While minimizing waste is a great idea, I feel like that takes away from the actual sustainability movement and turns it into something else entirely. With the zero waste movement, we focus on criminalizing waste production and less on actual practices that are anti-sustainable living.
When choosing between two products, I would look into the brand philosophy, supply chain, production practices, and ultimately, of course, packaging materials. But all of that together plays a role in leading me to my final decision than just one particular aspect of it.
However, there’s a lot more to why the whole idea of zero waste is bad and what you can do to change that. Let’s dive into it!
Adapting to a zero-waste lifestyle is tedious and never as easy to do in real life. First, it takes plenty of research and exploration to find zero-waste alternatives to regular products. Then it takes time to find stores that carry the product, and then it takes additional time to see what budget-friendly options are.
Sometimes, adapting to a zero-waste alternative calls for some DIY-ing which is again a time-consuming feat. Many zero-waste alternatives call for us to ditch convenient, time-saving options like packaged food and single-use plastic or paperware to swipe them with reusable and sustainable options.
For example, you normally use paper plates and single-use plastics at a party to serve food. Once the party is over, you have to throw those out and you’re done. But with reusable plates and cutlery, you have to go through the whole cleaning process, washing them and then sorting them back into the cabinets. yawns
Not to mention, most of us aren’t even good at it, so it’s a lot of effort trying to learn something new and incorporate it into your life effectively.
What to do instead?
Join sustainable living communities online or in your area for recommendations regarding products and stores that correspond to the proper ideology behind sustainable living. Ask people about which product they would recommend from a particular store and what some budget-friendly options are.
Then make a list of these recommendations to keep track of everything. Start with simpler products, like opting for a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one.
Here is a list I made for some easy changes in your bathroom that don’t break the bank.
Another thing you can do is by starting with minimizing household waste first, without worrying about bringing in new things. For example, try to reuse those plastic containers instead of throwing those out to bring in glass containers. Or set up a compost bin for your compostable waste instead of throwing it out.
Find out what goes in your compost bin and what doesn’t
For DIY-ing, don’t go straight into complicated things and instead see if you can replace the product or item with something else entirely. For food products, try simpler recipes first and see if this is something you see yourself doing long-term.
As for ditching that single-use plastic cutlery and paperware, look for eco-friendly alternatives instead. There is single-use cutlery made out of wood instead of plastic. Similarly, plates are made out of bamboo fiber instead of paper. These options allow you to be environmentally friendly without adapting to something more difficult.
This way, you get a chance to dip your toes into the reduced waste movement and go forward from there.
It allows brands to greenwash.
Greenwashing has sadly become increasingly common in the sustainable living demographic. Greenwashing is when companies spend more time pretending to be sustainable and eco-friendly than they do on actually being sustainable and environmentally friendly.
With the zero waste movement, companies get a ticket to greenwash consumers by advertising their product’s zero-waste or reduced waste and taking away attention from their other, more important brand practices.
So a company might be selling you on their zero-plastic, recyclable packaging while they might not be incorporating any of the eco-friendliness in their production, branding, or even employee practices. They are making the whole green face of their marketing, nothing but false advertisement.
What Can We Do?
As consumers, we can reduce the prevalence of greenwashing by holding brands accountable. We need to become conscious consumers that do their research before getting blindsided by a brand’s no-waste narrative.
Instead of simply talking about a brand’s no-plastic packaging and zero-waste qualities, we need to take a bird’s view at their overall performance claiming to be a sustainable brand.
Start by looking up their brand philosophy, what they stand for, and some principles that coincide with sustainable living concepts.
Then look into their production practices. How are they helping the earth behind the curtains? If they’re big on waste reduction, how are they doing that within their production units? These are all questions we need to hold brands accountable for.
A responsible brand will have all the answers because it puts thought and effort into bringing a positive impact on the environment.
Simply deeming a brand “good” or “bad” for the environment based on their packaging materials gives companies more chances to greenwash us.
Plastic is a cheap material, and it’s easy to procure, easy to produce, and easy to work with. This is one of the main factors contributing to so much plastic waste in our environment.
The same goes for non-organic, synthetic food in our grocery store isles every day. It’s cheap, readily available, and there are so many more options for these kinds of groceries than there are for all-organic, fresh produce grocery shopping with zero waste or non-plastic packaging.
For example, a jar of peanut butter at Walmart with the usual plastic jar packaging would cost half the price of a jar of peanut butter in glass jar packaging at Whole Foods.
The price disparity is usually because when you’re making a product that you want to last longer, you’ll be using better quality materials. For example, if you look at razors, the cheap ones might be 12 for $12, but they’re usually single-use. On the other hand, good-quality razors might cost $12 apiece, but they last for many uses.
So naturally, sometimes going completely zero waste means spending more money.
How Can We Go About It?
