Why It’s So Hard To Stop Creating Trash, and A Few Tips to Get Around It

A Years’ Worth of Trash In a Glass Jar

The first time I heard about the Zero Waste Movement I was floored that it was even possible to reduce my waste so much that a year’s worth of trash could fit into a single jar.

At the time when I read the article about the person with the jar–I can’t remember which one–I probably created more trash in a single day than that person created in a whole year. It never occurred to me to think about my trash.

I understood in an abstract way that there was a trash problem and that we ought to do our part to recycle, which I did do, but I never realized I could deviate from the groove when it came to things like food–didn’t food usually have packaging and bar codes?

We Have More Options Than We’re Lead to Believe

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Image by Matic Kozinc

After I discovered Zero Waste, I read as much as I could about people who chose to live outside of the norm. I was obsessed. Learning about all the ways I could live felt like hearing my name called out in a loud, crowded room.

I read about minimalists who donated most of their stuff so they could live simpler lives. I read about people who lived in micro-structures and natural buildings, who decided that the traditional 30-year mortgage wasn’t their path. I read about people who quit their 9-to-5’s to pursue things that made them eager to jump out of bed every morning.

The one thing that seemed to hold true for all of these people was that simplifying life gave them a greater sense of fulfillment. One thing we don’t realize, though, is that we really have to work for simplicity in our lives–it’s not something that people easily slide into, as weird as that is. It’s an ongoing practice.

How does this relate to zero waste? By choosing to consume more intentionally and re-evaluating the things we think we need, we are forced to strip away the excess and enjoy what is left.

All of the things I learned from these fascinating people filtered back into my own life, of course. I realized that I needed to slow down, stop running on auto-pilot, get some intention behind my actions, and pay better attention to who I gave my money to.

If I don’t pay attention, my life gets chaotic fast. I have to pause and take stock on a regular basis. These reflections have been a welcome companion to me for the past few years.

Reducing Waste When Society Is Built To Create It

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Image by Nynne Schroder

It’s true, right? You order a drink–they put a straw in it. You bring re-usable bags to the grocery store and they wrap your egg carton in a plastic bag before putting it in your canvas bag (that seriously happened to me). It’s really hard to get away from trash. It’s built into how we do pretty much everything.

The way to reduce your waste when everything seems to be against it is to keep pushing back. Keep evaluating your behaviors, your thoughts, your compulsions. Question why things are done one way and not another. This is the start of reducing your waste.

If you’re already on a journey to reduce your waste, it’s important to know that the term “zero waste” is not a realistic label. In fact, this term can be pretty discouraging to people who want to participate but don’t have access to all the resources they need, such as a grocery store with a bulk section or fresh food. I highly recommend this video, and this one too, for more on this topic.

If you’re not yet where you want to be with reducing your waste, that’s okay. It really is. Intention is the goal–not perfection. Educating yourself is the first step. Sharing these thoughts with a friend is the next. That’s how movements begin.

Begin Here

1. Go to your trash and notice what you’ve got in there. Do you have a bunch of wrappers from protein bars? Perhaps food scraps? Amazon packaging? No judgement here, please! Just observe what’s in there.

2. Now that you know what’s in your trash, ask yourself:
>Do I need this item (or the thing that the trash held)?
>Can I re-use, re-purpose, or recycle this?
>Does this bring value to my life?
>Do I want to continue using this item? And if so, is there a way I can do so without trash? (You’d be surprised!)

3. Begin by choosing one thing that you found a lot of in your trash, and choose to not purchase it for two weeks. Let’s say it’s protein bar wrappers. Do a Google search for recipes to make your own protein bars in bulk (saves money and trash, and many recipes are surprisingly easy), or decide to go without them completely.

4. After the two weeks, choose whether or not you’d like to keep buying that product. Whether you do or not is beside the point–what’s really going on here is that you’re giving your brain practice thinking critically about what you buy and consume.

If you’re new to all of this and want to ease in, definitely check out my Ten Ways to Reduce Waste in Your Home This Week. The tips in there have helped me to reduce my waste more than anything else.

Spending Money Is Like Voting

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Spending money is one of the greatest powers people have, and we should absolutely exercise it. Whether we like it or not, our society runs on money. Where we choose to spend our money, and how, tells companies what products to make more of, and what products to stop making at all.

Our global waste problem is perpetuated by corporations who have framed the way that most of our lives operate–but it’s not “how it has to be.” We don’t have to open a can for beans–we can soak and cook them ourselves. It’s out of our control how the system works, but it is our responsibility as folks who have “awakened” to this type of thinking to live in a way that will help future generations of people, animals, and plants thrive.

The Zero Waste Movement Is Growing, and So Are Resources To Support It

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Image by Ian Schneider

I don’t mean to sound so gloomy. Sometimes a bit of “real talk” is what we need. It prevents us from skirting around the things that make us uncomfortable.

The good news is that there are a ton of people involved in this movement. It’s spreading rapidly. Some cities in the USA have banned plastic bags, which is awesome. Seattle’s bars went straw-free, I was stoked to find out. And, people are starting to add bulk sections to grocery stores because there’s a growing demand for it. Things are changing as people grow in awareness.

You don’t need to go out and do anything drastic. Just consider your habits without self-judgement. Simply notice what you do, what you buy, and how you consume. Perhaps you could choose to include one zero waste swap to your life–like filling up a beer growler instead of buying a 6-pack! There are many small, impactful ways that each of us can contribute.

Have you, or do you intend to, reduce your waste? I’m curious to hear your side! Comment below ❤ 

 

Feature image by Jon Tyson

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