green living · musings · zero waste

IS ZERO WASTE A MISNOMER?

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?

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4 thoughts on “IS ZERO WASTE A MISNOMER?

  1. Gosh, the whole zero waste conversation is so overwhelming to me. Once you go down that path, you realize how waste-full most of our activities are. I’ve tended to focus my waste attention on food (since that’s what I love the most!!). That’s means using reusable containers whenever I can (my mason jar collection is getting out of hand at this point), buying what I can from our local farmers market and checking grocery store containers to see if they are recyclable where I live. Fun fact: only two types of plastic are recyclable in Northern Ontario! We call them “1” and “2”, but I’m not sure if you guys would follow the same system. Great post, Lisa!

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    1. Thanks for reading Britt 🙂 I couldn’t agree more – I would also use the word overwhelming to describe how I feel about it all. Once I really realised how incredibly wasteful our societies are, I almost felt like being ignorant would be better, because then I could be blissfully unaware of it all, living in my own protected bubble from all the crappy stuff going on out there…but of course, you can’t un-know what you know! That’s so great that you have systems in place in your house to minimise waste – a household ‘waste management plan’, so to speak. I think all households need one of those!! We have a similar system with the plastic recycling numbers here too 🙂 Ditto here when it comes to my mason jar collection. Mr SLE hesitantly broached the topic with me just yesterday, actually: “Darling, we need to talk…about the jars”. Just call us the crazy jar ladies!!

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  2. There is so much waste built into the system! I know taking my jars to the bulk food store still involves a lot of packaging waste – those peanuts had to get to the shop somehow and it was in packaging that may or may not be recyclable (or recycled). However, I don’t have direct control over that. I do have direct control over what comes into my home, so that’s where the majority of my energy goes.
    The good thing is that businesses are seeing customers like us express our preferences and slowly making moves to suit.
    Some days I’m “yay, I’m making a difference”, others it’s more “I’m a splinter trying to hold back a flood”.

    Oh and the jars! My husband was like “can you please deal with all these jars” (I had a pile of jars waiting to have the labels soaked off). Then he saw me come home from the bulk food store with jars all filled. He now thinks I am a genius and has assumed label-soaking-off-duty. A convert!

    I try to take my son with me, he’s 5, as often as possible to the bulk store. He just thinks it’s normal to take your own container and refill them. Plus he gets to make peanut butter!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic, Amy! It can be disheartening, can’t it, but as you say, business are making changes as more and more people request changes, so it’s nice to know we are making a difference even when it feels like the world is catching on way too slowly.

      I got a good laugh out of your jar anecdote! I can completely relate!! 🙂

      That’s really wonderful that you are involving your son in the zero-waste shopping process. Wouldn’t it be amazing if every child grew up in an environment where taking your own container is normal?!? What a different kind of world we would live in!

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