Zero Waste or Vegan? Do Both.

Not too long ago I had reoccurring nightmares about thousands of bits of plastic clogging my throat and stomach.

This nightmare was brought on by a horrible and true story of a young girl who was held captive in her home in a closet and forced to eat carpet and wooden chunks she carved from the walls with her fingernails. She was discovered by authorities eventually, and her entire digestive system was clogged with indigestible wood and plastic carpet fibers.

While my nightmares have mostly disappeared, the reality of actual plastic pollution haunts me daily. I now know that for hundreds of millions of seabirds, sea creatures, and now even people, the consumption of plastic is a reality.

Deceased juvenile seabird, starved by plastic pollution.

Seabirds and animals that live in or near the ocean must battle plastic pollution daily, usually mistaking our plastic waste for food. Plastic pollution is so prolific that, according to Dr Sylvia Earle, we can see plastic bags floating in the lower water column thousands of feet below the surface.

Researchers have determined that over 90% of seabirds are now found with plastic in their stomachs, and nearly 100,000 marine mammals die every year due to entanglement or strangulation in discarded fishing gear.

Gray whale entangled in fishing gear. Photo by Bob Talbot of Monofilament Recovery Recycling Program

I could easily make the case for veganism on its own about now. Abolishing fishing would help end all the accidental deaths of other animals caused by fishing gear — however, it’s high-time we make the case for zero waste veganism. These two eco-friendly lifestyles are two sides of the same coin, grounded in ethics and rooted in science.

In a recent video, zero waster Gittemary Johansen made the ethical case for refusing plastic bags altogether. She says, “I don’t recommend reusing your plastic bags as then others will see you using them and think that it is ‘OK’ to use plastic, which it is not.”

Her reasoning is spot on. It is simply not OK to use plastic bags any longer because we understand that plastic is harmful, and we do not want to cause harm.

Sea turtle eats a plastic bag. Photo via One Green Planet

In other words, Johansen understands that using plastic bags, and creating non-biodegradable waste in general, are wrong due to the guaranteed negative outcomes of those activities. Most zero wasters inherently understand that waste is linked to suffering — be that ocean animals, land animals, or people who consume food laced with microplastics and drink water loaded with chemicals caused by plastic leeching into our water system. And their going #zerowaste is a response to wanting to stop causing that harm.

Lauren Singer, creator and founder of Trash is for Tossers and The Simply Co, writes on her blog that going zero waste for her came down to witnessing a classmate in one of her environmental studies courses choosing single-use plastic bags and plastic to-go containers every single week, day in, day out. Singer recalls, “I would sit there and think, we are supposed to be the future of this planet and here we are with our trash, messing it up.”

Lauren Singer sharing her zero waste kitchen with TreeHugger.com. Photo by Margaret Badore

Messing up the planet is a friendly way of saying we have an ethical obligation to do everything in our power not to destroy the earth and ecosystems we all depend on, and we have the power to affect that change today.

In the same way that zero wasters can zero-wasterize pretty much anything from laundry detergent to menstrual cycles, vegans can veganize anything from a double cheeseburger to your fall wardrobe. And that’s because we always have a choice.

For every choice of food, clothing, entertainment, or consumer item we always have a healthier, more sustainable, vegan, and zero waste version. And zero waste, when it comes to animals, means leaving them off your plate entirely — with the same fervor you would eschew plastic bags or plastic to-go containers — because it is wrong to support wasteful industries that also harm animals.

There’s no two ways about it — meat, eggs, and dairy are some of the most wasteful and cruel industries we’ve ever created.

Every day millions of baby boy chicks are suffocated in enormous plastic bags or sent into a “macerator” to be ground into pet food and fertilizer because they do not lay eggs. Male cows are taken from their mothers at birth and packed into veal crates because males cannot make milk. When milk production drops for female cows, they too are sent to slaughter — deemed wasteful and bad for profits if kept alive. Entire lives are turned into commodities in the meat, dairy, and egg industries because we consistently choose to eat animal products.

Baby male chicks are suffocated or ground alive inside a “macerator,” waste products of the egg industry.

Naturally, veganism is a response to these atrocities because we understand that purchasing animal products causes harm, is therefore wrong; so we choose to stop supporting it by buying and eating something else.

It is in this sense that Zero Waste and veganism need to join forces, align ethics, and spread far and wide. Zero wasters who are not vegan yet are perfectly primed to eliminate animal death from their lives because using animals is wasteful and inherently harmful to the animals, the planet, and people. Vegans who are not yet zero wasters are equally ready with their ethics loaded, ready to aim and fire point blank at plastic pollution, which is inherently harmful to people, animals, and the planet.

With the results of the US election leering over everyone, now more than ever consumers must wield their lifestyles as weapons of mass compassion, mass consciousness. Going vegan, going zero waste, and helping others do the same are a great start.

Are you a vegan interested in going zero waste? Are you a zero waster hoping to make the transition to veganism? Let us know what you think and be sure to check out the links below for some helpful tips to get started going vegan and zero waste.

How to Go Vegan Overnight by the Vegan Activist on YouTube

101 Reasons to Go Vegan

Best Speech You Will Ever Hear by Gary Yourofsky

Seaspiracy by the Friendly Activist

Quick Zero Waste Alternatives by Lauren Singer, Trash is for Tossers

Two Steps to Zero Waste by Lauren Singer, Trash is for Tossers

Vegan and zero waster: Wasteland Rebel, also on Instagram