4 Ways You're Hurting Your Zero Waste Efforts

4 ways you're hurting your zero waste efforts

We are at the zenith of zero waste movement, and yet, some zero wasters are struggling to curb their carbon footprint.

Living trash-free can be equally inspiring and intimidating. Admittedly, zero waste posts on social media that capture perfectly laid out elegant eco-friendly products can lure anyone to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. And, the myriad of information passed down by various zero waste influencers on making conscious choices offer a pretty good start. However, too much information—or the lack of it—can often be misleading and put you off track to saving the planet. Here are some common zero waste mistakes that do more harm than good and turn your efforts bootless:

Ignoring Behind the Scenes Trash

ignoring behind the scenes trash

Zero wasters often focus too much on creating minimum trash ‘at home’ that they fail to see the bigger picture.

For instance, given a choice between purchasing a product from a non-transparent brand at a local store with a reusable bag and an ethical brand who ships in plastic bags, we’d suggest you go with the latter one. It might feel counterintuitive at first, especially when there’s an ongoing war going between planet and plastic, but it’s the right thing to do. Here’s why.

The non-transparent brand must have shipped its product to the store in plastic packaging anyway. You simply won’t bring that trash to your home, but it does exist.

More importantly, by supporting a sustainable brand, you’re causing a bigger impact that flows through the entire production and supply chain, than a mere plastic bag.

We know the zero waste intuition must have kicked in by now and you are probably wondering: why would a sustainable brand ship its products in plastic packaging?

There are a lot of factors to consider when shipping, including moisture, damage in transit, and some others. In certain scenarios, similar to the case of People Tree, plastic offers the best packaging. Moreover, conscious businesses and brands usually prefer recyclable and biodegradable plastic, so there’s no harm done to the environment.

Aiming for ‘Zero Waste to Landfill’

aim for zero waste to landfill

Say what?

Zero waste lifestyle revolves around the fundamentals of minimizing waste, not specifically minimizing waste to landfills. Do not confuse your means goal with the end goal. Your end goal should be “Zero waste” rather than “Zero waste to landfill”.

The nitty-gritty of zero waste is to save nature. No matter what sustainable action you’re performing, ask yourself: Am I really helping nature?

Set resource management as your focal point. Evaluate the entire resource cycle – starting from its extraction, consumption, to discard management – such that no resource is wasted at any point.

Let’s say, you’ve ordered a sustainable cosmetic product that is sourced ethically and the packaging, too, is done using an eco-friendly material: cardboard. In this particular scenario, you might believe no harm is being done to nature. But, here’s the catch. Trees are chopped down to manufacture cardboards.

You are creating no waste yet it is negatively affecting the environment. So, how to tackle it?

Opt for DIY skin care regimes and work out with the resources you have, or find a local sustainable cosmetic supplier to avoid product packaging. There’s always an alternative out there, you just need the clarity to figure it out.

Same goes for sustainable fashion. Donating your old clothes to charity or selling them to thrift stores only to buy fresh sustainable additions to wardrobe that you don’t need at the moment negates all your efforts.

Here’s what you should do: shop second hand, buy less, and build a capsule wardrobe.  

Having a “Do No Harm” Perspective

half glass empty

We call it the ‘Glass-half-empty’ approach. The quintessence of adopting zero waste lifestyle and the entire sustainability movement is to do something positive for our mother earth. Taking a ‘do no harm’ approach will frustrate and eventually demotivate you in the long run.

There will be several incidents in your zero waste journey when you have to weigh difficult situations and things might go out of your hand.

You asked for no straw and they still gave it to you; you had to buy groceries that weren’t available without packaging; you purchased a second-hand garment with plastic tag; the guilt is real but you cannot be hung up on it.

Try sidestepping this zero waste guilt else it will weigh you down. You definitely don’t want to be one of those dispirited zero wasters who gave up on saving the earth.

Replace ‘do no harm’ with ‘do good’ in your rulebook. Focus on the positive and figure out ways to help the planet.

Didn’t want to yet stuck with a piece of plastic?

Realize that it cannot be undone and figure out how can you tackle it.

Cannot recycle or handle it any other way?

Come to terms with reality and remember the lesson. It’ll help you learn, grow, and improve.

Trash jar is NOT the be-all and the end-all

empty trash jar
Image by Alexandra E Rust via Flickr

Looking at a year of trash fit in a mason jar is surely awe-inspiring. As a matter of fact, most of the beginners in the green ride are motivated to live sustainably because of this wow factor.

But, is it really the right kind of push?

Zero wasters are fixated on tossing limited trash in the jar. At a certain level, it has become the new metric of measuring your efforts and judging your lifestyle.

However, the constant dilemma of choosing what to put in the jar skews the perspective of people, urging them to create exceptions.

The grocery store handed you a single-use plastic before you could say anything.

Your to-go lunch was packed in your own reusable container but with a plastic fork.

The store printed a receipt even when you asked for an email.

You might let things slide this one time—after all, the blame’s not on you. But, are you being transparent? No, you’re just holding up to your standards.

We’re all for creating minimum trash that can fit in a jar but not at the cost of integrity. If holding the trash jar reminds you of failures and makes you feel messed up every time you make a mistake, it’s about time you break up with it. Conversely, if it encourages you to embrace a trash-free life, do not think twice about it. We’re just saying do not limit your zero waste approach to a mason jar. You’re not in this to brag about your achievement; you’re in this to make you and the planet feel better.

Are you living trash-free? What hardships have you faced in the journey? We’d love to hear your insights on zero waste living! Share with us in the comments section below.

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