As mentioned above, rely on word of mouth from like-minded individuals to find the best product options and best places to shop from. Do a little research to see how you can save money even when you’re shopping at zero-waste stores.
It’s also important to gain some perspective! You might be spending more initially on zero-waste products, but you might be saving money on replacing them later.
For example, you buy a glass straw or a steel straw to replace your usual plastic straw. The glass or steel option will initially cost you double or triple the amount of money, but it will last you for a year or more, saving you all the money you would normally spend on plastic straws.
So while you might feel like you’re spending more money, you’re saving some in the longer run.
However, that might not apply to everything. So don’t force yourself to seek zero-waste alternatives for every single thing. Do what you can and let some things slide.
Unfortunately, many things in the sustainable life/ zero waste movement are driven by guilt. Sometimes it’s articles about the burden of waste products and their harmful effect on climate change. Other times it’s a picture of a turtle with a straw stuck in his nose.
There is less focus on the positive impacts of waste reduction and sustainability and more on all the damage we do as consumers.
We are often reminded that using plastic bags is outrageously bad for the environment. In contrast, no one goes into why it is as bad as it’s made out to be or how you will be helping the turtles by opting for more eco-friendly options.
As a result, most people start their living zero waste journey to avoid guilt rather than wanting to do something good for the environment. And let’s say guilt is not the best motivator out there.
Eventually, the need to avoid the guilt will die out and you’ll no longer want to make the whole zero waste living anymore.
What Can We Do?
While it’s important to realize our responsibility as consumers, it’s unrealistic to expect consumers alone to take responsibility for reducing the entire world’s plastic trash problems. It’s also impossible to change your life overnight to be completely plastic-free.
Instead, start with small steps that you can easily incorporate into your daily life. See how you’re bringing a positive impact by doing what you are, rather than focusing on the bad from everything you’re not doing.
Ditch the whole “do not harm” aspect of waste-free living and think of it in terms of all the good you can do.
Know that there will always be something new to learn and something you’ll have to unlearn. And as long as you’re willing to do that for the greater good rather than to avoid guilt, you’ll be fine.
There aren’t no-waste alternatives to everything.
Even though the plastic-free or the waste reduction movement has come a long way, we are yet to find waste-free alternatives to many items in our daily lives.
We have to buy some things that have some aspect of waste production to them. Like smartphones or laptops come in standardized packaging, some of which can be plastic.
We can’t stop using phones or laptops, so that’s just something we have to live with.
The same goes for food. Some things from the grocery store come in plastic packaging; cereal, cookies, pop tarts, etc. Your only option is to either stop buying them or find a waste-free option, which doesn’t exist for many of the things I listed above.
So while we are constantly trying to reduce waste, do we give up a lot of the things we love?
So What Can We Do?
Now we can’t just stop buying everything we like in pursuit of not producing any waste.
So go with the alternatives you can find and the ones you can work with. Create a balance by switching out your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one while you still buy the cereal you like.
You don’t have to try and change the world overnight. Start with the things you can do instead of fretting about the things you can’t find a solution for. Going completely to zero waste isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it’s just something you need to build towards.
It limits options for certain people.
While there are waste-free alternatives for many different things, there are still limited options for certain things.
Let’s take kid’s snacks, for example, that certainly isn’t waste-free. People with kids rely on these pre-made snacks to take along when traveling with kids or taking them somewhere.
So when they decide to go waste-free, they have very limited options for what they can bring with them for their kids. Not every parent has time for meal prepping and making food at home.
Vegan people have a similar situation when it comes to going waste-free. Most plant-based groceries like nut milk and vegan meat come in pre-packaged form, and there isn’t much of an alternative to those things other than just not buying them.
That isn’t fair to vegans since they already have limited options regarding what groceries they can buy and what they can eat. Expecting them to narrow that list down even more is just optimism.
Also, people who don’t have zero waste shops in their area can’t just go out of their way to find zero-waste groceries. So they can’t buy normal groceries, and they can’t buy zero-waste options. What are they supposed to do?
What Can We Do Instead?
Throughout this article, I have been saying that focus on all the good things you can do instead of fixating on the unfixable.
Don’t guilt-trip yourself into giving up things you like just because you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint.
Instead, look at other ways to reduce waste production in your daily routine. Reduce the amount of food waste you’re producing by being more mindful of how much you’re buying and what you’re buying.
Stop buying things that you don’t need. Swap out those plastic jars with a glass jar when you can. Get a reusable water bottle, reusable tote bags, and reusable plastic containers, and do what you can to reduce waste from the actual act of grocery shopping.
Check out this article about zero waste kitchen swaps
So while we can agree zero waste isn’t bad, we can agree to avoid waste for starters instead of going to either end of the spectrum.
Remember, the end goal here is to do something good for the environment. Going zero waste might not be it for many people, and that’s okay.