Why I’m Not Zero Waste

posted in Activism, low waste

Last Updated on April 7, 2021

I’m all for reducing waste, and I think that lowering your impact and waste is an important part of living sustainably. I also make a habit of sharing low/zero waste products and solutions. However, I can’t see myself adopting a zero waste/plastic-free lifestyle with the way things currently are. Here’s why:

Garbage is not my top priority

Focusing on “zero waste” means prioritizing waste, but sustainability-wise I think other things are more important. I try my best to find products and brands that have a sustainable and ethical focus throughout their supply chain, production and use. Things like sustainable materials, quality/longevity, ethical manufacturing, low impact production, versatile styles, and supporting small, conscious businesses all come before waste for me.

For example, given the choice between an ethically-made garment from organic, fair-trade cotton shipped in a polybag or a regular cotton garment from a non-transparent brand that I can buy without the bag, I will always choose the first option. This is because I feel that supporting the first company has a much greater impact throughout the supply chain, than the impact of saving a plastic bag.

Also it’s important to note that most clothes are shipped in plastic bags. Even if you buy the item in store, it still likely came to the store in a bag and therefore generated the same waste, you just didn’t have to deal with it. Of course sustainable brands should be trying to reduce their waste and use sustainable packaging and most do a very good job. However, as People Tree explains in their post, things like the use of polybags can be very difficult and brands often have to weigh the importance of a lot of different areas to decide on the best packaging to use.

Beauty products are another example. For me, supporting a cruelty-free brand that uses high-quality, natural, non-toxic ingredients, and makes effective products is the most important. There aren’t a lot of plastic-free options with makeup or care products; even glass containers almost always have plastic lids. If there are comparable products, I will choose the one with less packaging, but I prioritize sustainable ingredients and responsible brands over less plastic.

The guilt is real

I don’t think sustainability movements should be motivated by guilt, and I talked about this in my video on guilt and judgement. When I tried out Plastic Free July, my motivation shifted from wanting to do something positive to trying to avoid the guilt. A garment with plastic on the tag; forgetting to ask for no straw; having to buy certain groceries that aren’t available package free; the plastic packaging for medication; these things all made me feel bad. And this was only something I had to consider for a short time; I didn’t have to replace my makeup or beauty products during that month.

What keeps me motivated to live greener is knowing that I’m trying to work towards positive change, and that I’m learning, growing and improving. While I did learn a lot from trying a month of plastic-free living, instead of feeling like I was doing something good, I always felt like I was messing up, having to weigh difficult decisions, or being reminded of my “failures” by holding onto a jar of my plastic trash. Maybe over a longer period of time living this lifestyle, the feelings would’ve changed, but I definitely didn’t feel very good or motivated.

I believe in a “do good” approach instead of a “do no harm” approach; I find this positive perspective to be more effective. Usually when I talk with people who are struggling, or feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, they’re focusing on all the negative and harmful aspects of their lifestyle instead of looking at where they can make changes and have a positive impact.

Zero waste living is very dependent on access/specialty stores and also time

Some cities are amazing and have lots of bulk options and easy access to zero waste products. We were lucky enough to have a package free store (now two!) open up in our city about a year ago, but before, there was no way to buy things like rice, dried beans/lentils, pasta, and other staple foods without plastic. Now, even though the zero waste stores are pretty great, they still have a limited selection of items and we can’t find everything. While one is luckily not too far from me, it’s still a 30ish min walk with heavy glass containers and limits how much I can buy. If you don’t have one in your neighborhood it mean carrying tons of glass jars and big bags on the bus and train which isn’t possible for everyone, or driving which of course has other sustainability issues.
Also, while traveling, we’ll often try to save money and cook where we’re staying, but unfortunately at most grocery stories you can’t find foods plastic-free. If you don’t have access to stores that sell bulk, it’s just not a realistic lifestyle.

Additionally it often requires more time. A lot of things need to be DIY’d and it basically means the majority of pre-made, packaged foods are off the table. I really enjoy making things myself and cooking, and things like my DIY deodorant are definitely doable for me, but the reality is that making everything can take a lot of time that I (and most people) don’t always have.

It can conflict with eating vegan

I have been vegetarian for over 10 years now and eating mainly vegan/plant-based is important to me. Now that we have a package-free store we’ve been able to reduce the amount of plastic that comes with our groceries, but for some items, this is still unavoidable. For example, plant and nut milks are a staple in our fridge and we have no plastic-free options or time to DIY them.

Another big one for me is vegan faux meats. Especially in the summer when we’re barbecuing with friends, I want eating vegan to seem “normal” – i.e. I want to show that you can eat the same foods you’re used to and they can be really delicious! For a lot of meat-eaters, realizing that they can still eat the foods they like, is a big part of being open to and incorporating more plant-based meals into their diet. Introducing my friends and family to meat-free options is more important to me than avoiding the plastic that comes with them and giving the impression that plant-based diets are very difficult and restrictive when they don’t have to be.

So while zero waste is not where I choose to primarily focus my attention, I’d love to hear if you live zero waste or have tried it!  Have you encountered similar issues or conflicts?

