A couple of years ago, I decided to start the transition to the Zero-Waste lifestyle, largely because I felt like my lifestyle was not compatible with a beautiful, sustainable planet. When I started, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, and even a couple of years in, I don’t think I am particularly good at Zero-Waste, I would say I have barely achieved a low impact lifestyle.
I have made many mistakes learning about the zero waste lifestyle,I think everyone approaches zero-waste differently, and everyone uses plastic and their purchasing power differently. Hopefully you wont use your purchasing power to make my mistakes!
1)Being too hard on myself and not realising that it takes time
A low waste lifestyle is a serious transition, essentially everything comes in plastic and it requires a lot of thought about what changes you can make, and being able to be compassionate with yourself when you can’t do it at once. I got overwhelmed by all the ways I was creating waste and it felt like a very unattainable lifestyle, and I was embarrassed about all the tiny changes I was making, because they felt insignificant compared to all the waste I was accidentally making.
It has been a really long journey for me, and I have had to make small, incremental changes to my lifestyle, and I was initially really disappointed because I felt like I wasn’t making any progress. I have had to realise that it is a transition, not a transformation, and it’s not fair to compare myself to the zero waste guru with their mason jar of trash that represents all the trash they have made in three years. A transition to a zero-waste lifestyle is often slow and needs to be taken in small, incremental steps.
2) I only thought about my physical waste
In the beginning, I only really considered the physical waste I was making, for instance, I would bring a sustainable container to buy my lunch everyday, but I didn’t think about the resources needed to have summer fruits in the middle of winter. I would also buy a lot of meat, even though it costs so much more in resources than vegetables and grains.
Zero-Waste is more than just eliminating plastic waste, and even though I still buy things like rice, but I do try and not buy food that has been shipped from across the world. I am still learning to eat locally and seasonally, but I can really only do my best. Sometimes I still mess up, but I am trying to be more considerate and mindful of the food I eat.
3) I Compartmentalised Sustainability
When I first started trying to transition to a more zero-waste lifestyle, I was very naive about sustainability. I would use my keep cup everyday, but I would update to the latest iPhone, even though that was inherently more harmful.
The way I lived had to change, I had to critically evaluate how I valued things and people, and how I was consuming things. I have had to understand that everything that I consumed had a human or environmental consequence, and to be truly be more environmentally friendly, I had to think more critically about my buying patterns and now I spend money and time. I am still trying to change my lifestyle, but I am trying everyday to be better and look at the bigger picture.
4)I threw things out when I started.
When I first started my low waste journey, I read about how bad plastic was, and how it could leach chemicals into food, and I threw a lot of my tupperware out (not all of it) and tried to replace it with glass jars. This was a really privileged thing to do, I mean I could have reused it for storage or anything else, but by throwing it out, I pretty much ensured it became landfill.
Also, glass jars are super expensive, and I wasn’t really able to replace it all, I still use my plastic tupperware (because I still have some) and now I try and value the stuff I have now, and use what I have instead of throwing out things that could still be useful to me. Even though a lot of the things I bought previously (like plastic or fast fashion) don’t really go with the zero waste ‘aesthetic’ I still use them and try and be more responsible in the future, I try and use the piece until its unusable and then change it into something else. For example, a fast fashion t-shirt that is not really wearable anymore, can easily become cleaning rags.
5) It makes the waste movement individualised
The Zero-Waste movement prioritises individual responsibility as the driving force, but the term was originally created for businesses like Walmart. Businesses have more power in shaping how society creates, uses and disposes of waste. I can use my keep cup all I like, but it will have nowhere near the impact of a supermarket banning plastic bags.
At a certain point, zero waste is not just an individuals responsibility, and I think it’s important to make informed choices when purchasing things, but zero waste can not be left up to the individual. At a certain point, the individual is limited, and businesses need to take a more active role in reducing waste.
Have you been reducing your waste? What have been your biggest mistakes? If you have any suggestions or tips for me I would love to hear them!