Zero waste shopping ban: Week 6
As the six week shopping ban comes to and end, we’re all closer to living as zero waste as possible. While I have experienced want for things the past six weeks, my favorite thing about shopping bans is that they are exercises in contentment. It’s easy to claim you are happy and grateful for the things you have, but when you stop pursuing more, your relationship with what you have is in the spotlight; I’ve experienced the discomfort of saying “no” to things I’ve wanted during the shopping ban, but I’ve also experienced the ease of knowing that “no” is my answer and felt free from considering new purchases. For the final week, we’ll work on tying up loose ends and developing more responsible buying habits.
Don’t abandon all that you began during the six week ban and finish what you started. It may have taken you more than one week to go through and repair your wardrobe, or perhaps you’re still waiting to hear back from your landlord about making holes in your walls. The ban was designed to last six weeks so that a substantial part of the year was shopping free; if you last the whole six weeks, you will have completed almost 12% of 2019 without buying any things, except basic needs like food. That being said, there may have been more than six weeks worth of work for some people.
Before you go along your merry way into the rest of 2019, be sure you’ve finished the weekly tasks of the shopping ban and all of your unused resources have found new homes. Personally, I will continue working on week four during the final week of the ban and probably beyond because my hobby space has my resources and resources of family all mixed together, with a great deal of it being unusable. Proper disposable of what does not serve you and cannot serve another person is a non-negotiable part of ownership. You can’t live your best zero waste if you’re actively wasting most of the resources in your home
Start by evaluating your needs
Last week, zero waste “must-haves” were on the chopping block because many of the specific products and brands out there aren’t necessary. There are still things you will most likely buy to replace disposable products after you’ve finished using the disposable products you have. Before making any purchasing decisions, make a step back. If you don’t floss your teeth now, you’re not going to floss your teeth just because you buy expensive, compostable floss. If you don’t ever cook with an oven, you don’t need reusable baking mats; you get the idea. It’s fun to try new products, and buying something new can make you feel more like the person you want to be or people you admire, but you’re not likely to buy your way to regularly using something you didn’t know you needed in the first place. And who you are as an individual and as a zero waster is not determined by what you have, but what you do.
Here are some guidelines for making purchases:
1. Repair & replace, don’t acquire
When making purchases, know that it is always higher priority to replace and repair what you use consistently than it is to acquire something new. If you don’t already have it, chances are you’ve gotten along just fine thus far without it.
2. Shop with intention
Shopping isn’t a sport and shouldn’t be your go-to entertainment, so try and limit general shopping to when a need to replace arises. Other times a need to acquire, such as buying clothes for a new kind of job, may happen. Before you look online and before you go to the store, decide what it is you’re looking for. Shopping without intention is like grocery shopping hungry; you’ll buy more than you need.
3. Institute a waiting period
If you want to buy something, set an amount of time you must wait before making a purchase. If you’re out shopping, which I don’t recommend you do often, and you see something you weren’t looking for but are interested in, it’s as simple as deciding to leave the store and coming back later. You’ll probably forget to come back to whatever it was anyway, meaning you don’t want or need it badly.
Generally, I recommend waiting at least a week before making a purchase. I try and wait as long as possible to see if I can get by without something, and if after a few weeks I find that it’s necessary, I shop only for the item I need. When you’re shopping secondhand and there is only one of an item available, a week feels like an eternity because it could be purchased by someone else. This conundrum, however, can be avoided if you choose to shop intentionally rather than recreationally.
4. Do your research
This is where it gets a little tiring to make purchases as a conscious consumer, but it’s important to know about the company values and production practices you support when you give money to a company. Secondhand is always preferable, but if you’re struggling to find something secondhand, new purchases must be made.
Check local makers first. Smaller producers are usually more available to answer questions and if you buy something locally-made as well, you can probably speak with someone who made the product.
Unless you have tons of time, check and see if anyone else has already done the research for you and found a sustainably made product with no exploitative practices.
If nobody has done the research, I suggest looking into brands you already know have a reputation of making durable and long-lasting products. Customer service emails usually get more information than FAQ pages about production and materials of goods, so I suggest contacting companies so you can allow where they source materials, make their product and how they pay their workers to all have a part in your buying equation.
If this all sounds like a hassle, it should be. Until the exception is irresponsible production rather than the rule, buying things new will be a bit of a pain. Not only does this, for the time being, serve as another reason to buy used, it serves as a reminder that purchases should be careful and thoughtful, not automatic.
Ethically made goods are oftentimes very expensive when compared to typical products because we are not accustomed to buying goods that have quality materials, sustainable practices, and transparent, fair, labor practices. Cheaply made goods, with many of the ethical problems that come with them, are much more affordable. This in mind, not everyone can afford to buy ethically made goods due to the cost. That is why secondhand is always the first choice, but if you have searched secondhand to no avail and cannot afford an ethically made new product, choose what you must. The weight of the responsibility for these practices does not fall squarely on you for buying something when operating in a system that champions endless consumption.
Zero waste living
While we can and do talk about household waste and waste from production of goods all day long, don’t narrow your understanding of zero waste and what waste is after the final week of the ban. Our diet, transportation, and other lifestyle choices create huge, invisible waste. While living lighter does include less plastic use, returning to a more circular economy will not happen if we try and buy our way in.
It’s been an eye-opening six weeks, and I hope you all feel as confident about your resources, as excited for tomorrow, and as green as I do. Keep the spirit of taking care of what you have and conscious ownership with you for the rest of the year. Happy zero wasting!
As always, you can check out what I’m finishing up from the ban on my Instagram @lesswasteworld ! I’ll be posting to my stories and uploading them as highlights to my page so you can see them if you start up the ban after I’ve finished.