be made from plastic) but straws are on of the biggest contributors to plastic waste, so...why not modify a cup lid that would have been use in addition to the straw anyway, and eliminate the straw...? Makes sense to me.

Then I stumbled upon this blog post. Blogger Renee Peters gets down to the bottom of what it REALLY takes to be "Zero Waste" - Privilege.  Privilege is something that people are talking a lot about these days, and it's honestly not an inherently bad thing, it just depends on what you do with it. One thing I noticed about a lot of these "Zero Waste" blogs is that they have an abundance of time.  They make their own hummus (something that Renee talks about in her post), they make all of their own sauces and condiments from scratch, they live in houses with yards that are perfect for composting and growing food...But hey, I don't have any of those things.  I work a full time job at an art gallery.  It is incredibly demanding (though rewarding) and it is not uncommon for me to roll in early, stay exceptionally late, and sometimes to work without days off at all.  That's what it takes to be in my chosen industry (and I'm not complaining, just stating facts), but it leaves me very little time to tend to an apartment balcony garden being as I'm gone most of the daylight hours and essentially catatonic when I get home at the end of the day (I'm exaggerating...).  But that's another thing...I'm young, unmarried, and live in a big city. I'm also a "millennial" (as much as everyone HATES that word, I was born in 1985 and qualify as one) and it is widely known that we have money troubles and will probably never own a home.  I have crippling student debt, a car payment, and a credit card payment, and rent an apartment from a guy who is obsessed with the band Rush and do not live in a home with a sprawling backyard.  There are limits to what I can grow and compost.

Photos from Bea Johnson's blog, "Zero Waste Home"
Now, I'm still privileged and have very little time to do the things one must in order to be truly "zero waste."  Think about a single mom or a single dad who works two jobs.  What if you live below the poverty line?  What if you're doing your damned best, but live alone and have no family or friends nearby to help you out when things get tough and it is simply not a priority for you to put all of your waste from 2018 in a teeny mason jar?

Being concerned about the environment is necessary, don't get me wrong.  But I think that there are other things we can do about it, than worry about how living up to picture perfect zero waste standards.  Here are some simple and exceptionally impactful things you can do to help the environment:

1. Stop buying fast fashion.  This will help not only the environment (most of this poor quality clothing ends up in landfills very quickly), but you will also be making choices to empower people who make your clothing.  A lot of fast fashion is made overseas in factories that have very little regulations on working conditions and compensation.

2.  Buy a goddamn aluminum water bottle, ya nerd.  Quit using plastic water bottles.  Just STOP.

3. When ordering in, tell the delivery person to skip the utensils.  Buy reusable bamboo chopsticks, so you don't have to use disposable ones with paper or plastic wrapping.

4. Buy a bamboo toothbrush.  I guarantee you don't need that plastic one that lasts maybe a month before it gets disgusting.

5.  VOTE.  Betcha didn't think of this one, did you? Especially in local elections, voting is how we pass environmental bills to stop a lot of waste before it happens.  Remember when California banned single-use plastic bags in 2014 (thanks Prop 67!)? Voters did that!

6. Go VEGAN!!!
By skipping animal products alone, you can save about a thousand gallons of water a day, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 tons a year!  It is also easier to buy vegetables without plastic packaging, than it is to get meat without plastic packaging (unless you go to the butcher, or buy local, but most Americans are not sourcing their meat this way...).  It is also really important to make sure that your produce is LOCAL.

The takeaway from this is that we shouldn't beat ourselves up because we aren't perfect, and that's essentially my life motto.  I'm not a perfect vegan, a perfect lifestyle blogger, and I'm not living perfectly zero waste. But I am taking a lot of steps to make the world a better place long after I'm gone, and I think that's a great place to start.  I'll never be minimalist or ZERO waste, but I can produce much less waste and consume the right amount of things for me and my lifestyle.

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