51 Responses

  1. Teeba
    | Reply

    We humans are trying to use less waste, especially in 2020 and beyond, because of what is happening to beaches and seas because of waste and animals, but we cannot live without that. It also helps in recycling and helps in making plastic cans for drinking water and soft drinks, but with So we are working hard to make a better world and for animals

  2. Singh Movers
    | Reply

    You make a big point, I think the consumer should not be given the responsibility to find ways to eliminate waste that cannot be recycled.

  3. Katherine
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for writing this! I try to be as low waste as possible, but sometimes when I’m talking to someone about it, they’ll point out the milk jug in my fridge (for example). The reality is that my kids are young and drink a lot of milk- I can’t afford the 3 gallons of milk a week if I was buying them in the glass containers that can be turned in for reuse, because they cost $5 per half gallon. I’d rather my kids be healthy and drink good organic milk. Maybe once I’m an empty nester, I can do that, but for now, buying high quality healthy food for my kids is more important, even though it’s in a traditional plastic jug.

    It’s not an all or nothing decision, it’s a do better when you can. And it’s about looking out for better options that may come available. There’s so many new companies and products coming out, you may find that companies are solving these problems- for me, I want to support them whenever I can.

  4. Sara
    | Reply

    Well said! The point you make about not seeing waste when purchasing clothes also applies to bulk bin foods. As a member of a local co-op whose job it was to fill the plastic bins, with items I learned that all those items come in large, plastic bags. Most people don’t bring their own bags and use the store ones, so it basically gets bagged twice in plastic. Opening the item to pour into the bin starts the perishability clock, so if it doesn’t get sold within a few weeks it has to get thrown out, contributing to food waste. Finally, people are messy, and there is a lot of spillage that gets wasted and cleaned up from the aisle itself.

  5. Danny
    | Reply

    I’ve been a vegan for a long time and now i realized zero waste products and thinking about plastic is so important. great article!

  6. Kylie
    | Reply

    I appreciate your point of view! I think these are the exact reasons that some people feel like they can’t achieve a more sustainable lifestyle… it’s not possible to do it “perfectly”, thus they give up on themselves. Great read!

    • Victoria
      | Reply

      It’s always been about the 3 R’s. First R is to Reduce the amount of garbage at the point of purchase or consumption such as bringing your own bags and not taking a plastic bag for every piece of produce etc. The second R is for re-use. Glass spaghetti sauce jars are perfect for storing food and transitioning out of plastic lunch containers or leftovers. The 3 rd R stands for Recycle which many of us know is just a way to ease our conscience but if it’s plastic it is being sent overseas to be burned and violently contaminate the people and planet next to these toxic burning Centers. Glass and aluminum and well recycled. Paper products are recycled about 3-5 times. Some Plastics can be recycled 1-3 times. Aluminum has many recycling events and glass can be forever recycled. Continue to try and avoid plastics. Write to companies and ask for reduced packaging or paper or glass packages.

  7. […] if you’re completely self sustainable so I’m shifting focus a little. I found this blog post resonated really well with my thoughts – ‘garbage is not my […]

  8. Kara
    | Reply

    I totally agree! When I started getting into livinv greener my focus was plastic waste but now I feel there are other topics that are far more important and the guilt of not being a perfect zero waster is ridiculous. It’s also so difficult to try for many that my new focus is on making conscious choices, that helps us reduce waste and choose the most sustainable option available. Excellent post!

  9. Sarah
    | Reply

    I understand this well. I am also vegan/plant-based and while I am trying to reduce my waste, I know I can’t reduce it entirely. Just like how I am also trying to embrace minimalism more, but I know I will never be able to become fully a minimalist.

    But I wanted to touch base on what you said about shipment packaging in stores. I currently work in retail for one of my jobs and it is frightening just how much packaging is thrown out after processing a shipment. Our compactor broke down one day and we ended up with a huge mountain of cardboard, plastic, and styrofoam. And many of these products claim to be ethical and sustainable, but the packaging they were shipped in was not.

    Unless you live off the land entirely, I don’t think it is possible to truly libe zero-waste and you are just fooling yourself if you think you are. However, we shouldn’t stop trying to reduce our waste regardless of this!

  10. Vanessa Mazzara
    | Reply

    I love this, so much truth, so important to help people understand that putting the focus on one aspect can take away from really important issues.

    This is what I have been wanting to say for some time but I didn’t have the confidence to say it, or to articulate it but you have done this so well. Thank you,

    I’m with you 100%!

  11. Val
    | Reply

    Thank you for acknowledging the time it takes. Bea of Zero Waste fame becomes very offended when people imply she’s lucky to have the time, “I have 4 jobs….” but maybe she needs less sleep than other people or she doesn’t commute. Or perhaps she simply isn’t being honest with herself and her followers. Americans work hard, man! Still there are ways. I resign myself to focusing on making my own bread (bread machine) and yogurt and body lotion when I can. Cheers to you! Val, a hard working Canadian

  12. Holly
    | Reply

    I don’t understand pretend meat. Why pretend? Just eat vegetables and fruits and be pleased with your decision. The part where you say you want it to seem normal is where you are saying it is not normal to not eat meat. Who are you allowing to define normal? What isn’t normal is to pretend to eat meat when you are an adult, unless you are in the presence of a small child, then by all means pretend to munch down. I prefer my meat grass fed from my pastures but you can prefer to not eat it. As for the milk. Plant derived is far too processed for me and besides 1 litre of almond milk requires 384 litres of water to produce. That is a huge waste. I’ll have mine fresh from our goats who ate my pasture grass. It doesn’t get more natural than that. I’d suggest that you might rethink how you present your tastes. I’m not offended if you wish to just eat my vegetables and fruit if you come to dinner but I won’t be serving pretend anything. I believe in the real deal!

