The Inconvenient Truth
Zero waste, reducing your waste, low waste, low impact, etc they all take a lot of work. It takes dedication and serious lifestyle changes and commitment, but why is it so hard? Our society has made us used to the idea of receiving instant gratification and expectant of a NOW NOW NOW mentality. We rarely want to do anything without an incentive or alternative motive. I'm grouping myself in all of this as well. I mean it is just part of our world and our human nature. So why is zero waste so hard to attain and transition to, well in short our world pushes us against it. I asked some of my friends what they thought was the hardest part of my lifestyle and why it may have seemed unattainable to each of them. I received some great feedback and this is just a short sum of what I gathered from all of them and through my own observations being involved in the zero waste community.
That's right, it's as simple as that. It is just inconvenient sometimes. This is why there are so many single use items in the world now. We live in such a high paced society that we forget to sit down, have a cup of coffee at the cafe or cook at home, because well it's just more convenient to grab some coffee to go in a single use cup that we can just toss afterwards and not have to worry about. It's simpler to grab some food at the nearby drive thru because we're on the run and don't have time to make dinner. We eat our food real quickly then toss the trash and don't have to worry about doing dishes. We are always running so we forget that all this trash we are tossing is actually going somewhere. When it is removed from our hands or our homes, we forget or don't think about where it actually ends up. It's not our problem anymore. Right? ...wrong. It is our problem. The trash isn't just disappearing, it's accumulating on our Earth and we're drowning in it because of convenience.
So, how do we make zero waste life more convenient?
First just start with some small steps. Do you grab coffee to-go every morning on your way to work? Keep a reusable cup in your car or grab it on your way out the door to get your coffee instead of getting it in a single use to-go cup. If your mornings are crazy hectic, pack your bag the night before and make sure to include your coffee cup.
If you know you have some busy days in your week, why not try to do some meal prep. This could consist of completely making your meals ahead of time to warm up throughout the week, or just chopping vegetables and portioning out your food for ease of cooking.
For groceries, I have a basket where all my reusable bags are kept. Throughout the week when I run out of something, I add it to a list on my phone. This way, I already have my grocery list ready when I head to the grocery store over the weekend. I grab the bags that I know I'll need for each item and maybe an extra one or two if I see something I forgot.
These are all just a few small changes that don't take that much more effort or time. You can easily make one or two changes at a time if changing your whole lifestyle is too daunting to do. It can be scary, but don't be afraid to fail. Trust me, I mess up all the time still, but you learn from your mistakes to do better in the future.
Reducing your waste does take a lot of planning ahead. I've learned just how much zero waste is planning ahead to ensure I produce as little trash as possible, and trust me I'm far from perfect. Yes, I forget a container sometimes and have to get my food in a disposable to go box or I receive a drink that already has a plastic straw in it. Zero waste is not about being perfect and ultimately the goal of zero waste is completely unattainable in our current society. But planning ahead takes time and well... planning.
Like I said above, I make a grocery list before heading to the store, therefore I can make sure I have the required jars and bags needed to get what I can in bulk with as little plastic and waste as possible. When I go out to eat with friends, I bring a glass jar for leftovers just in case. If I know I'm going somewhere that uses plastic cups and cutlery, I will bring my own as well. Sometimes though, you are hanging out with your friends and then randomly decide to go eat. Oh no! You don't have any of your zero waste prep things, what to do??! Don't stress out. Don't shame yourself. It's okay. Try and order something you believe you will be able to eat entirely. There are still small things you can do to reduce your waste production in the moment. If you can make it through a meal without a drink, skip the drink and avoid having to get a plastic cup. Or if you're really good friends, share a cup :)
BYO (Bring your own _____ )
This somewhat links to the above planning ahead section. Being prepared and bringing your own water bottle, utensils, to go coffee cup, reusable straw, cloth napkin, reusable bag, etc. Whatever it may be, bringing your own item many times reduces the amount of waste that could be produced. This can become over cumbersome however always toting around all these zero waste items. It is okay to keep a few items on hand and ready to go when you need them. Carrying around all the zero waste items can get heavy as well. I know there have been a few times my purse has been so heavy that my arm is in actual pain from lugging it around all day.
I have been thinking of ways to minimize the amount of items I carry. I have a KeepCup, but I thought why not bring a 16oz wide mouth mason jar. This can serve as a glass or water, coffee, or a container for leftovers or snacks. Thinking of ways to maximize the use from a single item can make what you carry less cumbersome and lighten your load. Don't want to carry a cloth napkin, hankie and a cotton drawstring bag. You could just bring a cloth napkin. Tie this up Furoshiki style instead of using a cotton drawstring bag for goods, use as a napkin or hankie (if clean).
NO DIRECT INCENTIVE
In the US, there really is no direct incentive for reducing your waste. The recycling programs do not give you money for recycling or returning items. Some aluminum cans can be returned for recycling, but you receive like five cents per can, which don't get me wrong could add up, but the incentive is just not there. I know in some other countries, they give their citizens larger more appealing incentives to recycle and return bottles and such to make it seem worthwhile to the consumer. Maybe if the incentive were greater, then more people would want to recycle, return and reuse.
If you have curbside recycling, then recycling is about as easy as taking out your trash. Keep an old box near your trashcan, and you can divide your recyclables and trash right there. Then take it all to the curb like you would when the trash runs. Maybe you don't have curbside recycling like me though. So, I keep a box near my kitchen, I fill it with recyclables until it is full. Then once full, I take the box to the recycling center and divide up my items. It generally only takes me about 5-10 minutes once every 4-8 weeks.
I completely understand each of these reasons for not wanting to or not being able to "waste" the time to implement more sustainable practices in your lifestyle. Zero waste is a commitment. I have seen many YouTube videos of people practicing zero waste for a period of time and then giving up on it because it was and is a huge effort. So, I realize the above is somewhat of a rant, but I want people to understand that yes it is hard, but it is also okay to mess up and not be perfect.
Changing everything in your lifestyle all at once can seem way too intimidating to do, so you back away from the idea. So I say, start out small. Change one thing at a time. You may be thinking to yourself, well what is me changing one thing really going to do?
For example, say you drink a lot of water throughout the day. Start bringing your own water bottle with you everywhere you go. Take it to work, to school, out to eat, on the road, on the plane, during errands, etc. This prevents the consumption of so many plastic water bottles, styrofoam cups at restaurants and so much more. Seriously one change is HUGE! Don't doubt that you doing only one thing different is making no difference, and don't let people tell you that.
What you're doing will be different than the norm and some people may look at you. Some may say that you are not making a difference but just ignore them. The facts are you are saving so much plastic from entering this world and are making a difference. You can cause a ripple effect. People will see you doing things they had never even thought to do, and then you could inspire them to live more consciously and sustainably without even knowing you had any effect on them.
How have you made small changes towards a larger change? Comment below with your favorite changes and how you've overcome some of these inconvenient truths towards living unsustainably.