First, I want to make one thing abundantly clear.
The world we live in is complex & magical & wonderful & hard, which means there is no one elegant, simple solution to fix any of the issues we currently face.
The first thing we can do is to practice sitting with the discomfort of not always knowing what to do. Waste is hard. There’s much shame & guilt in seeing the dearth of what we throw away. The concept of ‘away’ = out of sight & out of mind. But, our trash is very much in-sight, just in different places — usually in post-colonial countries. That’s also why trash is sometimes called a new form of colonialism.
Guilt is an awful emotion. Guilt sucks energy, inspiration & is entirely unproductive. Guilt takes away our power. Therefore, Step 1 in your personal #sustainability guide: Next time you feel guilt, try replacing with curiosity. Think about the material & how it was made, the process it might go through once you place it in a bin. Ask questions! Reach out. Inspire yourself to learn more about the systems in which we are all part.
Step 2: Create systems for yourself so reuse isn’t so hard. Take 15 minutes to write down a list of your weekly errands. Walk through each errand in your head to ID points where you use single-use items. Create a system for yourself that makes it easy to use reusable items instead.
- Groceries. Think through your typical grocery list. Find plastic bags scattered throughout your house for bulk products or separating fruits & veggies. Reuse plastic & glass jars where possible (ie oils, peanut butter). Keep an egg crate. Put all of these in reusable grocery bags and keep in a place where easily accessible for your grocery store runs. Take 15 minutes to research grocery stores around you that have / allow bulk products. (For my Seattle folks, DM me and I’ll give you the list!). Join a local Zero Waste group to ask questions about pain points you’re not sure what to do about.
- House cleaning. Go through old towels or cut up t-shirts to make reusable cloths. Fold them nicely and put them with all of your cleaning supplies. Keep at least 20 on hand so you can use with abundance! Fill a few mason jars with baking soda for use as toilet / sink & all purpose kitchen cleaners. Try not to purchase new products, but rather use what you have first!
- Dry cleaning. Talk to your dry cleaners about no packaging options. Alternatively, put dry cleaning-only clothes + spot remover on any spots in a large bucket with 1 cup white vinegar & fill with cold water to cover clothes. Let sit for one day, gently agitating clothes a few times a day. Rinse, hang dry & iron! For clothes that cannot be wet, put them in a large plastic bag and put in the freezer. The cold temp will kill off bacteria that makes them smelly.
- Compost. If your city accepts commercial compost, please do so. Find a pretty container off of your Buy Nothing group or local thrift store & make room in your freezer to stick the compost container so it doesn’t smell. Organics make up 70% of municipal solid waste streams in the US. Because organics cannot property compost in landfills since there is no oxygen, food emits methane as it breaks down, a major climate change contributor. Some landfills do have methane-capture systems, but most do not. Composting is one of the easiest, most impactful ways you can contribute to your trash ecosystem.
A word on systems: The goal for your systems is to expend energy on the things you want to think about & systemize what you don’t. Be mindful of feelings like procrastination or guilt, helpful data points that tell you it’s time to shift systems because the old ones no longer serve.
Step 3: The joy of accountability! Zero waste implies no impact, but we are part of this ecosystem & we make an impact by being here. Let’s be more realistic: what is the most productive impact we can make?
Carbon emissions are real & certain lifestyle choices have higher carbon emissions. As we learn about the systems in which we take part, we also learn about the privilege of choice. We have empowered ourselves with information. We have created systems to make it as easy as possible to sustain a more reusable lifestyle. Now, we have the opportunity to make choices based on our impact and then hold ourselves accountable to those choices. For example: International flights can emit up to 1.3Tons of carbon per flight. That’s real impact. If you take a flight, consider cutting back on meat. If you forget your reusable mug one day, don’t buy a coffee from your corner shop unless you plan to drink it in a mug at the cafe. Treat yourself doesn’t have to come at the expense of other creatures. If the goal is to be proud at the end of each day, hold yourself accountable to what that means for YOU.
Step 1: Stay curious! 🤔
Step 2: Create (adaptive!) systems. 🔬
Step 3: Productive accountability. 🍾
Green is just a color. We can hold ourselves to a higher standard & consider the complexity of the world around us.