For the month of September, I went strictly zero waste. By zero waste (the most common term used for it), I really mean zero trash. For a month, I avoided the use of any product that would create trash and limited myself to products that can be reused, recycled, or composted. My goal? To see how difficult it is to do, to establish more environmentally-friendly habits in my day-to-day life, and to raise awareness to the amount of packaging and trash a single person can create. Individual shopping choices can help create lasting impact, and that is truly just as important as corporations adopting less wasteful business practices. When I talk about living zero waste, the most common response I’ve gotten is,”But what about toilet paper?” Not a horrible question, but for some reason, it becomes a little irritating to answer constantly. Yes, I use toilet paper. I buy toilet paper that is made from recycled paper, breaks down easier in the pipes, and I recycle the little cardboard tube it’s wrapped around. But today I want to talk about one of the other common responses I’ve received: “That’s just not possible.”
Fair response. Is it possible to truly be zero waste? Strictly speak… not really. There are some items that you need that create waste, and sometimes you just can’t get around it. For example:
There are more examples but those are two that I think are most relatable for people. Pets also generally create some form of waste between food packaging, flee medications, litter, etc. There are ways you can reduce the amount of trash created by a pet, but for most living situations, it isn’t really feasible to be zero waste. So while I was able to be strictly zero waste for a month, I can’t realistically be that level of zero waste long term. (I do plan on being that strict every September as a self “check in” on my trash production. Perhaps over time, others will join me, and we can make Zero Waste September a thing). Beyond particular items that you just can’t get around creating trash with, you could take the zero waste analysis a step further. If you look hard enough, you could probably find some sort of waste associate with the production or transportation of pretty much anything. (This kind of follows the economic principle of, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” While a lunch may be free to you, say if a friend buys you lunch, the cost of said lunch is still paid for by your friend. What if you steal a lunch? Again, free for you, but the cost is still paid for somewhere in the supply chain of that lunch, thus, no free lunch.)
But if this is your attitude towards zero waste, I have a bone to pick with you.
This type of view towards zero waste is a bit devils advocate-ish. I feel like it purposefully mitigates the over-arching ideas driving the zero waste movement. Yes, you may not be able to be zero waste in a truly technical sense of the term, but that doesn’t mean that cutting down on your waste and making an effort to be as zero waste as you can be is a total waste of effort. Even cutting your trash production down by half is huge. It all adds up and the move towards an attitude of being more mindful with your purchases and consumption will be key to collectively working together for a more sustainable future. It doesn’t really matter (to me) if you disagree with my efforts to be zero waste. Your opinion won’t stop me from trying to be more environmentally friendly. We’re collectively heading towards a future where being lazy and self centered in our consumer choices will bit us in the ass. Persuading big business to prioritize the collective good over business interests won’t be enough if we aren’t also willing to try to make more personal choices as consumers that also benefit the collective good.
I don’t always do a good job of being as zero waste as I can. I screw up a fair amount. But I still try every day because one day, I woke up with the realization that I care more about doing what I can as an individual to prioritize creating a better future for all of us than just creating a more convenient day for myself. There are a lot of problems in the world and I don’t have answers for most of them, but reduce the amount of plastic I put in a landfill? That is at least one thing I know I can do. And I’m okay with it being difficult sometimes, or weird, or if someone tells me it’s pointless.
Sometimes you got to be a little weird or do something less popular if you’re going to help create change.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.