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      Hi Holly,
      I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying – for most people eating meat is a part of their everyday “normal” life (note that I’m again using normal in quotations), so fake meats are a comfortable substitution and help vegetarian and vegan diets feel more like what people are used to. It’s fine if you don’t like these products, but a lot of people do and eating less meat (and in particular combating factory farming) is something I want to support however people get there.

      Regarding plant milks, some are not very sustainable but others are very low impact!

  13. KidePlace.com
    | Reply

    Although plastic pollution and the amount of household waste we produce is an extremely hot topic at the moment, it isn’t the only environmental issue our planet faces. But it is the issue people living in urban communities see and feel the most. And it’s definitely the issue they feel they have the most power to can change. But it is very easy to forget that sustainability is extremely complex and our choices are never perfect.

  14. Kirsten
    | Reply

    This brings to mind a quote I saw somewhere. “We dont need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need million of people doing it imperfectly.”

    Indeed. Millions of us doing what we can is better than us trying to fit into rigid frame of what zero waste should be.

  15. Charles
    | Reply

    This is the first post I’ve seen from your blog, and I will most likely read more! I can’t say how much I agree with you, eacpecially when it comes to the guilt of not being one hundred percent zero waste.
    I’m not exactly sure what people mean when they say “zero waste”, but for me it means to not bring anything new into this world, except for food, medicine and hygiene articles without a package.
    For me, and pretty much everyone else, that’s impossible! I have a cat and his food comes in plastic bags. I can’t give him fish that I’ve fished myself every day, since it’s bad for cats to eat fish all the time and I don’t want to kill an animal. I could start giving him meat that I’ve selected myself, but they all come in package! For me, it’s impossible.
    Then, like you said, being vegan and zero waste at the same time is not an option. I’m pretty sure they don’t sell B12 in bulk, and even if they did, it would have been in a package from the beginning.
    I think what others see as “zero waste” is when you recycle everything you buy and don’t buy more package than what’s needed. But that’s not zero waste though?
    I recycle every single thing I can and I would never call myself zero waste. I don’t need to take out the trash more than once every six months, but that’s not zero waste. I produce waste, just that instead of throwing it into one big trash can, I have five small ones and then I go and recycle my waste every week.
    I live in a town called Gothenburg in Sweden and I didn’t know we had a package-free store before last week. I will definitely buy as many things there as possibly, since the farmers are local and it’s organic. I haven’t been there yet, since I already have a lot of food at home, but I will go there as soon as I run out.
    Also, pretty much every single fruit and vegetable have a sticker on them. In Sweden we need to put stickers on all organic fruits and vegetables, to separate them from the regular ones.
    So, the only way to buy fruits and vegetables without producing waste is if you buy them from local farmers, or grow them yourself. The problem here is that there aren’t too many things which grow during a big part of the year. One would most likely starve to death if they lived completely zero waste, the way I believe zero waste actually is.
    One great thing though is that you can buy second hand completely guilt-free, right? Wrong! Almost all second hand items have a tag or sticker, which is waste. At least the items in the second hand stores. If you buy from a friend or someone else who don’t put stickers on the things they sell, great!
    I don’t know where I want to come with this, but I really liked this post and I do believe you should always choose vegan, fair trade, organic, natural, cruelty-free and recycled before no package. I, for an example, have got a little garden and I’m gonna start growing my own, organic food as soon as spring comes! Hopefully in the future I can sell my organic vegetables, fruits and berries to friends, family and others who want to buy local and organic.

  16. Anna
    | Reply

    I completely agree—the most important part of the zero-waste movement is what’s replacing the waste. In order to construct supply chains that don’t rely on single-use petroleum products, we also have to move towards more sustainable, local, and personally empowering sources for the objects we consume, and I think that’s great for lots of important reasons (many of which you mentioned here!), not just the elimination of plastic waste. I had never articulated reducing harm v. doing good, and I love this concept! What a great remedy for the feelings of guilt that come from being stuck in this disposable, consumerist society.

  17. Kristina Lambert
    | Reply

    Of all the environmental issues that plague us today, Zero Waste is probably the most accessible tool for self-empowerment to the common consumer. Every one of us can start to go Zero Waste. Many are almost there by being avid recyclers. We are doing a great job, but we still can do better. Recycling is the starting point, but source reduction and reuse and up-cycling are other newer aspects that have not been explored nor are as famous as recycling is

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      Energy reduction is also incredibly, if not more, accessible. I think encouraging holistic approaches is often best.
      I have issues with promoting recycling so heavily as being eco-friendly. Plastic recycling isn’t “zero waste” since basically all plastics are down-cycled so they’re still creating waste, but a lot of people don’t know that and think they’re doing something really good for the environment. While it is better than just throwing it away the root of the problem – our dependency on plastic and accessibility to plastic-free alternatives needs to be addressed.

