Don't Worry About Perfection When It Comes to Zero Waste

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Zero waste expert Lindsay Miles tells people to start wherever they can, that actions are like ripples in the fight against plastic packaging.

Last December, a woman named Lindsay Miles gave a TedX talk in Perth, Australia. Miles is the founder of a blog called 'Treading My Own Path: Steps Toward a Sustainable Lifestyle,' and she spoke about her transition to zero waste living.

What I liked about Miles' talk is how she starts out describing the way she used to live -- and it sounds remarkably how many other green-minded people live. She shopped occasionally at the farmers' market, took reusable bags to the grocery store, bought 'green' products for her home, was a devoted recycler. She describes her mindset at that time in the present tense:

"I marvel at how ridiculously over-packaged everything is in the supermarket, as I pile those same over-packaged things into my trolley. I wonder, Why doesn't somebody do something about that? But of course, I recycle. I recycle everything. My recycling bin is always full. I feel a little bit guilty about all that waste, but my guilt just seems to melt away as soon as my recycling bin is collected."

Then Miles came across the Plastic-Free July challenge, which we've covered here on TreeHugger. It is a month-long challenge to avoid all single-use plastics. For Miles, this was a revelation. Never before had she realized how much plastic there was in her home, particularly the kitchen and bathroom.

After using up the items in her home, Miles began replacing them with alternatives packaged in glass and metal. These materials are much heavier than plastic, making the quantity of superfluous packaging more noticeable than ever.

Eventually, this led to her embarking on a zero-waste journey -- an ongoing quest to do away with "single-use everything" and packaging altogether. She now chooses items that are built to last, that can be reused and repaired. She has no trash bin in her home and generates minimal recycling. She points out in the talk that there's a reason why "recycle" comes at the end of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" rhyme that every child is taught:

"I'd always thought responsibility ends with recycling, but it's a terrible place to stop."

Zero waste living has improved Miles' life. She eats more real food, supports local independent businesses, has learned new skills and found ways to embrace creativity. She has connected with a community of likeminded people. Most importantly, she has realized that we can all do something about this problem. We don't have to wait around for "somebody to do something about it" because we all are somebody.

She encourages people not to get too hung up on perfection, but to do what they can. Realize that actions are ripples that change an important story. For too long we've believed companies telling us that "convenience" has to be disposable, but that's not true.

Every time we shop, we can decide to perpetuate the problem or to be a part of the solution. Miles' talk is inspiring, showing that ordinary individuals can really make a difference.

Visit Treading My Own Path for further ideas on how to go about reducing household waste. Watch the TEDx talk: