It's Time to Ignore Instagram's Portrayal of Zero Waste

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Too much DIY, not enough realism. Let's just do our best.

To all of the people out there who are too nervous to try a zero waste lifestyle because they're worried it won't be good enough, take heart. Even Bea Johnson, founder of the movement and author of Zero Waste Home, thinks the level of DIY is getting absurd.

"[Zero waste bloggers] are associating zero waste with everything homemade. I’m fighting really hard against that, because I think it’s scaring full-time working moms with all these crazy recipes to make products that are completely unnecessary. People who work full time are like 'I don’t have time to do this, so zero waste is not for me.'"
The key to success, according to Johnson – who, let's remember, has been doing this longer than almost anyone else and raised two kids in the process – is to keep it as simple as possible

Plenty of these options exist. You still have to take your own containers and bags, which adds some effort, but that's a small price to pay to reduce packaging that you'd just have to deal with at some point down the line. But when it comes to all the things that you use on a weekly basis, don't exhaust yourself trying to figure out ways to make it all from scratch; unless it's your full-time job, there's no point in burning yourself out and then giving up on zero waste. It doesn't have to be that hard.

Go to a bakery to get bread, muffins, and cookies unpackaged. Tortillas and nachos can sometimes be picked up at a local Mexican restaurant. Forget making your own soap, shampoo, conditioner, skin lotion, and toothpaste. Just buy it unpackaged in bar-form or use a jar of oil or some baking soda. Get takeout food when you're tight on time, but bring your own containers. Forget growing a vegetable garden if that's overwhelming; just go to the farmers' market or sign up for a CSA share. Look for a milk delivery service that uses refillable glass jars. When packaging is unavoidable, go for the biggest bag possible to reduce waste and freeze whatever can't be used right away.

Sure, there might be a few things you need to make from scratch, like pizza dough, granola, jam once a year, and an occasional batch of stock. But generally speaking, we don't need to go too crazy here if we want to be realistic about operating as normal, employed human beings in a modern world. Zero waste should also be a family effort, not something that a single person – usually a woman – is shouldering on her own, as analyzed in this fantastic article in Vox. In Johnson's words, the goal should be to make everything easier:

"Living simply does not take more time, it does not complicate your life. It simplifies your life. It makes room in your life for what matters most to you. And, as a matter of fact, it’s thanks to this lifestyle that we’ve discovered a life based on experiences and other things. A life based on being instead of having. And to us, that’s what makes life richer."

All this is to say, there are ways to take advantages of the conveniences that our society offers, while also trying to reject the superfluous packaging that so often goes along with it. I've said before that "we need to go back to living like Grandma did," but not at the cost of our sanity and every spare moment of free time. There has to be a happy medium.