You heard it here first, folks. Zero Waste is not actually about the waste.
When I first hopped on the waste-less bandwagon around a year ago, I kept seeing all these articles by negative Nancys basically calling the zero waste movement a fraud.
“It’s not actually zero waste,” they said.
“It’s not even going to make a dent in the waste problem.”
“The only way to save the planet is get big business and government legislation involved.”
Ok, so I hear all of this angsty, “why bother” business and I realize that they have all missed the entire point of the zero waste movement.
It’s not about the waste.
Technically it is about waste, but in reality, this way of life is MUCH MUCH bigger than just how much garbage you personally produce. It’s about more than reusable shopping bags and stainless steel straws and cooking from scratch and BYORC [bring your own reusable container – I bet you couldn’t tell I made that up…]. It’s not about storing all your trash in a jar, or in anything at all. None of that matters if we’re missing the whole point.
So what is the whole point?
Are you ready for it?
Zero waste is about affecting social change.
In other words, zero waste is less about how much actual waste you are producing and is much more about how you are influencing other people’s understanding of the waste problem. Sure, you can store five years worth of rubbish in a can, but if you are the only one doing it – I’m sorry – it’s just not going to help.
On trash pickup day, I see so many trash cans in my neighborhood filled to the brim. Some houses have several cans out. Some have whole piles of extra crap next to their cans. I would have to be certifiably insane to think that I am helping the cause by not contributing trash to the weekly pickup. That’s just nonsense. The quantity of trash is just plain enormous.
But I’m not trying to discourage zero wasters [or potential converts]. On the contrary, I’m trying to encourage everyone by saying that you ARE making a difference. Just by participating in the zero waste movement and living the zero waste lifestyle [and it doesn’t have to be perfectly, by the way] we are influencing those around us.
The whole reason the zero waste movement became defined by the trash in the jar stuff is because it is shocking. When someone holds a pint jar and says that all of the trash they have produced in the past year is inside, well, people notice. Because that is just plain not normal in our society. And that catches people’s attention. That plants a seed of curiosity, which we all hope will lead to research and then enlightenment and then changed behavior.
After all, that is the journey that we all went on before going zero waste, right?
My favorite zero waste blogger, Anne-Marie Bonneau at The Zero Waste Chef, says,
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Those millions of people aren’t just going to wake up one morning and start refusing plastic straws. But maybe if they see us doing it, if they hear us talking about it, then maybe the millions will join us.
It seems like a daunting problem from the perspective of the individual – and, yes, we do need corporate and government support to create significant and systemic change. But we shouldn’t let that discourage us either. All of the businesses and governments in the world are made up of people like you and me. It may seem like corporations and governments are huge insurmountable obstacles in the fight for the planet, but when you look closely, they are just people – people who have friends and families, who like to vacation at the beach or hike in the mountains, who also put their trash cans by the road each week. These people are not unreachable and all it takes is for us to set an example of sustainable living that spreads until it reaches the companies and government agencies that can create the biggest impact.
Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. We can create a positive change. All we have to do is set the example.
This is our purpose. This is the whole point.