    • Frankie
      | Reply

      You’re right recycling is a starting point – definitely – but we also need to use the recycled materials to close the loop and a lot of the time, that means buying plastic. It’s all well and good putting our plastic into the recycling bin, but that’s not ‘job done’. If there’s no market for goods made from recycled materials, then the plastics we’re disposing of are likely to end up in landfill anyway.

      The items that I buy which tend to be made from recycled plastics are those I want longevity from (i.e. outdoor toys and clothes pegs – wooden versions of these items don’t survive in the north east of Scotland unless they’re diligently taken indoors after every use so plastic suits us really well here), or items where function dictates that plastic works best for me (my premature arthritis means I can’t apply enough pressure to the only wooden-handled dish brush I seem to be able to buy over here, so I choose dish brushes made from recycled materials instead). Not only does this close the recycling loop, but it also means that fewer things will have to be produced, shipped and disposed of by me i.e. I can buy one set of 24 recycled plastic pegs which will last 20+ years (current record is actually 27!) , or I can purchase multiple packs of 24 wooden pegs which will need replacing every 5-6 years, resulting in around 48 extra pegs having been produced, packaged, shipped and disposed of.

      I feel like Zero Waste doesn’t allow for attempts to close the recycling loop, and it doesn’t really allow for personal circumstances (i.e. blister packs for pills, items for limited mobility, conditions such as OCD and autism in which mental health can hinge of certain conditions being met).

      It’s all a balancing act in the end, and we all do what we can with the skills, resources and circumstances that we have.

      I really love this post and the thought that’s gone into it. Whilst I do strive to be as low-waste as possible, there’s places where I just can’t manage and this is the first time in ages when I’ve seen that discussed.

  18. Lila
    | Reply

    The problem with zero waste is that we still live in an industrialized society where companies used industrialization techniques to take care of big populations, how do you do that while keeping things hygienic so people don’t get sick? That’s a challenge, which is why most of our food and stuff is shipped in containers, plastic, etc.

    While it’s impossible to go zero waste in an imperfect world, I know that I can at least try to be low waste. It’s not about perfection for me, because if you focus on perfection you will drive yourself crazy. Anyway great post. Definitely makes you think. =)

  19. Courtney Engel
    | Reply

    Really good honesty. A lot of the zero waste people either live in rural farming communities that naturally support local, bulk, etc because that’s always been the lifestyle.. OR they live in NYC– where you can get any specialty item you want at any moment. Anywhere in between can be difficult, and I think like every other lifestyle improvement, there is balance, and there are choices.

  20. maria c
    | Reply

    I love your post on sharing this. I also tried the zero waste movement in July here in Hong KOng and indeed it’s an eye opening, as i did lots of research, and also tried to get inspiration from all others. I was having same difficulties. I actually think living in a sustainable way, leaving less carbon emission is more important than just ditching the plastics. Some of my thoughts and observations are :
    (1) There is only one zero waste store in Hong Kong (newly set up around 4 months ago) and frankly everything is imported from overseas and expensive to majority of the HK local people. It’s popular in the rich circle though. So the local are saying it’s only for the Rich people to do.
    (2) there are indeed many local bulk store, where you can definitely buy plastic free – but as a person living in HK long time – I questioned the source of their products – maybe they are plastic free – but they surely not from sustainable sources.. Will i buy them for the sake of plastics free ? – no.
    (4) some people support or buy something just because it’s made in Hong Kong – but i found out many of the products itself are not sustainable in its production process. Example those pure/sustainable soap bar where there is no regulation.
    (5) I opt for less carbon emissions than just ditching plastics. I read somewhere there was research, saying the top 10% richest contribute more than 50% of the total carbon emissions in the world whilst the the poorest 50% contribute only 10%. I am questioning someone who fly often on private jet, flying often. and enjoy time in the most luxurious places and are publicly criticizing people who use a plastic straw. There is a small group setting up some green movement educating people to stop using plastic straws and bags. Dont’ get me wrong, I applaud their movement. But talking about impact for greener environment? No I think stop using plastics can’t save the environment. Their luxurious carbon emission far outweighed using a steel straw to replace a plastic one

    When majority of the HK people are working 16 hours per day, it’s quite impossible to ask them to ditch plastics in all aspects, when there is no reliable affordable bulk store nearby. Lots of critics on those common people who use plastics bags/plastic straws…. … if the supermarkets and the stores/restaurants can use less plastics – I am sure the people are fine. The common don’t have a choice.

    I think it’s personal decision to go green but don’t judge or push others to do it. I would never call myself a zero waste. Yes I use tote bag to buy vegetables in the market (because they are cheaper), bring recyclable bottle (indeed for 5 years already) all the time. That doesn’t make me a zero waste as I am also travelling 2-3 times a year.

    Thank you.

