Don't want to give up _____? How zero waste is still for you

Can't go without makeup? Don't want to give up paper towels? Unwilling to go without hair gel in plastic packaging? 

Zero waste has a reputation of being extreme. For starters, it’s impossible to really create no waste as long as you’re alive. Being alive=creating waste, be it personally, or out of your hands like the plastic packaging used in a restaurant kitchen where you eat. It looks like zero wasters are hardcore environmentalists, stinky (but trendy) millennials, people with more time than you to change their habits and live this way. I’m hardly a millennial, although I don’t wear deodorant, and I was a full time graduate student, a nanny, and also tutored at a community college when I made the biggest changes to reduce my waste. I was busy; I drove 50 minutes each way to work for a job I took before moving and learning my commute and 40 minutes each way to my tutoring gig which was a requirement of my graduate program when I started my trash jar. Most of us are busy, and zero waste looks different depending on the time and resources we have.

Maybe you don’t have time to live a low waste lifestyle. Maybe you think you can’t afford it. Maybe you can’t give up your eye shadow habit or hot Cheetos. So what? Don’t.


Is it wasteful to have these things? It’s waste because it’s unnecessary and the resources could be better used. Nobody needs eyeliner or Funyons. Is it wasteful when I take a hot bath multiple times a week instead of a fast shower? Yes, it is. So what?

The average person creates 4.4lbs of trash a day, according to the EPA. What if you were completely zero waste, except for your daily bag of Hot Cheetos? Don’t let what you’re unwilling to change prevent you from changing what you can change. Reducing your waste is not all or nothing.

If you’ve felt excluded or barred from zero waste because you feel you can’t achieve it, this is your call to action. Zero waste is not extreme at its core; truly synthetic plastic has only existed since 1907. Just over a hundred years ago, people lived without it and living plastic-free is more traditional than revolutionary, as is using our resources fully.

Total and immediate end of unnecessary plastic waste, reliance on polluting fossil fuels, and pollution would be great, but it’s not where we are right now. Zero waste living and fully appreciating our resources, avoiding unnecessary consumption, and taking steps to reduce our emissions are steps we can take right now while advocating for better regulation and sharing the message that our choices matter in this. While refusing to consume this things at all would be ideal, it is much more realistic to reduce for many people. If you go from a plastic filled bathroom to only buying one product in disposable packaging, you’ve made a huge and commendable reduction.

The trash jar is not the end goal of zero waste; there is no point when you put your first piece of plastic tape in a jar that you reach full-fledged zero waste level. While some argue that the trash jar may be intimidating to those interested in zero waste, it should be made clear that a trash jar is not a necessity, expectation, or requirement. It’s better to have 100 people reduce their trash by 50% than 10 people cut it altogether. For example, if 100 people reduce their waste by 50%, it will prevent 79,200lbs of waste from being created over a year. If 10 people are strict zero wasters and reduce their waste by 99% over a year, only 1,590lbs of waste will be saved from going to landfill.

Zero waste is for you, because reducing your waste is not an exclusive club. It can save money, and there are many things you already have to help you reduce your waste.

The hard lines you choose to draw- “I can’t go zero waste because the only thing my kid eats is hot dogs and Kraft macaroni and cheese.” “I can’t go zero waste because there are no butchers around for me to get package free meat.” I can’t go zero waste because shampoo bars don’t work with my hair.”-don’t actually exist. Consciously choosing to continue consuming something that is not low-waste or has irresponsible packaging doesn’t mean there aren’t a million better choices you can make elsewhere. There might be things you don’t have access to sustainably or changes you will not make, no matter what. Don’t let the changes you can’t make prevent you from pursuing those you can.

Don’t let the changes you can’t make prevent you from pursuing those you can.

So what if you buy 6 boxes of macaroni and cheese a week? So what if you buy Herbal Essences every few months? If you buy produce without plastic, carpool to work, and eat more vegetarian and vegan meals, you’re still doing better than you were before. Maybe you can’t give up Cheetos, but you stop buying cases of bottled water. A million plastic bottles are bought every minute worldwide. Over an entire day, that’s 1,440,000,000 bottles. You don’t have to contribute to this.

There are certainly more changes you are able to make than there are changes you really cannot make. I urge you to do what you can. Bring your own cup to the coffee shop and your own grocery bags to the grocery store. Buy your bananas without a plastic bag and bring your own bag for your apples. Pass on the free toothbrush from the dentist and buy a pack of bamboo toothbrushes instead. Use bar soap instead of liquid. Carpool, or start a compost bucket. The little things you and those around you do matter and add up. Who cares about a trash jar when you only have to empty your kitchen garbage every two weeks? Look online for ideas on how to reduce the waste you produce. Be adventurous and try to learn how to make yogurt, or try finding a new lamp at the thrift store.

You don’t have to be perfect. Don’t let your own expectations of how zero waste has to look or be prevent you from doing what you can, even if that looks differently than how others do it.