zero waste

Individual vs. Corporate: The Zero Waste dilemma

Anne-Marie Bonneau (Zero Waste Chef) said: 

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

And I wholeheartedly agree with her. Because while the impact an individual person can have on the world around them is minimal, a group of people can definitely change the odds. I quote Anne-Marie to a lot of people because I feel it’s a very important message.

We need to change people’s attitude and perception of how much change they can affect.

I feel like zero waste suffers from the same problem as voting in an election. A lot of people don’t make the changes in their lives (and don’t go to vote) because they give up before even joining the race. “My vote doesn’t count”, they say as one of the reasons they didn’t participate in the last elections. “One person can’t change anything,” they say as they buy item heavily wrapped in plastic that they don’t attempt to recycle.

Then there are people who don’t believe individuals can affect change in the current capitalist culture and that it’s on the corporations to actually change their production processes to improve their sustainability and lessen the impact they’re having on the environment. I listened to Chelsea Fagan from the Financial Diet talk about that in one of her videos about exactly that issue and it got me thinking.

Chelsea is right. Corporations have incredible and more often than not a devastating impact on our environment. But Anne-Marie and her campaign to get as many individuals to participate in zero waste is also correct.

Here’s a thing: I don’t believe it’s an either/or dilemma. I think we need to push for both solutions at the same time. We are in desperate need of change. We can’t afford to be picky when it comes to strategies of saving the planet. Not to mention both approaches are connected, as far as I can tell.

Changing Individual habits

If one person changes their habits when it comes to consumerism and pursuing more sustainable solutions, their impact on the environment will be minimal. But if seeing them work to avoid the environmental disaster we’re currently racing towards could inspire 10 more people, and in turn, those ten people inspire 10 people each, and so on and so on, we’re quickly looking at an immense amount of people.

In that scenario, I’m not just one person pursuing zero waste, I’m the one-millionth person pursuing zero waste and my low impact on the environment is compounded by the million people walking this path with me. I am not one person. I am legion.

Changing corporate practices

Once the legion of people doing zero waste is big enough, the impact will be felt by the corporations when their unsustainable products are no longer bringing in the kind of profits they are used to. And because profit is really the only thing corporations care about, it would force them to turn towards different practices. At least, you know, hopefully.

But say they do turn to more sustainable production practices, find a way to preserve their product and transport it without plastic packaging, etc.

The moment sustainable products, recyclable packaging, and better zero waste options become available, even more people will turn towards the practice. Because suddenly being more environmentally friendly will be at least a little easier.

It’s all a vicious circle

That’s the problem I think. The individual practices influence the corporate practices which in turn influence individual practices, and so on, and so on…

It’s a perpetual force that can feed itself, and it’s getting over that first hurdle that makes things so much more difficult.

We’re at that stage. Sustainable products are expensive and not easily accessible, making the effort people have to put in so much harder to accomplish and so much more difficult to access. And because it’s not accessible and hard, not many people actually last in the effort, meaning that the impact their spending habits have on the corporations’ bottom line isn’t as strong as it needs to be to affect more change…

It’s all very frustrating.

Which is why it’s so important there are public speakers and bloggers demystifying zero waste and showing people it could be easy and making small changes can have an impact. Which is why I’m pursuing my journey online, hoping I can convince even one person to try it with me. And to keep myself motivated to stay on this Path To Less.

It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be worth it.

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