Is zero waste practical?
If you’ve ever seen people talk about zero waste, you might come to the question “is zero waste practical?” Does it make a difference? Or is it just a way to show off how sustainable you are?
When I came up with my Awl-Encompassing Philosophy I talked for a while about what makes me sad about plastic, which is that all those bits of plastic end up in the sea, eaten by the fish (and then, of course, back around to us).
I’m still sad about plastic; that hasn’t changed — and as July is the Plastic Free Ecochallenge I’ve kept thinking of it. In Ecochallenge’s mailer, they point out that plastic ending up in the ocean is the cause of a huge number of health issues, which disproportionately effects poor and marginalized communities.
But what really struck me was the quote they chose to put at the top of their mailer.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
This impacted me precisely because I’d already been thinking about it a bit. In the a href=”https://poeticearthmonth.com/the-awl-encompassing-philosophy/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Awl-Encompassing Philosophy I’d considered the fact that “0-waste” is, in many ways, too extreme of a lifestyle for anyone (except perhaps the most driven) to keep up. But a YouTube video the other day brought that into even more perspective.
This video pointed out that even for the people who actually make “0-waste” a lifestyle, it’s not actually possible to be 100% perfect all the time — and how being overly concerned about if you’ve managed to avoid all plastic sins might actually keep you from paying attention to what the point of it all really is.
Basically, sure, 100% perfection is a great idea, but nobody can manage 100% perfection. It’s not humanly possible.
Instead, what are the real options?
• There’s 100% not even bothering
• There’s sort-of-halfheartedly-thinking-about-it
• There’s putting-in-a-good-effort
• There’s going-out-of-your-way-to-be-plastic-free
• Or, to be perfectly honest — just supporting sustainable companies and organizations (because very few of us probably run the companies that are actually making the plastic; though we might run companies that use the plastic, or buy the items that are plastic, or even buy items that ought to have nothing to do with plastic but have been wrapped to death in it by the grocery store.)
Rather than realizing we can’t be perfect and therefore why bother, it’s important to realize we can’t be perfect but bothering matters — hugely. In whatever ways, big or small, are possible.
Which is why I really like that quote. Because one person being the King of Zero Waste is not going to save the world. Changes need many, many people working together, from many different angles, in many different places, with many different viewpoints.
The important thing is working together.
Try It: Just One “Zero Waste” Activity
First of all, remember that almost every natural activity, human or otherwise, produces a waste product. Something altered. Something leftover. Something more or less usable or enriching for another human or natural activity.
Work with a friend, co-worker, or family member to incorporate (for now) just one “zero waste” practice into your life per week. For example:
• try to prepare a zero waste meal on Mondays
• on laundry day, try using baking soda instead of laundry detergent that comes in a plastic bottle. Besides not producing a plastic waste situation at the end, you’re also curbing chemical waste. Baking soda is food safe. 🙂
• carry a refillable water bottle with you
• bring a canvas bag with you to get groceries
• Choose a part of your lawn to let go wild. Feel free to edge the area and give it a shape that’s pleasing to the eye. Bonus if you also go pesticide free on the rest of the lawn.