Zero Waste... Imperfectly
Once you open your eyes to the abundance of single use plastic being consumed every day, in every country, all over the world - you can't 'un-see' it. You can never climb back under the blanket of blissful ignorance. Instead we are left to face the facts of mankind's over-consumption, looking for answers on how best to tackle the Everest-sized task of saving the planet from choking on and drowning in our excessive waste.
But unpicking over 100 years of plastic dependency is incredibly complicated. Almost all industries and sectors have some kind of interdependence on plastic and single use items, from food and clothing, through to pharmaceutical and transport. Even your pension funds are involved, generating capital by investing in numerous organisations that depend on fast consumerism and products that require an abundance of single-use plastic.
So when you begin a journey into treading lighter on this planet, only to be met with the unachievable goal of ‘zero waste’, you’d be forgiven for experiencing a feeling of apathy.
Is there a better way to inspire people?
We have been pre-prescribed our dependence on plastic. We didn't (entirely) ask for it and our bid to shun chemicals and reduce our daily waste, is hard work. We need all the help we can get and we can find solidarity in each other.
There are excellent blogs, forums and social media community pages that can help you solve tricky bits of waste you are finding hard to reduce (or eliminate) from your life.
It's a pity that some of these forums host some unsupportive people. Shame and judgement spawns a certain type of fear. Fear of being called out on the carbon emissions of your family’s long haul flights for a holiday, for example, despite your efforts to drop down from two bin bags per fortnight, to just one! A feeling of 'nothing is ever enough' can quickly quash one's enthusiasm to change the world one step at a time. But always remember the words of blogger Anne-Marie Bonneau:
‘We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.’
With all this in mind, perhaps the term ‘zero waste’ is a misnomer, and we should opt for a more achievable title like ‘low waste’, or ‘minimal waste’ instead. As any life coach or self-help author will attest, real progress is made by breaking things down into a series of smaller, more achievable goals.
It's time to stop fighting against each other in this war on plastic, and start fighting together!
What's on your list?
Your journey to reducing your environmental footprint is personal to you. Own it.
What are your bug-bears? Stop and look at what's in your hand every time you go to the bin. What are you putting in your waste bin that you could find a more sustainable or waste-free alternative for?
Keep Britain Tidy have a Waste Less, Live More campaign. They are asking you to make a #SwapForGood. So have a look at what simple swaps you think you could make.
Perhaps it's Food Waste and food packaging. Try making a meal plan and a shopping list so you aren't throwing away excess food. Could you take produce bags to the supermarket, instead of using flimsy plastic - do you even need to put those bananas in a sweaty plastic bag? Is there a greengrocer, baker or local store that provides paper bags for your produce?
We can’t stop climate change, but (and it’s a BIG but)…
...we can slow it down by making changes. Going cold turkey on anything wrapped in plastic is a great step but remember, everyone generates some form of waste, even the Instagram influencers who cram their landfill waste into a Mason jar! From the postman’s fuel to deliver your letters, to the fibre optic cables that carry our email, the human footprint is inescapable.
Thankfully, we have teams of people working on an abundance of cleaner, greener alternatives for everything from air travel to food production. While climate change is inevitable, it’s not to say our efforts are futile. We have a real chance at slowing things down and helping regenerate and restore some semblance of balance.
We shouldn’t dismiss the significance of someone refusing the plastic straw. This is the top of the funnel, the lowest hanging fruit, and once people’s eyes are opened up to the farcical reliance we have on single-use items, it’s very difficult to go back. So keep talking, keep changing and keep reducing.
Sometimes facts and figures can be a real eye-opener and help you to understand how your habits, magnified by the world population, can be a real game-changer. For example, the average person in the UK uses 150 disposable bottles of water a year! Even among those who own a reusable bottle, half still buy bottled water, because they forget to take their reusable bottle out or feel uncomfortable asking for a refill.
7 million coffee cups are used and disposed of daily in the UK - only 4% are recycled. Many coffee sellers take back cups for them to be industrially recycled and offer discounts if you bring your own reusable.
Yes we need to paint a picture of just how bad things have got, but we need to motivate change through hope. We should celebrate any positive change no matter how small. Inspire people to really want to make a difference and not beat ourselves up if, every now and then, we forget our tote bag at the supermarket 😀
Zero waste is an ideal BUT don't let it get in the way of your own incredible journey and achievements. Strive for progress, not perfection.