We have a love/hate relationship with the zero waste movement. There are so many fantastic things about it, but also some not so great things. We wanted to write an honest piece about our feelings around the zero waste movement. And why we think focusing on producing zero waste might not be as important as you first thought.
Going zero waste is good for the planet
There is no doubt that reducing your waste, especially plastic waste, is good for the planet. Plastics are created from oil, a fossil fuel, and it takes a lot of energy and resources to produce these plastics. Plastic also does not break down easily, taking hundreds of years to break down. Typically only breaking into smaller pieces, into what is known as micro plastics. Plastic can only be recycled a finite number of times, so eventually plastic either ends up in landfill, incinerated, or as pollution either in the ocean or on land. You can reduce your plastic use either by refusing or using reusable items such as bags or a water bottle. Overall you create less demand for these plastic products so less are created overall and do not end up polluting our environment.
It introduces people to sustainability
We were first introduced to the concept of zero waste when we saw the viral video of the sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose. We, like so many others, were horrified at this. As we started to learn more about plastic pollution, we were also introduction into the bigger picture of sustainability. We started to learn about our carbon footprint, fast fashion and ethical production to name a few. Zero waste is a fantastic entry point into learning more and becoming more sustainable overall in your life.
It’s something you can do on an individual level
There are so many issues in the world that need attention, but often it is hard to know how to create real change. Zero waste is something people can do on an individual level without any specialist training, knowledge or tools/equipment.
It’s easy to see what you have achieved
It is easy to see the waste, it is measurable. Whether there is a lot or a little, it is a visual cue as to whether you are doing well or not that week. In particular it is very satisfying to see how little waste you have produced over a period of time, especially if you were producing a lot before. If you aren’t doing well, it’s a reminder to try to work a little harder moving forward.
It’s easy to focus only on your waste
Since it is so easy to see the waste you produce it can also be too easy to be laser focused on this and forget the other issues. Zero waste is just one part of sustainability. It is best to try to reduce your waste alongside trying to be sustainable in other areas. Reducing your carbon footprint is a great example. It is not easy to see or measure your carbon footprint. Even when given the numbers it doesn’t really make things any clearer.
You don’t see the damage a flight’s emissions has done to the atmosphere. But you can easily see the plastic waste from the on-flight meal and refreshments. You might be aware of the damage of your carbon footprint, however since it’s not easily seen it can be easier to focus on your waste. It’s also easier to see apples in plastic and the avocados unpackaged, and think the avocado is the more sustainable choice. But really the apples are in season and grown locally, whereas the avocados had to be flown across the world – it isn’t always so clear which is the more sustainable choice when you aren’t just focusing on waste.
It’s not accessible for everyone
Not everyone can afford or have the time for a zero waste lifestyle. It can be very expensive and zero waste foods typically mean you have to cook from scratch. Not everyone has the time to be able to cook every meal from scratch. Zero waste bulk stores aren’t accessible in a lot of areas. Some people may have to drive 1 hour+ to reach their nearest one. In emissions this will probably defeat the purpose of buying the items unpackaged in the first place. Not living a zero waste lifestyle can make you feel inadequate, even if you may be living sustainably in other parts of your life.
There is still an element of consumerism
There is a consumerist side of zero waste that encourages people to buy loads of ‘sustainable swaps’. These products do have their place and they can be extremely useful at helping people reduce their waste. However there can be an emphasis on ‘needing’ these products when often this isn’t the case. This can also be overwhelming – leading people to think it is unattainable. They feel that they don’t have the money to spend on these swaps and so feel it is inaccessible for them. Chances are you already have a bunch of reusable shopping bags or a water bottle. You already have cutlery and a reusable napkin you can take out, you don’t need that fancy bamboo cutlery set. We feel zero waste is about consuming less and producing less waste, so there needs to be more emphasis on using what you have/making/mending/buying second hand instead of always buying new.
Overall we think zero waste is a great first step into sustainability, but it definitely shouldn’t be your only focus! We also believe that even if you can’t participate in zero waste living but incorporate lots of other sustainability in your lifestyle then that’s fantastic too, and you shouldn’t be discouraged. Zero waste living might be a focus of lots of sustainability centred blogs and influencers, but it definitely isn’t the be all and end all!