When I first heard about “Zero-Waste”, it was probably a Buzzfeed video about Lauren Singer (Trash is for Tossers) who is the unofficial (basically official) zero-waste pioneer for our generation. She is a 20-something, Brooklynite, who pretty much owns nothing and produces enough waste in 4 years to fit in a regular mason jar, but looks beautiful and effortless while doing it. I immediately disliked her. I said that she was elitist and pretentious and that this “life-style” was unattainable for the common man (aka me). She just gave off a vibe that made me almost resent her for living so eco-friendly.
But here I am, with 8 feet in my mouth, dedicating an entire section on this blog to Zero-Waste and sustainable living. How did we get here?
I have always idealized eco-living. My family is great at recycling but I’ve dreamed of being even more eco-conscious in my adult life. Bringing my own water bottle, recycling, shopping locally, nose ring, tattoos, breastfeeding my kids, the whole granola lifestyle.
My sister became vegan about a year ago and I thought to myself “I’m way more eco-conscious than her. She doesn’t even care about the environment”. (She does by the way and Veganism is great for the environment but she didn’t too much besides not eating cheese and chicken.) It started setting in about 6 months ago that all this “I’m eco-friendly” talk was just that, talk. I wasn’t doing anything more than the normal recycling and riding the bus. I wasn’t educated on WHY to be eco-conscious and HOW to actually do things about it. This conceptual adventure of “zero-waste” truly began about 2 months ago. I watched every YouTube video and TedTalk that I could.
*I found out that Lauren Singer did not start anything and actually modeled her life after Bea Johnson, a mother whose family of four has produced 1 Jar of trash every year for the past 7 years and has a popular blog and book about living zero-waste with kids. So maybe I was right in my skepticism of Lauren, or maybe I’m just cynical. Probably cynical.
I read blogs and googled a MILLION things from stainless steel tiffins to the nearest bulk stores. I was making stockpiles of all the reusable shopping bags and mason jars I could find.
And here’s where I am.
I have transitioned all my bathroom stuff to zero waste. I am using up the last of my product in plastic packaging, I have a bamboo toothbrush, and all package-free shower stuff (shampoo and conditioner bars, bar soap, bar body scrub). I even switched to a safety razor (the old school ones that twist and open on the top and that you just put regular metal razor blades in when one gets dull) and a menstrual cup, which lasts for 10 years and eliminates the need for tampons and pads completely.
I try to buy as little as possible in packaging. I go to the co-op grocery store where I can get A TON of stuff in bulk and get all my produce unpackaged (like we wash it or peel it anyways, why is it wrapped in plastic). I bring a canvas tote with me everywhere so if i buy anything, no plastic bag. I have reusable produce bags and cloth napkins.
I bring a set of stainless steel cutlery with me everywhere (fork, spoon, knife, chopsticks, and metal straw). Obviously, my water bottle is always with me. I try to buy as little in packaging as possible (food from the grocery store, bottled water, fast food, plastic forks, plastic straws, etc.)
To me, zero-waste is about producing as little waste as possible. I will never be Lauren or Bea with “trash jars” that are super common in Zero-waste communities online. It means eliminating using single-use items (the top 4 things in landfills are to-go coffee cups, plastic straws, plastic water bottles, and plastic shopping bags). If it is meant to be used once and thrown away, there is no point to using it. It means being more conscious about what I am buying, eating, and using and what the greater impact of all of those things are doing.
Along with all of this, I am buying less in general, eating more healthy, supporting more local businesses, and investing in more quality items that will last as long as possible. I feel like my new motto for Zero-waste is that it is not an end goal, but rather a change in perspective.
So that’s the how, but what is the why?
I’m not going to preach to you about global warming, or pollution, or recycling. We all know that the ice caps are melting. We know that we drive too much and depend on oil and coal energy too much. Zero-waste is a response to all eco issues but purposely addresses an aspect of environmentalism that is overlooked. SO. MUCH. PLASTIC. Everything is used once and then thrown away. A huge stat people throw around is from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation who says that in the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. That’s huge, but if you don’t believe it, here is a graph with more info.
The amount of plastic that we are producing and consuming will only continue to increase unless we do something. Not only is this plastic being made out of oil, a lot can only be recycled once (so recycling isn’t a perfect fix), and the majority is ending up in landfills and waterways. Recycling is great. It has become a part of our culture. But recycling only delays the problem, not solves it. You might be thinking that this completely circular economy is impossible, and sometimes it feels like that. Even if I could fit all of my trash in a mason jar, what difference could it make? But if I take some steps and you take some steps we can try to stop the inevitable. I will try to have more hope. I want to educate without coming from a pretentious point of view. I want you to know about it because it’s important to me. I don’t know everything about this but hopefully I can be a window into this perspective change.
So that’s why zero-waste.
Hopefully this will make you take a closer look at your day-to-day life and what you can do to produce less waste. Neither of us will ever be Lauren Singer (and especially not Bea Johnson because she is perfect) or perfect eco-warrior people with those nose-rings and local grocery shopping. But here’s to trying.