It’s Plastic Free July, and the topic of sustainability is a bit more um… popular than it usually is. And instead of retreating to my usual but where were you the rest of the year cynicism I want to embrace the this-is-the-time-of-the-year-people-are-talking-about-this to share a bit more about my own personal journey with zero-waste and some of the thoughts I have on it:
About a year and a half ago I started the #zerowastewednesdays hashtag to share small, accessible swaps and recipes that can help anyone make baby steps toward a lifestyle with less single-use waste. Is my personal lifestyle 100% perfectly zero-waste? Not at all. And there are some hangups with our living situation that make it impossible to REALLY go for that end goal. Which, I’m guessing is true for the vast majority of people, no matter how committed they are to the environment.
I mean, we don’t (and can’t) compost at our current apartment. We have to do our laundry off-site so not only are cloth cleaning rags, diapers, and feminine products out of the questions, air-drying our clothes just isn’t practical either. Our neighbors keep contaminating the recycle bin so sorting our trash is pointless. We don’t have any cool zero-waste bulk stores around (and I still can’t get a straight answer as to whether Sprouts will let me use my own jars?). We homeschool and my kids make trash like it’s a FULL TIME FREAKING JOB. These are all big things, BUT should I let that delude me into believing that I can’t do anything? No, no I shouldn’t.
The benefits of a zero-waste lifestyle are real, and I mean, who doesn’t love
saving money by not buying disposable things
saving time by not being at stores all the time and taking out the trash less often
being healthier because you aren’t eating packaged junk food.
making a positive impact on the world as a whole
BUT living a totally zero-waste lifestyle where my whole family puts our trash in a mason jar is just not an attainable goal for my family right now. I honestly don’t know if that will ever be our goal. BUT I’m still passionate about sharing our journey to minimizing our waste in as many ways as possible. Why? Theres a quote that goes around the instagrams a lot that goes something like “we don’t need a few people doing zero waste perfectly, we need a lot of people doing it imperfectly”, and I think that’s really it. I want to show earnest, imperfect steps toward a zero-waste lifestyle to show others just how much they CAN do.
Like, let’s put it in numbers for a second: If, theoretically, I could bring my family’s total landfill waste to zero and just kept it to myself until I did and THEN started sharing, that would just be one household’s impact on a global problem, and it wouldn’t exactly motivate others to follow if they thought the only way they could help is to also make no trash at all. BUT, with slow, steady, incremental changes I have decreased our family’s trash output by at least half (and it would be closer to 75% if we could compost and recycle here!). I have about 1600 followers on Instagram, and let’s just say that everyone finds some swaps they can do and reduces their family’s landfill waste by even a measly 10%, then woah, thats 160 households worth of trash diverted. And that’s just from little old Instagram-nobody me. So, as defeatist as I am generally inclined to be, when I look at it that way, how can I not share my journey, as slow and imperfect as it is?
And also, I want to show that an environmentally conscious lifestyle doesn’t HAVE to look like what you see on Instagram. Yes, vintage thrift finds and stainless steel tiffins ARE great zero waste options, but that’s not the only way. Zero waste also looks like:
using up what you already have before buying something new
buying fewer, higher quality items
refusing single-use items you don’t need
repairing things instead of replacing them
buying used wherever possible
I’m a firm believer that for most things, there really isn’t just one right way to do it, so if there’s something you see in your life where you can remove single-use plastic or divert waste from the landfill then great! do that! If you’re looking for ideas, I have a ton on my #zerowastewednesdays hashtag (and there’s the… whole rest of the internet too), if you’re looking for a little more guidance as you get started, here’s some basic guiding principles that have really helped me a lot:
Do what you can, where you can. Yes, there are going to be things that are out of your reach for the time being. There are going to be things that just flat out don’t work for you. Don’t focus on those things. Focus on the things that you can change right here, right now. Maybe those other things will be able to work someday (I’m still hoping I’ll get to live somewhere with a clothesline outside someday!), but until they do, theres plenty of other things that can be done.
One change at a time. Trying to change your entire way of living all at once is a surefire way to get burnt out and swing to the complete opposite extreme. Its also, in this case, can be like, really freaking expensive. So just take things one at a time, try one new zero waste alternative each time you run out of something (toothpaste, laundry soap, etc), but don’t rush it. It’s not a race. And you’re more likely to stick to a small change than a big one.
Remember small changes add up to big impact. Obviously I can only speak for my personal experience, but, if you had told me five years ago when I started using tupperware instead of ziplocs that eventually I’d be taking the trash out once or twice a week instead of every other day I wouldn’t have believed you. That first change seemed to small to be significant, but when combined with all the other changes that came after, I can see the difference and because the shift in our lifestyle was so gradual, it doesn’t even feel like much of a change.
Also, I’m working on some (ok a lot) more zero-waste oriented blog posts, so please comment or email to let me know if there are any questions you have. If you’re wondering, I’m sure others are too and I’d love to help in any way I can!