Just like with minimalism when all this started, when I stumbled upon the zero waste movement, I asked myself:
How difficult can zero waste be?
And much to my dismay, there is a simple answer to that question and an incredibly complex one.
The simple answer is:
Very fucking difficult.
There’s just no way around it. It’s super hard and not everybody can do it.
But let’s face it. If I settled for a simple answer, I wouldn’t be myself.
So here’s the much more complex answer:
Zero waste is not a singular decision you can make and there are a number of obstacles making it even less achievable. A lot of factors that can impact the level of difficulty and they will affect different people in a variety of ways.
I feel the need to make a disclaimer that the list below is by no means complete. If only because there are factors that don’t affect me and so I’m not as aware of them.
Anyway: here are the things making zero waste more difficult than it could be.
Depending on where you live and how much money you make, zero waste is a thing you can or can’t attempt.
- There are countries where recycling schemes are horrible, or nonexistent.
- There are places where composting is not an option (hello big urban areas).
- There are stores where things in plastic cost less than without the packaging.
- There are people who can’t afford the more sustainable but also more expensive alternatives.
- There are cities with amazing public transport and there are people living in places where you have to drive a car for hours before you reach civilization.
There are other examples, but you get my drift, right?
EXPECTATIONS VS. REALITY
Wherever we like it or not, when people discover zero waste they start getting preconceptions. It might be that they expect the goal to be fitting a year’s worth of waste into a cute mason jar. It might be the white and clean aesthetic that Instagram promotes in the minimalist space. It might be saying no to all plastics and calling those who don’t turtle murderers (which, by the way, don’t do that).
Meanwhile, zero waste is dirty and smelly at times. Because composting, and because loose vegetables aren’t always the cleanest, and because making your own deodorant sometimes means more sweat and some smell before you find a good formula that works on you.
Zero waste takes time. Be it because you need to find the right stores who offer products you want without plastic, or because you need to hunt online for package free and sustainable solutions.
Zero waste takes effort. Because you need to do more than just make a single decision to not buy plastic. You need to stick with it. You need to actually make your own lunch and remember to bring it to work. You need to keep telling yourself not to buy that snack or that coffee to go. You need to read labels and figure out how much waste it will add.
And if you don’t expect any of it, you will not stick with it.
Here’s a thing: we are screwed. The environment is not doing so good. We really need to take action because if we’re not trying to fix the world, there won’t be a world for future generations…
And I’m not even being overly dramatic.
This kind of desperation makes some people feel like they need to aggressively police the community because we can’t afford to make mistakes. You see it in the zero waste community online and you see it in the vegan community and in the minimalist community (though, perhaps, it’s there for different reasons).
“You’re doing it wrong.”
Everyone sharing their journey online will see that comment at one point or another. This lack of support, combined with lack of understanding from your friends and family, makes sticking with it a challenge. There’s not many people to go to with your doubts or simply to talk.
And a support network can often make or break your resolve. How can you lower your waste if your family keeps buying excessive plastic stuff or refuses to try out DIY sustainable alternatives?
So yes. Zero waste is difficult. And an almost impossible goal to achieve. Which is why I’m a much bigger fan of the low impact movement. Which has a lower barrier for entry and is much more forgiving to those who struggle.
But still, it’s something we shouldn’t give up on, just because it’s hard.