I can’t believe it, but it’s been a year since I wrote my first post analysing our plastic waste.
I still look at our pile of plastic trash at the end of each month and think “Why is there so much here!?!” But looking back to where we were a year ago, it is pretty encouraging how much we have been able to reduce. Below is all of our plastic trash (both recyclable and not) from the month of October 2017, it takes several pictures to show it all!
And here is all of our plastic waste from October 2018:
Some things like the frozen squash bag are still from our pre-zero-waste days. And there would be even less if I were better at refusing Halloween candy :). There are still some things I do not have a good plan for, such as the twisty ties around lettuce. But overall our trash has been significantly reduced through frequent, small, persistent changes over a whole year.
Here are four of my thoughts after reflecting on the past year:
Know the Why before the How
There are endless tutorials on how to make your own toothpaste, refill containers at the bulk bins, compost, etc. These are super helpful, but before learning about how to reduce your trash, take the time to learn why you should reduce your trash. It’s difficult to make a permanent change without a conviction about it being important. For us, learning about the issues of social justice for the poor connected to our global waste stream was particularly motivating. When I wonder if all the change is worth it, I think about the health effects of plastic factories located in low-socioeconomic areas, or the albatross chicks starving to death because their parents are mistakenly feeding them plastic from the ocean, or how even our drinking water now has nano-sized particles of plastic in it. When I think about these things, the inconvenience of declining a free sticker or calling a company to get off their mailing list is totally worth it. Living zero-waste turns out to be about more than putting less stuff in the landfill. It is about being thoughtful in our purchases and being a considerate neighbor to people who live “downstream”.
If you would like to know more about the problems with plastic, I recommend reading Plastic Free by Beth Terry and watching the documentaries Plastic Ocean and Bag It (both are on Netflix right now). For more information on our trash problem in general, I recommend the documentary Trashed, which is available for free on Hoopla if you have a library account (warning, there is one fairly graphic scene when it shows the role of dioxin in birth defects). The greatest must-read is The Story of Stuff by Anne Leonard. She particularly is helpful in thinking about the social justice issues surrounding how we make and discard our stuff. The audio version is available on Audible. There is also a YouTube video called The Story of Stuff which is great, but I recommend also reading the book for more in-depth knowledge.
Simplicity is key
We launched this journey by using the Konmari method by Mari Kondo to simplify our physical stuff. (I’m not going to explain the method here because you should read her book.) That was before we even knew zero-waste was a thing. Evaluating every possession we owned changed something in how we view our stuff. Our worldview has changed and our lives are better in ways it is difficult to explain. Not only this, but my time is no longer dominated with things like cleaning, laundry, and cooking since we simplified our lives. Thinking about our trash would have been just an overwhelming guilt trap without adopting a more simple lifestyle.
Your emotional/spiritual health is crucial
I have read a lot over this past year about various people trying to improve our world in various ways. A common theme from everyone is how to maintain healthy emotions and spirituality while living slightly counter cultural lifestyle. Meditation and silence are usually a key aspect of this health–even for people who don’t consider themselves religious. I do consider myself religious, and if you don’t, then feel free to skip this section–really! I don’t mind :). I have found that the more I understand about trash, toxins, and the effects of consumerism, the more time I have needed to spend in quiet and silence, waiting to hear from God. The biggest impression I have had from my times of silence is that God is in charge, not me. As a Christian, I believe that the kingdom of God is coming, and it is not a kingdom where the wealthy trash the neighborhoods of the poor, or where convenience is more important than the well-being of animals we are supposed to protect, or where we are drinking water filled with pesticide laden plastic. God doesn’t want his creation to be trashed or his people to be sick, and God is going to be the one who makes things right. This is why I don’t have to be perfect. It is okay to live in that uncomfortable space between knowing what needs to be done and then looking at how my life does not match up. Freedom from perfection has kept me from freezing in inactive fear or burning out by working like the world is on my shoulders. I do not need to do anything out of guilt or fear, but rather be drawn towards change by the love of working alongside my Father.
Joy makes it worth it
My overall thought on going zero waste has been that it has been truly a joy. I really mean it! I love the sound of beans filling our mason jar at the bulk bins. My creative spirit has come alive finding I can do things like make my own lotion. It’s exciting to learn about innovative people coming up with awesome solutions to big problems. Not having cheap plastic toys in our house makes it more calm and peaceful. The scent of my citrus-infused vinegar makes our house smell clean without smelling like chemicals. I love the feeling of a bar of shampoo in my hand as I wash my daughters’ silky soft hair. When I open our cupboards and see the food itself instead of advertisements on packaging, it brings me joy. I never expected to find so much joy through something as basic as reducing our waste.
Of course, there have been some parts that were an adjustment, and even some things that are not pleasant (Thanks Zach for emptying the compost bin each week!). At times I feel socially awkward when everyone else is talking about something in which I no longer participate (usually something to do with “retail therapy” or saying no to something free). There are still issues where I haven’t figured out the right way for us yet or have decided to settle on a less than perfect solution for the time being. And there are still lots of situations where I have to choose whatever is least bad because there are no good options. But overall there is a deeper joy of feeling like what I believe and what I do have more alignment. I have found great and unexpected joy in our zero-waste journey, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.