Over 50 million informal workers worldwide spend their entire lives dealing with the consequences of our mindless consumption, all without recognition as environmental heroes or access to basic healthcare or education that traps them in a generational cycle of abject poverty.
In India, a waste picker on average spends 12 hours a day scavenging for recyclable waste in dumpsters and landfills, earning less than $5 from an exploitative supply chain.
We’re such a consumer society, we think, "Oh I have this problem, what can I buy to solve it?" Instead of just being resourceful and looking around. This was possibly the reason we birthed the ZW (Zero Waste) movement, and the subsequent chaos.
Zero waste is a lifestyle choice. But that lifestyle should be one of consuming less and making do with what we already have.
For Its Unrealistic Expectations, Zero Waste is A Myth Of course we love us some pretty looking and carefully curated zero waste pictures on Pinterest, but let's burst the bubble- Zero Waste is a scam. And it all starts with our understanding of the term "waste".
The “zero” in zero-waste is impossible first and foremost due to the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the quality of energy degrades as it is used. Your banana will either be eaten and partially excreted by you or left to rot somewhere; neither zero waste nor entropy is undeniable.
All of this is to say that waste is being generated everywhere always and it extends so far beyond the final product in your hand. Waste is water and land and emissions and human capital — not just the plastic straw in your drink. So, there are undertones to waste and it is natural for us to keep producing it.
There is a growing tide of grocery stores that claim to be “zero waste” by selling only bulk items. But while this might mean there is no visible packing waste for the shopper, there is definitely some unseen amount of packaging with which the store itself had to contend — it’s not as if a truck of loose Brazil nuts showed up for delivery.
Zero waste isn't even necessarily sustainable. If you are driving to a bulk store 30 minutes away to get stuff available at your supermarket within walking distance, the extra carbon footprint driving an hour round trip adds up thereby making it less energy efficient.
The ZW Movement In Its Truest Essence
Now, we're not trying to shame anyone who follows a ‘zero’ waste lifestyle; as long as they can manage that in a way that is sustainable. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Zero waste living isn’t about being perfect, and it’s about so much more than mason jars full of trash and grammable reusables.
Zero waste is about moving to a circular economy.
By living this way, we’re highlighting areas that need improving, and it’s another reason WHY it’s so important for us to be doing more like asking businesses to improve sustainability initiatives, asking for policy change, and educating our communities.
All in all, it’s a mindset, too. It’s not just going out and buying all the stuff, because you really change how you live. Like if you have all plastic hangers, you shouldn’t go out and buy all wood ones. But if you need a few more... then make the responsible choice.
Everything boils down to "What next?".
Your First Line of Defense
Reusable alternatives — from tote bags that replace plastic shopping bags to travel mugs, glass straws, and washable makeup pads instead of single-use cotton rounds — are a step in the right direction, as disposables and single-use plastics pose a major threat to the environment.
Oh and here's how you tick all the zero waste checkboxes- the next time you flex hauls of glass jars from big-box stores, we'd suggest that next time should check their local thrift stores first.
Besides these, buying less, even of things deemed environmentally friendly, contribute to less waste too. All in all, zero waste is about intention. It isn’t about buying the right things. It is about caring about the right things.
-Deveshi Roy from Wobh