  21. Theresa
    | Reply

    Hello:) Thank you for a great article. I am s vegan living in Athens Greece. When it comes to veganism and sustainability, I think Greece is like a third world country. However, my family and I try our best to live a kind and gentle life. I think zero waste is probably not realistic for most people. “Minimal waste” is probably a more accurate term. There are no bulk stores where I live. Farmers markets are a great option but are only once a week and I struggle to pre-plan all my shopping. I am an artist and use markers and paints that I have no other option for, it really frustrates me. However, the whole zero waste movement has certainly opened my eyes to being much more selective about what I buy. It also helped and inspired me to substantially declutter our home. We are a 90% plastic free home, we don’t use paper towels, serviettes or tissues, but we refuse to give up toilet paper. We reuse and recycle as best we can and I think my children are aware that their daily actions have an impact on our environment. I find I do spend more money on some products that are glass or wood, but at the same time I spend a lot less on other things that we never buy. I do dedicate time and effort, making a lot of my own cleaning products and cosmetics, but once you embrace this way of life, it seems time well spent and for good reason. It takes time to go to the store, choose products and bring them home. Equally, it takes time to mix some ingredients together and make your own natural, wonderful products. So in the end, it’s a matter of choice and being open to changing your routine for a better one.

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      You’re doing so many great things! I think ultimately it’s about trying your best and growing/improving instead of trying to be “perfect”. 🙂

  22. Tegan
    | Reply

    Great post, and I feel much the same way to be honest. I am making more of an effort to choose loose vegetables and fruits without plastic packaging, but it is not the top of my priority list, even from a sustainability perspective. Like you I choose veganism, ethical sourcing and low-carbon over waste. But waste is still important, I’m glad it’s getting more attention lately and to be honest I feel guilty for not doing more! I will get there!

  23. Sil
    | Reply

    I’m Brazilian and unfortunately still living in a country that I sometimes have attacks because people still use that carbon paper. Another day I just started to point the finger in a air company people because he, EVEN AFTER I ASK ABOUT 5 TIMES, printed another travel ticket for me just because. “But your mobile can die” he said laughing at me. So I picked my other phone, my iPad, my extra battery and my plugs that I carry in my purse put in the balcony and said “Well I think that’s is a little bit difficult, don’t u?” And I still fighting for the rights to not print a ticket to go to the movies! But it’s what you said, if I’m in a date with my hubby, and we both came from work, probably we will be hungry and there’re no options for a snack without garbage.

    And I have a two more problems
    1- I use some over the counter medication and here they came in blisters. So I produce a LOT of waste just there, but I need my pills, so is my health vs the planet… I wish I could take a case t the pharmacy and they just gave me a refill. But not it’s that simple.
    2- I’m so damn allergic! Like I only can use latex band aid for example, so sometimes, I have to choose my allergies or the planet and sorry people, but my health in first. The problem with manufacturers is that sometimes they don’t understand allergies, or they don’t try to talk to you to find a way to everybody be happy. One time I asked for a girl that did a body cream to do without a fragrance and I was paying even if it wasn’t very good, but I was allergic to that fragrance. But she said NO WAY, and lost a client…
    And I’ll have a no say in buck shopping, because we’re years behind you guys here. But I try, at least I start to carry my straw around 😊
    And maybe someday it won’t be so difficult! But do SOMETHING is better than NOTHING, right?

  24. Marisa
    | Reply

    Hey! Thanks for sharing this perspective. I LOVE the insight about doing more good and less harm. It’s so key to eliminate feelings of guilt and overwhelm in this journey of living lighter… whatever makes that work for you. I can totally relate to Plastic Free July feeling a bit surface and random … I think it’s real potential is drawing people into this conversation from an easy entry point. For someone who has never considered the waste they create by using disposable everything, a challenge like this can be transformative.

    For the rest of us, it can bring up interesting conundrums.

    A thing that I’ve heard a lot in the Plastic Free July conversation is the emphasis on eliminating disposable plastics, not necessarily all plastics. Cause that might take someone years!

    I live in Vancouver, BC where it’s normal to be vegan, vegetarian, plant based, low waste and zero waste. Sometimes I forget how easy we have it, with social norms supporting all these lifestyles that seem like a hardship in other places.

    I think it’s interesting how the ‘zero waste’ movement comes across as so extreme. I’ve found when I really get to know zero wasters, it’s much more about the direction than “achieving” some arbitrary goal of making no waste. What I find so exciting about the process of eliminating waste is that it’s kind of about building systems … once the decisions have been made once, it become easy. I think it’s takes time to cut out all the fluff and find what simple + satisfying means for you. And where the easy wins are!

    I love trying new special foods like vegan meats but when I’m avoiding plastic, a grilled portabello is cheaper and somehow feels more luxurious than any field roast or jackfruit.

    Gotta say though – while the vocabulary of zero waste can be confusing and annoying to wade through… the core of the philosophy is gold. When we begin to explore circular economies as consumers, everyone wins.

    • John
      | Reply

      Hey ! “[zero waste is much] more about the direction than “achieving” some arbitrary goal of making no waste [at all]” I totally agree. This is the way I saw it since I heard about it !

      Around the negative feelings of guilt, my way is be to distinguish between emotion and action. I think nobody can toss away an emotion just by deciding to think about something else. AKA you can’t decide to *not think about something* – because it means thinking about it. ^^

      So, the solution to an emotion is only “action”. Action drives emotion, not the other way around. Motivation is an emotion, that’s why it’s unstable. It’s undergone. Emotions are signals of states.
      A way would not be to shake off the guilt, but to digest it and accept it. Yeah, guilt is pain but I don’t believe thoughts can change thoughts.
      Let’s just feel actions changing our state. : D

      Maybe this is just what Erin and you are saying here, but I just wanted to try put it with these other words.

