Is zero waste really zero waste? This is a question I have been asking myself lately and which I am sure many zero-wasters and aspiring zero-wasters (I consider myself in the latter category) have pondered at some point throughout their journey towards a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
I think there are some situations, rare though they may be, when consumption actually is completely zero waste (eg. going into your garden, picking a sprig of parsley and eating it) but in most instances, when we think we are making zero-waste choices, we are actually making low-waste choices. For those of us who don’t grow our own food and instead rely on the retail options available, I actually doubt that anything we buy is 100% zero waste. For example, at my local bulk foods store, I’ve seen that they refill the bulk bins with products from big plastic bags, and when I buy a coffee in my own reusable takeaway cup, that still doesn’t account for the packaging that was used for the coffee beans and milk and what was done with that packaging when it was empty.
The reality is that our society is geared towards creating waste. We’re obsessed with convenience and cleanliness, and these two elements combined make for a world full of processed, over-packaged food and single-use items of all sorts. The good news, however, is that regardless of whether zero waste is actually zero waste or not, there is no doubt that zero-wasters the world over are making a huge impact simply by bringing a consciousness of the creation of waste to their everyday purchases and activities.
Realising that zero waste is not zero waste makes me aware that there is still a lot of work to be done in reducing the waste we produce as a global society, but if we all switched to lower-waste ways of living, the impact would be enormous compared to the way things currently stand. From what I’ve seen around the office I work in, many of my colleagues aren’t even aware of the concept of recycling (to my surprise and dismay), so my general impression is that those striving for zero waste living are actually miles ahead of society at large and are effecting change in a way that is actually, sadly, too evolved for many of their fellow humans (cue dark, dystopian thoughts of environmental catastrophe😣).
I think what zero waste provides us with is something to aspire to and a set of principles to help us make more informed and environmentally-conscious decisions when it comes to our patterns of consumption. Since becoming aware of the movement and making positive changes to my own lifestyle as much as possible, I have noticed myself bringing a new consciousness to my decision-making. While the little voice in my head asking ‘how could I make this zero waste?’ doesn’t mean everything I do is zero-waste, it does mean I am slowly changing my behaviour and becoming more aware of where the things I buy come from, how they are packaged (or not) and what kind of impact their production and my consumption of them will have on the Earth. After all, doing something is better than doing nothing, right?
What do you think? Can anything truly be zero waste, or is it a misnomer?