I hate the term ‘Zero Waste,’ I feel like it is an exclusionary term that probably scares people away from this… movement. This is a movement, right? When I first started reading about Zero Waste, I instantly felt like I would fail at this. I knew that no matter how little waste I could get down to, I would never achieve zero. I have a cat who is picky about his litter and I simply can’t go the corn or cedar pellet route, unless I want him to just start pooping everywhere in protest. I drive a car because I commute 15+ miles to work each day, which means I can’t be zero waste. I sometimes eat chips and am yet to find a way to recycle those bags.
As for the bigger picture, even people who create zero waste in their own trash bins are still creating waste. The bulk bins at your favorite stores are generally filled from a plastic bag, or at least a plastic lined bag. The produce at the farmer’s market was transported there somehow, probably in a waste creating vehicle.
The steps that need to be taken in order to achieve a truly zero waste life are simply out of reach for most Americans. I don’t have the capability to live as my ancestors have, growing my own food, slaughtering my own animals, knitting my own winter socks, and chopping my own wood to heat my home. I live in an apartment in suburbia, with domestic animals, a boyfriend who is not zero waste, and 2 bonus kids who love their individually packed fruit snacks. If I were to take the term ‘Zero Waste’ literally, I would never have even tried to find Facebook groups to learn more, I wouldn’t be hunting down YouTube channels dedicated to other people’s journeys, and I sure wouldn’t be writing about it and making videos about it.
For people prone to taking terms at face value, the words ‘Zero’ and ‘Waste’ attached to one another is daunting and exclusionary. It makes it difficult to understand and know where to start. I tend to use the term ‘Lower Waste’ or ‘Reduced Waste’ as a way to open dialogue with others. It opens the door to questions and ideas for those I have engaged with. In media though, such as blogs and videos, I still say ‘Zero Waste,’ for now. Why? Because it is now a recognizable term. When people head to a search engine they use this term instead of looking up, ‘Reduced Waste.’
When I was thinking about this blog post, I really wanted to use it to clear up misconceptions about Zero Waste that may keep people from even trying it out. I also kind of want to open dialogue about what Zero Waste means to other people. I feel like many people want to be the last word on what ZW is or is not, but the literal definition of ZW is simply unattainable. For me, Zero Waste is a practice in being mindful. Paying attention to alternative ways to go through my day in a way that is more Earth friendly. Can I fit my mason jar under that coffee hopper opening? Did I bring my bag? Do I really need that straw? Will my feline friend accept the cat litter offered in the bulk bins of my local pet care store? I still create trash, just waaaaaaaay less. And I now actively search out recyclable packaging and avoid plastics (limited recyclability). Will I ever be able to do without a trash can in my home? I’m not sure. But I choose to not beat myself up if I do need to put something into the bin that cannot be reused or recycled.