      Marisa, you just made me discover grilled portabello… Wow ! I’m definitely gonna try it ! Thanks for talking about it.

    • Ash
      | Reply

      I totally agree with Marissa! Zero waste is a goal, but it is one that cannot be achieved without putting a priority on sustainability. I think it is very important to take the perspective that society as a whole needs to develop before zero waste is addressed as an achievable goal. That being said, there are plenty of ways to avoid waste while following the five R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot); the reason that they are in that order is to prioritize the best way to responsibly eliminate waste, that doesn’t mean waste cannot happen. Recycle is low on the list, but this does not mean it is not an appropriate way to counteract waste.

      I agree though, being someone who aspires to achieve zero-waste, I have had learn to prioritize my sustainability. For example, when choosing between package free meat and a meat alternative with packaging, I will choose the one with less impact; the meat alternative with packaging. That does not mean I am not maintaining my morals, in fact attempting zero waste means I will put in the extra effort to dispose of the packaging as appropriately as I can, which is usually recycling or reusing.

      I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that long-term, societal sustainability has to be sustainable (lol) and that is why doing your part and continuing to challenge yourself in an effort to be sustainable is so important!

  25. Stacy Anne
    | Reply

    Zero waste is tough and it was refreshing to see a well written, logical approach to sustainable living. A few years ago, I wrote a basic boilerplate letter to express my feelings about sustainable business and manufacturing processes and how this influences my purchasing decisions. Now when I purchase a product where I see room for environmental or sustainable improvements, I simply fill in the company name, product I would like improved and send them an email. Industries won’t change the way they do things in the way we want unless they are told by consumers exactly what we want. The more times they hear it, the more effective the message and I encourage everyone to speak up and be heard.

  26. Janine
    | Reply

    I really enjoyed your post. I recently started making changes towards embracing a zero-waste lifestyle. Whenever I talk about it, however, I don’t call it “zero-waste”. I prefer the terms “low-waste” or “low-impact”. The reason for this is I’ve discovered that most people I’ve talked to take the word “zero” in a very literal sense. Through a lot of reading, I’ve come to understand that this is not the case. From what I understand, zero-waste aims at being a conscious consumer, asking yourself about the pre and post life of the product you’re about to buy. But more importantly, trying to avoid things that have waste as an end. I recently read a blog that talked precisely about how impossible being zero-waste is, but why we should still do it. There is no humanly way possible that anyone will produce zero waste. It’s impossible. But I also don’t believe that’s the goal. I live in the US, in a small city in Southern California. I’d have to drive out to LA, San Diego, or maybe somewhere out in Orange County (all of which are AT LEAST one and a half hours away from me) to have more access to bulk/package-free. I have chosen to not let that discourage me. I understand that there are limitations to living zero-waste, but I do what I can where I can. But the key for me has been taking baby steps. I started with taking my own grocery bags. Then I also started taking my own produce bags. I still don’t have a compost bin, I can’t afford it right now. That will come later. I still separate my trash and I put my organic waste in my yard waste bin. I’ve found really good package free stores from out of state and I buy from them. I know that I’m creating waste in the shipping process, but I used to buy online anyway, I’m doing it a lot less now. I think that you’re already doing an amazing job. I think even being aware of the different areas in your life you’d like to improve is amazing. Most people don’t even think about that. We’re all doing the best we can, and that’s awesome! I personally am not vegan (or even vegetarian), but I found your thought about conflicts super interesting. Ever since I began making changes I felt that being vegan would actually help in reducing waste. Mainly because meat and dairy products can’t be composted (not that I have a compost bin anyway). Maybe I just think that because the grass is always greener? I do cook a lot of vegan food because I have A LOT of vegan/vegetarian friends. And I do love cooking vegan. I’m also one of those weird people that like making a lot of things from scratch. I don’t always have the time, but I do whenever I can. I’m rambling now, but my point is, you’re already making such a wonderful job and are a positive influence on others (as evidenced by the comments on this post). That’s awesome! We do what we can, when we can, how we can, why we can. And we can’t, nobody can fault us. Such a pleasure reading this post. Keep spreading the love.

  27. Ashley
    | Reply

    Great post! I definitely went through the “wake up phase” and quickly was going against all the “bad” things; especially when it came to waste in whatever form that may be. Out of no where I was burried deep in diy’s I couldn’t keep up with and was loosing it. I became depressed and literally worthless to myself, family, community.. Now I do my best with a new prospective of “going for the good” instead of focusing on “going against the bad.” Now my vibration is high and I’m able to do and share all things vegan/plant based and sustainability focused. My energy now goes towards things I can help/improve and not towards how terrible everything is. Again great post gal🙌🏼

  28. Abbie
    | Reply

    I so agree! It’s funny that I stumbled across this so soon after writing something similar- I have items that I’ve decided to be ‘relaxed’ with, because at the end of the day stressing over every ‘mistake’ doesn’t make for a sustainable lifestyle choice! I do what I can, and work every day to do better. That’s enough for me at this stage!

