Zero Waste: Backbone Needed!

©. JMacPherson

There's more to it than "just getting started," despite what many blogs will tell you. You've got to be prepared for a number of ongoing challenges.

Many how-to articles about the Zero Waste lifestyle begin with the same encouraging words: “The hardest thing is getting started.” The insinuated message is that you’ll be on a roll as soon as you commit, that it will work out fine and be no big deal at all.

In my experience, that’s not the case. In fact, I’d say that the hardest thing by far about going Zero Waste is having to live in a world where few other people care about Zero Waste. Reality dictates that those of us concerned with the amount of trash we generate are still forced to operate within a world where wasteful packaging and excess amounts of trash are commonplace, and shockingly few people even bother thinking about how many bags they carry out to the curb.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. At a time when the average American produces a stunning three pounds of trash daily, it’s more important than ever to reduce your personal waste output – but don’t expect it to be easy.

Be prepared for people to think you’re weird.

It’s not exactly cool to read, talk, and think about garbage to the extent that you’ll have to, if you’re serious about going Zero Waste. You’ll be an oddball; you’ll be “that weird jar lady” at the supermarket; and there will be days when you dread pulling your reusable containers out of your (reusable) bag because of people’s unpredictable reactions.

Be prepared for people to challenge what you’re doing.

There are a lot of folks out there who don’t like it when others “break” the rules. Take, for example, the one sour employee at the fish counter who always gives me a hard time when I hand her a glass jar to fill with fish, grumbling about how “this isn’t legal” or “it’s unhygienic.” Her complaints never go anywhere, but it makes the shopping experience unpleasant and sometimes stressful. It gets tiring having to constantly explain and defend what I do.

Be prepared to do more cooking.

One of the biggest ways to reduce waste is to stop buying pre-packaged foods, which means that you’ll have to learn how to make many household staples yourself. Mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, ketchup, breads, ricotta, canned vegetables and fruits, baked goods, and pasta, among many others, are all fairly easy and straightforward to make, but they require extra time and organization. Don’t expect to do it all, but a bit of effort can go a long ways.

Be prepared to go the long way around.

No more shortcuts to the supermarket if you truly care about going Zero Waste, because the supermarket doesn’t care about waste. You’ll have to seek out alternative options for shopping that aren’t as easy to access – food co-ops that allow reusables and refills, local farms, farmers’ markets, community gardens, CSA programs, butcher shops and fish vendors, free-range egg producers, etc.

Be prepared to experiment.

It’s hard to stay loyal to conventional brands of body care products, cosmetics, and household cleaners once you realize what’s in them and how unnecessary all that plastic packaging actually is. You’ll have to branch out, try new products, and discover the multiple abilities of many plain household products, such as vinegar and baking soda.

But it’s so worth it...

Be prepared to feel awesome

about your newfound self-sufficiency, about the minimal bags of garbage getting hauled to the curb, about the saved dollars and those spent supporting your local economy and privately-owned businesses, about your improved health by eating better and having reduced exposure to the toxic chemicals in conventional cleaners and cosmetics, about feeling better about your purchases and living a simpler life overall!