Four late in the game zero waste changes
Somewhere between seeing that video of a straw being ripped from a turtle’s nose and bringing your own silverware on a plane to avoid disposable cutlery, lies something along the lines of intermediate or advanced zero waste. This isn’t the kind of language I use to describe zero waste, because there aren’t levels, badges, honors or any special qualifications in zero waste, but upon looking at Less Waste World’s site searches, I saw that some of you have looked for “zero waste advanced searches”. Don’t worry, I won’t mention any other things you guys have searched (weirdos), but I would like to talk about this one.
Reducing physical waste is a gateway drug to reducing our waste of resources that seem less tangible, but nonetheless are limited and precious. We have to start somewhere, and a deeper understanding of how our resource use impacts the planet and each other doesn’t happen overnight. If there really were to be a way to move up in zero waste, I’d say it happens when we begin to think and act with these impacts in mind. It’s been a good change in the zero waste community this past year to see people talking about resource use and and not just tangible garbage.
So if you’ve been weighed down by the banal quest to find a nondairy milk that doesn’t taste weird in your coffee, or if you’ve been so caught up learning how to source certain things plastic-free that you’re caught up in a more superficial zero waste, here are some practical zero waste changes to get you thinking about resource use and expanding zero waste from beyond your trash can (or jar or bin or general garbage receptacle).
I hope this first suggestion will lighten your load (literally). Now that you’ve got your bearings, it’s probably time to scale back a teeny bit on the preparedness; it’s easy to turn into whatever the zero waste version of a doomsday prepper is when trying to avoid unnecessary disposable products. I used to carry cutlery, a hankie, a napkin, a straw, a shopping bag, cloth produce bags, my water bottle and sometimes a travel mug. A little overboard. These days I toss a straw in my bag if there’s a chance I’ll grab an iced coffee and I keep the shopping bag with me in case I buy anything. The cutlery comes out if I think I need it, sometimes at the end of the week I have three clean straws floating around my bag, and I do my best to keep up with a napkin or hankie, but it’s not big deal if I forget.
Narrow in on what you need. When I drove a car everyday, I was able to keep all of my shopping bags in the car, as well as produce bags and lightweight plastic containers for buying bulk dry goods. The bags were great when I stopped at the store, and the plastic containers were great for when I had restaurant leftovers. Before you’re in the rhythm of skipping single-use, “be prepared” is a great motto, but once you have more experience and better buying habits change, it’s not necessary. Pare down to what you actually use, and take the rest only when necessary. You’ll thank me later.
If you’ve started zero waste in various parts of your own life, it’s time you start sharing it. Giving gifts in a zero waste fashion (not to be confused with giving ‘zero waste’ things as gifts) helps you celebrate the people in your life without compromising on your values.
Zero waste gifts are most easily divided into four categories: experience gifts, consumables, necessities, and the useful & the beautiful. Hopefully your zero waste experience thus far has helped you kick the habit of buying things you don’t need or use, and it’s a good rule for gift giving as well that the resources going into whatever you’re buying or doing are well used. My experience is that zero waste gifts are more personal and can often include spending time with your loved one rather than just giving them something material.
Why is this a late in the game change? Well, if you’re still relatively new to zero waste, there’s a chance you haven’t had to give any gifts yet. Sharing a zero waste lifestyle on a person-to-person level not only makes zero waste seem more approachable (I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “You’re really cool about the whole thing. I expected you to be stuck up about it.”) , but gives you and a loved one the opportunity to talk about something you’re passionate about.
Get hot (& cold)
Is there anything I love more than air conditioning on a hot summer day? Biodiversity, a livable planet, and more predictable weather patterns.
According to the UN Energy Statistics Pocketbook 2018, the world’s largest sources of electricity are from coal, natural gas, and oil, which are all nonrenewable fossil fuels,and release, among other things, the powerful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. All this to say that your home isn’t heated or cooled by magic, and the energy to do that comes from somewhere. So if you want to cut down on your use of fossil fuels, strip down or bundle up while at home. Energy.gov claims that turning your thermostat 7-8 degrees Fahrenheit lower for 8 hours a day could save 10% on heating and cooling. The easiest times to do this are when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping. The site also claims that the idea your furnace or air conditioner must work harder to heat or cool the house after this is false, and that homes actually lose heat more slowly the cooler they are since it’s closer to the temperature outside.
go cold (& just cold this time)
If you’re starting to think about resource use in terms of what you can’t see, look no further than your laundry to consume less.
According to energy.gov, washing with cold water can cut the energy use of a load of laundry in half. The Independent reports about the impact of washing at high temperatures, which 6 out of 10 British households do:
The study found that if every household in the UK turned their washing from 40C to 30C for one year, it would save carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to powering 1,550 homes for an entire year. (x)
As to why so much waste, it seems people aren’t thinking about the energy use, or they believe the clothes won’t be as clean without hot water. My past experience in Europe and again now in Ireland is that most washing machines favor hot water and that cycles run long; I’ve never used an American washing machine whose cycle lasted longer than an hour and a half, and never used a washing machine in Europe whose cycle lasted less. When practices like washing with hot water are based on habit or norms, we can try and change them ourselves.
So here you go- If you’ve been working towards zero waste for a while now, it’s time to start widening your mindset to including the people in your life, as well as thinking about invisible waste and resource use. I wish you the best of luck as you begin navigating the more nuanced parts of this lifestyle, and happy zero wasting!