Why I’m Not Zero Waste and You Don’t Have To Be Either

The zero waster. Since I’ve started Littervention, I’ve come across many. They make grow their own vegetables and ferment their own kombucha. They buy vintage clothes and used furniture. They use mason jars for just about everything. They sound like a wicked combination of hippie meets hipster, except on top of their highly Instagramable lifestyles, they manage to accumulate just a single mason jar’s worth of trash over several months, rather than the dozens of pounds produced by the average American.

This is Lauren Singer's trash. Not mine. I produce about double that much every week.
This is Lauren Singer’s trash. Not mine. I produce about double that much every week.

It’s damn impressive. And I admire them. Big time. I especially admire zero wasters like Lauren Singer from Trash Is For Tossers who not only live the lifestyle, but also do a great job getting the word out about our nasty throwaway culture.

I also am not a zero waster myself. Not because I don’t aspire to live a life of less waste or because I don’t respect those who are currently living that lifestyle– I massively do– but because I don’t see zero waste as a particularly attainable or approachable goal for myself or (especially) for the masses.

In this country, we have a pretty all-or-nothing outlook when it comes to adopting new habits.

Trying to lose weight? Go on a juice cleanse, join the gym, work out five days a week, cut out carbs. But when you cave and binge on pizza at the office because you ran out of time last weekend for meal planning, what happens then? Most abandon ship. Most continue the quick slide back into their old habits.

I prefer to accumulate good habits (and replace bad habits) one by one. Over the past few months, I’ve changed my habits around consumption and waste significantly. I religiously bring my own bags, coffee cup, and water bottle. The vast majority of the foods I buy are fresh and unpackaged or in recyclable packaging. I recycle. I compost.

And for now, I feel like I’ve hit my own local maximum.

There are still a few big holdouts where I could improve. I could stop buying things online. (That packing tape and those air-filled packing bags are very much not recyclable… at least not in San Francisco.) I could be more conscious about my clothing purchases, buying vintage, local, and eco-friendly garb. I could cut out the non-recyclable packaged foods I love for their convenience, like Almond Acai Perfect Bars.

And I might. If it’s convenient and reasonable and simultaneously good for the planet, I’m all for it because I know that even small things add up.

That said, where being zero waste or even just less waste starts to matter is when it becomes something that is doable and approachable for the average Jane and Joe. And I don’t see “Zero Waste” as a movement or most forms of environmentalism in their current iterations to be particularly approachable, personally.

So if you want to do something because you like clean fresh air and all the pretty natural things on the planet, go ahead and do something. And don’t feel like you have to do everything. Make one change at a time, starting with whatever you think will fit best into your life. Here are a few suggestions: