Take a moment to think about how much waste you produce in a week. Roughly, between my boyfriend and myself, we go through about one regular size garbage bag a week. Now multiply that by 52 weeks, times billions of other people. That is a lot of waste, and that doesn’t include the 2 bags of recycling that goes out each week, I’m sure other homes produce a lot more.
Does this waste just disappear never to be seen again? Where does it go?
These thoughts plague my mind.
My journey into zero waste began with instant obsession for the movement and I quickly attempted to replicate the lifestyle.
What a tremendous mistake…
Mistake #1: FOOD
At the time I wasn’t cooking much at home and had very little motivation to do so. I was militant and thought zero waste meant not buying anything with packaging, so I bought a lot of vegetables and items from the bulk section.
I made my own almond milk, ate salads, smoothies and oatmeal every day, and tried to use every bit of the produce, including eating strawberries whole, fuzzy green tops and all.
The issue here was that I had no plan of action and grew tired of eating the same thing every day, so most of the fresh produce became waste.
How hypocritical is that?
Mistake #2: HYGIENE
This issue seemed easier to transition into than food waste, but the minor adjustments to my daily routine eventually sprouted negative consequences to my well-being.
My shower routine consisted of cold water, a single bar of biodegradable soap, and would last less than 5 minutes. This was a great routine for sleepy mornings or hot days but bottom line, cold weather showers are torturous, the icy water shocked my nerves, soap didn’t completely wash out and I always felt dirty. Oh, and forget about taking a shower before bed, because that freezing rain would wake you up like it was a brand new morning.
Another attempt to reduce waste included my bathroom habits. According to the Boston Standard Company, the average American uses 50 pounds of toilet paper a year. Also stating that global toilet paper production consumes 10 million trees a year.
At first, I tried to use as little toilet paper as possible, even using 1 square for a short period of time—which was useless.
I had read about people using a system called family cloth. Family cloth is a neat concept: Up-cycling old cloth to use to wipe oneself. After continued research, sanitation and repeated use concerned me, so I never tried this system.
MISTAKE #3: JUDGEMENT
Whenever out in public no one could escape my judgment. I’d watch others drink out of Styrofoam cups with straws and then proceed to unconsciously toss everything into a garbage can.
The stress was killing me, and it was like no one cared.
Nowadays I think to myself, “no one is perfect, especially me”. Which serves as a reminder that I’ve lived a careless lifestyle in the past.
After avoiding any product that could produce waste, starving myself, feeling dirty and miserable all the time, I quickly plunged back into bad habits.
I broke down.
Depression took hold, anxiety clouded my mind, and felt pity for myself.
Over time I restored myself and I continue the transition into a zero waste lifestyle.
If I crave food or want to buy something new and shiny, I resist the urge and after a while, the desire is gone.
When I need something, I try to buy it used, if possible. Shopping at thrift stores has actually become a fun activity. Sometimes I may not find what I need but when I do, they are often more unique than something new, I save money, and the discovery is like finding buried treasure.
When shopping for groceries, I still focus on fresh produce and bulk items but now I am not afraid to buy other items with packaging. My rule for packaging is that it should be glass, aluminum or [at least] recyclable plastic.
I only buy recyclable toilet paper now and try to be conscious of how much is used. I still take cold showers but if I am not in the mood for one, then the water becomes warm.
I’ve learned that 30 odd years of habits cannot change overnight, that changes need to be made gradually over time. The fact that I am attempting to make change is a step in the right direction and there is no reason to get upset with myself or others.
We are a product of our environment and a culture of garbage, but with each additional step forward we can make a stampede of change.
Next time you buy or throw something away, try to think about the journey of how it came to be and what will happen to that “trash”.