Why Zero Waste?

About a year ago, after following several zero waste bloggers for some time, I decided to give the zero-waste lifestyle a try in Toronto. For a few weeks, I did pretty well — it was summertime, a market would come to my neighbourhood once a week with fresh fruit and vegetables, Bulk Barn was running a trial “bring your own container” program in Liberty Village, and I was excited for a good excuse to try all of Lush’s products. It was challenging, sure, but it was also new and exciting.

The thing is, however, I don’t have what one might call the best personality for taking on an endeavour like producing zero waste. By nature I’m unorganized, I procrastinate, I lose things constantly, and I leave things everywhere. Once winter hit and Toronto’s bitter cold took over, bringing mason jars on the streetcar to Bulk Barn and shopping for groceries in two different locations started to drive me insane. Lush started to seem really expensive and not as effective as my past beauty routine. I was looking at shampoo bottles in grocery stores with heart emojis in my eyes. And I kept losing my goddamn travel mug, leaving it on shop counters and in friends’ houses and the TTC.

So, over time, I slowly started unravelling my zero-waste lifestyle. Not even on purpose, either — but just as a “just this once” situation: just this once, I’ll grab the packaged pasta at the supermarket. I don’t have time to go for bulk foods today. Just this once, yes, I’ll accept bags at the shop rather than running home first for my reusable ones. But that attitude slowly bled into all aspects of my life, so that soon, other than eating vegetarian and bringing my reusable water bottle everywhere with me, I was back to producing a pretty enormous amount of waste every day and simply looking the other way.

I also read critiques of the zero-waste and sustainability movements that pointed out how they unfairly put the onus on consumers, when really, they should be focusing on large-scale corporations and governments instead. I felt a bit justified in my laziness. Really, what difference was I making by driving myself insane? Wouldn’t my efforts be better put towards changing policy and badgering companies? And with the way the planet’s headed, was a zero-waste lifestyle even worth it? I had visions of all the zero-wasters stoically clutching their stainless steel straws as the world burned around them.

To be clear, today’s world is not made for a zero waste lifestyle. Humans have taken the convenience factor of plastics and disposables and run with them, and the single-use, consumerist lifestyle now baked pretty solidly into our society. But just because it’s the norm doesn’t mean it’s right — and it certainly isn’t sustainable.

If we want to leave a better world behind for future generations (and, ahem, every other species we share this planet with), we are going to need massive change on multiple levels. Yes, we need widespread changes in policy, a corporate shift to a circular economy, and a radical reduction in emissions — but we also need to recognize that our consumption simply cannot go on the way it has. We would need four Planet Earths in order to sustain us all if everyone lived like an American. And that is why we need a zero-waste approach: as part of an integrated, multi-pronged approach to tackling climate change.

This blog is, essentially, my attempt at dramatically reducing my day-to-day waste while learning more about the issues we need to solve and the actions I can personally take to drive change. And in an attempt to keep us all from burning out and imagining bloggers grimly holding their steel straws as the planet burns down around them, I’ll also be highlighting the many, many positive steps people around the world are taking to make ours a better future. Because when it’s done right, giving a shit can be totally doable — and it can have really fantastic results. So let’s get started.

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