Guest post by Tara McKenna, founder of The Zero Waste Collective
It’s Earth Day, and with that comes the reflection of how we can live more sustainably on this planet. I’ve always been keen on reducing my environmental impact, but it was a trip to Indonesia a number of years ago that drastically changed my perspective on waste. While snorkeling in Bali during that trip it was shocking to find trash intermingling with fish and sea life. I had always envisioned Bali to be a pristine and beautiful destination. The reality, while still beautiful and tropical, was and still is devastating. While tropical paradise in our minds, Indonesia is known as one of the top five plastic polluters in the world.
While my husband and I were always keen on sustainability and green living, it wasn’t until a few years later in early 2017 that I discovered the zero waste lifestyle. I’m sure it was all of my ‘sustainable living’ searches on Pinterest that led me down the rabbit hole to find information about the zero waste lifestyle. The concept sounded overwhelming at first, but as I did more research, I realized that it wasn’t so difficult. That’s when our transition to live with less waste really took hold, and we overhauled our lifestyle.
Sustainable and low waste living will look different for everyone. Circumstances like where you live, what resources you have available, and your budget may influence how you define sustainability in your life.
I personally like looking at sustainable living through the lens of zero waste because it takes into consideration the lifecycle for each thing we own or use and everything we do on a daily basis. It brings a certain consciousness to our daily activities that wasn’t necessarily there before. It helps me to look at the world differently, with a more critical lens to tell a bigger story.
The concept of zero waste from a lifestyle perspective is to avoid creating waste from the start. Most of us are well aware of the 3 Rs of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, but zero waste takes it to a whole other level. It’s committing to ditch the disposables. It’s finding ways to share resources in our communities, repairing broken things, consuming less, and when we do consume, choosing high quality items that are built to last and be repairable. It’s understanding our local waste management system, but also knowing that recycling isn’t enough (especially now that China no longer accepts as much of the world’s recycling).
Here are 8 simple steps that you can take to live more sustainably and live with less waste this Earth Day:
1.Consume Less: We live in a society that emphasizes more shopping, more spending, more affluence. Instead, consider what you truly need in your life and in your home, and what really makes you happy. When you consume less, you dramatically reduce your consumption of energy and natural resources. Fill time you would normally spend shopping with hobbies and activities you love, and spending time with family and friends.
2.Shop Zero Waste: Try shopping at your local bulk shop with your own containers and reusable bags (just be sure to ask in advance what their policy is on shopping with your own containers). Remember to bring your own shopping bags and carry reusable produce bags for fruits and vegetables. Find your favourite foods with the least packaging possible and try to find packaging that you know can be recycled where you live.
3.Skip Single-Use Plastics: Carry your own water bottle, reusable bag, coffee cup and utensils. You might not need to carry all of these items, but if you plan your day ahead of time, you’ll know what you may need. If you’re taking a car, you can leave each of these items in the car in a ‘zero waste kit’ to avoid unnecessary waste throughout your day. Otherwise use a tote bag or backpack — whatever works for you. Forgot your coffee cup? Take a few extra minutes to enjoy your coffee in a mug at the coffee shop instead.
4.Question Everything: The zero waste mindset is grounded in the idea of the circular economy where nothing goes to waste. It encompasses conscious consumption, like understanding the entire process from start to finish for the products we use. Ask questions like: Were the materials for this product sustainably and ethically sourced? Was the manufacturing process eco-friendly and ethical? What happens when I’m done with this product? Can it be recycled, or will it go to the landfill? Make a list of questions that will help inform your personal decision-making.
5.Know Your Why: Find your motivation to keep you going. For example, perhaps it’s the thought of wildlife struggling with plastic in our oceans inspires you to skip plastic straws. Discover your source of inspiration that will make choices like saying no to plastic straws simple and second nature. Once the choices become easy to you and they are made on a regular basis, they’ll become habits. Once these new lifestyle habits occur on regularly, they become a normal part of your routine. If you start to forget your why, go back to basics and inform yourself once again.
6.Take it Day-by-Day: Start small, as trying to change every aspect of your life all at once can quickly lead to burnout. Maybe your first change will be committing to using reusable bags anytime you go shopping. If you forget your reusable bag, that means you’ll have to carry everything out in your own hands instead (which will likely help you remember next time!). Or perhaps it’s switching to solid shampoo bars instead of bottled shampoo. Or completely skipping disposable coffee cups. Do what works for you and take steps that aren’t overwhelming.
7.Enjoy the Process: Pick topics or activities that align with your hobbies and passions. If you like cars for instance, maybe you could start learning about eco-friendly modes of transportation or make electric vehicles your new passion. If you love fashion and shopping is one of your hobbies, this is a great place to start making your transition. Thanks to the fast fashion industry, we’re producing and tossing fashion at alarming rates. Use this as a chance to curate your closet in a more mindful way with sustainable and ethical considerations.
8.Get Friends and Family on Board: Make it a challenge to see who can go the longest without using a plastic straw or disposable coffee cup. When you make it a challenge, it can be a lot more fun! Keep tabs on everyone else taking the challenge too, via social media. This also provides an opportunity to share your environmental passions with family and friends without overwhelming anyone about it. This an easier way to get more people on board!
Ultimately, it’s important to be okay with imperfection, and taking the time necessary to make reasonable transitions. Also keep in mind that not everyone has the same access to the same resources. Don’t have a bulk store that will let you shop with your own containers and reusable bags where you live? Don’t sweat it; find other ways that you can make sustainable changes in the context of your circumstances and budget.
I’m not perfect, nor am I completely zero waste. However, with more of us making conscious decisions, we’ll have a big impact. It takes a community to make big changes. This Earth Day, let’s inspire positive environmental change together!