  29. Dawnica *ZeroSac*
    | Reply

    I agree that trying to be zero waste can lead to a lot of guilt if you’re not careful! I think it’s important to try your best, and aim for progress not perfection. Not using single-use plastic straws, bags and water bottles is extremely easy and perfectly sustainable, but I’ve had a lot of trouble reducing waste when it comes to personal care products, like shampoo and makeup. So I feel good about my reduction of waste where I can, and I just keep an eye out for solutions to my other waste problems if I find them.

  30. Sophie Sapienza
    | Reply

    That is so true! Thanks for a well written post and also reflecting what I’ve felt whilst trying to go zero waste – guilt every time I want something that is packaged and look at my trash can.
    On the plus side trying to reduce my waste production has been an eye-opener on where I can easily reduce my consumption with no side effects – the usual bring my own grocery bags, carry a reusable bottle or coffee cup when on the go, use soaps instead of shower gels etc. It has pushed me to question whether I really need something before buying, take better care of what I own already, find alternative for lots of disposable stuff, buy more fresh food instead of packaged foods (which is often packaged), and eventually reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ I own and look into simplifying my routine – which is amazing!
    However I also found it very guilt-inducing every time I crave a packaged snack or forget my reusable water bottle. And initially it stopped me from buying ethical products that came with packaging.
    Interestingly, in many cases, the packaging is the tip of the iceberg of a goods’ impacts. Your example of vegan burgers is a particularly good one – most of the lifecycle impacts of a piece of meat is in growing the feed (usually requiring fertilisers, water etc.) and on the farm (because of cows’ emissions, pollution from the manure treatment etc.). So switching from an unpackaged beef burger to a packaged vegan burger still drastically reduces the overall environmental impacts of your meal.
    That also applies to clothes as most of the environmental and social impacts are in their production, as well as during their use because of washing/drying/ironing.
    So if I need a product and I find one ethically produced AND unpackaged, fantastic! But if not and the choice is ethical/packaged, or unpackaged/not partically ethical, I try and go for the former. Ideally I should then contact the brand and ask them to reduce their packaging 🙂

  31. Sophia
    | Reply

    Thank you for addressing this issue, Erin! I remember watching your video that addressed this a while ago, and I completely agree that we should be focusing on the positives that we can do in the world. I think the zero waste movement requires such a high standard of perfection that no one can hope to achieve it! There is no such thing as absolutely zero waste, do people not realize this? We can only hope to do our best, and to not be so hard on ourselves when we don’t achieve the impossible standard. I really hope that high bar doesn’t discourage too many people from trying to live more sustainably, because it really is a great cause.

  32. Jailyn Dyer
    | Reply

    I agree. It’s the same issue I’ve run into with other ethical movements. I can only do my best, as Ky put it, and try to balance my priorities. I also know that even the big bulk stores have to deal with plastic in the products they buy, so the zero waste is just passed up the chain (just as it is buying clothes locally).

    Being conscious of waste is important and it is good to push businesses to reduce waste where they can. I love when companies offer end of life options to their products, but I have only found a few so far. Hopefully, this kind of thinking will become the norm as time goes on.

  33. Ky
    | Reply

    To me, no matter what the discussion—waste reduction, ethical shopping, clean cosmetics, sustainable living, it all boils down to being CONSCIOUS and DOING YOUR BEST. Making choices because they are thoughtful and intentional, and not because you are on autopilot or being complacent. Being aware of your waste and doing what you can to reduce it. Being aware of the shopping options and making the best choice you can based on availability, finances, etc. Realizing that there will never be a “net zero” in any resource exchange but making the best, most thoughtful choice that you can based on your unique circumstances. Can you imagine the global changes if even 90% of our everyday choices were made consciously, no matter what our unique circumstances?! Every person being thoughtful and doing their best. Perfection is an invisible dangling carrot, so we should just relinquish that ideal and simply focus on being aware and doing the best we can. Always striving, always looking for the better option, but also giving ourselves grace and patience. I personally describe myself as “low waste and striving to live more consciously and ethically in every aspect of life.” Great post Erin!

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      Well said! 🙂

  34. Noémie
    | Reply

    I live a zéro waste lifestyle for 2 years now. I got around 150 to 180g of trash wich go to the incenerator per year. I live in France. The options to live this lifestyle are quite easy to find : Farmer’s markets every 2 days around my place or my work place, 4 organic bulk stores in my city for food and cleaning products. Once a year I go the city next to mine to buy beauty products that could refill. And for cosmetic products, I’ll buy what I need for a year on web site that sells french products in recyclable packagings and those products are sent in a reused paper packaging. I also some of my cleaning and beauty products, only when it’s take less then 5 min to be done! For me this lifestyle is really easy to live it and I don’t have to sacrifice other important things like buying local or ethical. I have to admit that I’m lucky because everything that I need is easy to get. I know that’s not the case for everyone.

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      That’s awesome! It’s wonderful you have so many great options available!

    • John
      | Reply

      Hy Noémie ! Living in France too, which are the organic bulk stores you go get groceries from ? May I ask the city it takes place ? This is really wonderful and as people living in Paris region – not Paris itself, it probably would be different – we don’t have as much sweet options.

      I agree that for food, some places make it easy. Yet for clothes, I think it’s still really hard to get a ethical-local-sustainable wardrobe.

  35. Nicole
    | Reply

    This is EXACTLY how I’ve been feeling. I discovered zero waste before the wider conscious movement and your channel and I ran up against the same issues of guilt and restriction being the priority rather than doing good. I’ve recently realised that there *really* is no perfect and there will likely *always* be compromise AND I do think the priorities can change depending on your region and it’s main issues and available options. And, as I’m now considering going vegan, i totally agree that I’ve noticed regular conflict between eating vegan (in particular as opposed to other vegan aspects) and trying to be plastic free. I also would like to show these better choices as being easy and accessible as a priority and while some plastic-free choices are easy and economical (carrying a cotton totebag;especially now that the UK charges for plastic bags anyway!) other choices like going for organic food often means going for plastic (because that’s how they’re separated from the non-organic food) or plant milks which won’t be delivered by a milkman in glass bottles like non-vegan milk could be.
    Anyway, not to ramble, I just find this really relatable and I’m still working on defining my priorities to help make my choices easier to make. I think I remember you posting s video about stuff to think about on this point, but do you have a blog post of any recommended reading or watching that has helped you or that might help someone else to continue to define their priorities?

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      It can be really difficult to figure out your priorities and where you’re willing to compromise. I set up a few activities about this for people who participated in the “fast-fashion fast” this summer (which I’m hoping I’ll also have available as an e-book soon!).
      I think it’s important to learn about the issues in different areas- labour, environment, animals, etc. and first see if there’s one thing that resonates with you more, that’s often a good starting point and most people have something that started them thinking more about the products they buy.

      If you want to refine it more start creating a hierarchy (and remember this doesn’t mean it’s set in stone). First list all the qualities you can think of that your “perfect” item would have (maybe it’s fair trade, from a natural, sustainable material, supports small businesses, etc.) and then slowly start removing one at a time- if you can’t have all of those things which one are you willing to let go of or comprise on. As you go you should see which things are top priorities for you.

      Another way to think about this is comparing them to each other- if you have choices of the same product with different qualities which would you choose? For example I ran into this recently when purchasing running shoes, there was an option made from sustainable/recycled materials but from an ethically questionable brand, or shoes from a brand than was pretty transparent and manufactured locally but using not very sustainable materials. I personally value the ethical manufacturing over the recycled materials.

      • Nicole
        | Reply

        Oh I like that exercise of taking away issues to see which are non-negotiable. I suppose we do that naturally while buying things but the comparisons would probably help make it clearer and refine what really are top priorities.
        Really looking forward to that e-book!! Sounds like it’d be really handy 😀
        In the meantime, I’m going to keep gathering information and find out more about some of the areas you mentioned.

  36. Melody
    | Reply

    I agree. I think ‘Zero waste’ is catchy but kind of unhelpful because it sets the goal as perfection, which is pretty much impossible in the modern world even if you devote a lot of time and effort to it. I also think other goals are important. Just now I ordered a good quality wool top for my daughter from a secondhand website. I know it will be posted to me in a plastic courier bag but I think overall it’s an ethical choice. I want to support a thriving secondhand market rather than having perfectly good clothes being thrown away. I’m also trying to move towards eating a more plant based diet and I’m choosing to relax a little on packaging while I adjust to a new area of life (e.g. almond milk in terra cartons). You can’t do everything all at once, I know with two small children I just don’t have the time or energy and I have to focus on the biggest areas. Using reusable nappies as much as I can eliminates more than the rest of all of our waste combined so I work hard on that.

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      I totally agree, the “zero” is very marketable but set a goal which just isn’t realistic for many people. I think it can cause a lot of guilt and also turn people off from the movement, which is unfortunate because reducing/lowering waste is something we can all work on without trying to achieve “zero waste”.

  37. Julia
    | Reply

    Thank you for this very interesting post!
    I try to avoid plastic as much as possible especially when buying groceries, although I also struggle constantly by having to choose between food that is unpackaged or packaged in recyclable material as cardboard vs. organic or fair trade products, which are packaged in plastics.
    Although there are several unpackaged/bulk stores in my city, I don’t frequent them regularly. What irritates me most about them is that things like dry goods such as beans, corn, pasta or lentils are a lot more expensive at these package-free stores than at the regular supermarkets, even if the bulk option is conventional and the packaged supermarket option is organic and/or fair trade. 🙁
    For me it turned out as the most convenient option to buy a lot of fresh produce at the weekly farmers market and stock up on dry goods in large packages. I just finished the 5kg bag of oats I bought in January and I’m very much looking forward to buying the next one soon and not having to worry about buying oats for the next 10 months 😀
    Things that I think everyone can and should do are little improvements like bringing your own bag, use a cloth napkin for wrapping your sandwich or swapping paper handkerchiefs for cloth handkerchiefs (although I can understand that this is not for everyone ;)) – you just do you! Every little step taken is good for our planet 🙂

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      Thanks Julia! Food can be so difficult, I think it’s great what you’re doing. Farmer’s markets especially are really wonderful to support, I wish we had better farmer’s markets near where I live, I really miss them! Like you said, there are so many little improvements we can make and I think those should be the focus instead of getting frustrated about trying to adopt a totally new lifestyle. 🙂

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