What I wish I knew when I was started Zero waste, the good, the bad and the ugly. So we’ve got 10 things that I wish I knew. We’re going to start with the good and end with the not so great.
#1. I wish I knew the amount of money that you could save.
Zero waste, in its essence, is an oppositional movement to conventional wisdom of buy, buy, buy, buy, buy. That is something that we have been taught since we are little to do. We even have “retail therapy,” which makes us feel better if we go out and shop like that is something that is talked about, like it’s normal. Making that mind shift from, do I want it to do I need it is really, really important.
That doesn’t mean that I never impulse buy or buy something that I just want. It simply means that I am a lot more aware of my purchases as I move through life. And it also saves you money because. A lot of times you are looking for what is already in the waste stream. So we are avoiding buying new.
And instead we are looking at secondhand shops. We are looking online. We are looking at yard sales or flea markets or things that are already there and likely are a lot less expensive than they would be if we bought them brand new (and generally better quality, too).
#2) Freedom from consumerism.
I have a very simple checklist that I go through when it comes to deciding what to buy: necessity, first; sustainability, second; and desire, third. So before I started this, I loved TJ Maxx with a burning passion. I refused to go in there simply because. It was a minefield for my wallet. I would always come out with something that I wasn’t expecting to buy. It wasn’t part of my plan, and I’d end up spending way more money than I had wanted to.
After that, a couple of years ago, I went in after I’d been on this journey for a little bit, and there was basically nothing in the store that I really wanted to buy. I was like, well, I don’t need that. I don’t need that. I really don’t need that. And it’s just so freeing to not be like, oh, I have to constantly make decisions to not buy something because that desire isn’t there in the first place.
#3 Less Cleaning
Another bonus is that because we’re reducing the amount that we consume, by default, you generally also have less stuff in your house. Having less stuff in your house means less cleaning.
And for someone who does not like to clean, that is so helpful. And it is anxiety reducing for me. As I have said before, I have anxiety and depression and they are most definitely compounded when the space around me is a mess and this gets into a vicious cycle in the winter. When I don’t have the energy to come home from work and clean, so everything just gets messy.
And then we’re in this doom spiral and honestly, who doesn’t love less to clean makes it look prettier. Don’t have to worry about it as much.
#4 Quality of the product.
So when I do decide to invest in a product, especially sustainable products. That’s exactly what I view it as an investment.
Yes. It’s more expensive upfront, but that also means that you buy this once and you are done. Like, for example, I just bought a Gua sha stone and real face roller from Mount Lai, and it wasn’t a little bit more expensive than I normally do, but they’re carbon neutral, they are a female Asian owned business, and they are ethical.
So I have more faith in the quality of their product lasting me versus going to Walmart and buying one. And I don’t know when that’s going to break or if I drop it the wrong way, is it going to crack in two because it was poorly designed. These are the things that I think about as I’m going, and I can tell you, I have saved a lot of money simply by not having to repeat, buy things from things that I’ve already bought.
So things last a lot longer and it’s great. Now there is a very real privilege here. I have some extra money. I have a job so I can have extra money, so I am able to do this. It is not a requirement to go buy these incredibly expensive things in order to be zero waste. As I’ve said, I am sharing my experience with zero waste.
This is my experience, but you do not have to buy these expensive things in order to go zero waste. This can also apply to secondhand stores. This is some of my favorite things. All of my cast iron pans have come from either secondhand stores or as hand-me-downs from my grandparents.
And they last so long, they last pretty much forever. And they’re fantastic. Whole other episode on that coming up.
One last positive thing that I wish I knew about zero waste before I started is the resourcefulness that I would find. When you don’t want to go out and just buy a new thing, you figure out how to extend the life of the things that you already have, or you find a way to use them in a new way to accomplish that new task.
So, what will I do with this after it’s used up? How can I repair or mend it in order to extend its usefulness? Or how can I use it up completely? I had a stack of old toothpaste tubes before I had switched to my toothpaste bites and literally just cut them open, used a scraper and put it into a little jar to use everything in there in order to get the most use out of it.
Those are the positive things. Some of the not so great things that I wish I had known before I dove into the zero waste lifestyle.
#1 So goddamn easy to fall into the zero waste aesthetic instead of the core values of zero waste.
I know when I was first getting into it, I would be on Instagram, I would be on Pinterest, and I would see all of these gorgeous, gorgeous things and cabinets and pantries. And I was just like, okay, that’s the zero waste look. That is how it is supposed to look. That is what I need to do. This is the reason why so many people think that zero waste is expensive, that you have to go buy these things or else you’re not “zero waste enough.”
There is no gate-keeping in zero waste. We’re all on a journey, and we need to stop thinking that we have to be X, Y, or Z in order to be zero waste enough. You don’t need stylish stuff in order to go zero waste. In fact, if you are throwing out perfectly usable things in order to replace it with that, that is going against the zero waste tenets. You need to refuse, reduce, and reuse before you go and buy those sustainable items.
#2 Eco Guilt
This next one hits me real hard. And that is eco guilt. So for those of you who don’t know, eco guilt is this very specific type of guilt that comes from thinking about your impact on the planet and the impact of your actions on the planet.
This tends to happen to me when I am falling down a rabbit hole of I’ve bought something unsustainable (for example, individually wrapped candies.) And I’m just like, “oh my God, this is terrible. These are going to end, like these are plastic. These are going to end up as microplastics,” and I just bring myself down and. It’s very rarely a kind picture that this eco guilt goes on that said cut yourself some grace.
Zero waste is hard. It is not the common thing to do. We are still a very small, but mighty sector of the general populous who are trying to reduce our waste. Do not guilt yourself when still 71% of the carbon emissions come from companies, not individual action.
If Coronavirus has shown us anything, it’s that we need to hold companies accountable for their actions, because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to address this climate crisis.
Especially when you’re first getting into it, it can sometimes be hard not to be judgy.
I’m definitely nonot proud of this at all. When I first got into this, this was judging people based on what they are purchasing. This was especially prevalent at the grocery store when I would look and see all of the plastic wrapped item and all the processed food and X, Y, and Z.
And that’s BS. Like I still buy unsustainable stuff. Like there’s no reason to judge other people. It’s ubiquitous in our society. Plastic is everywhere. So it’s not surprising that plastic is going to worm its way into our lives. I once read that the initial thought that you have when reacting to something is what society has taught you. But the second thought is yours. We have to live with grace and our thoughts and know that others will do so as well.
#4 ZW is draining
You end up rethinking every stinking aspect of your life. Zero waste is so worth it, but sometimes it is very draining. It’s everywhere, not just in your kitchen. You question every single decision that you’re making when it comes to bringing something into the home.
And that can be really mentally taxing, especially if you’re already living with mental illness and you’ve got other stuff that you have to take care of. Adding this on top can be really hard. This is why you need to give yourself grace and, linking back up with eco guilt, environmental concern can kind of overrun you if you’re not careful with it.
So just like everything else you do, you need to make sure that you are doing zero waste in a way that you’re going to be able to commit to and keep with it does no good. If you’re zero waste for three weeks and then for four months, you just swear off of it because you can’t do it anymore.
#5 Buying stuff becomes harder
And then the last thing is that buying stuff. Becomes harder. So this is both a good and a bad thing. So when you get into zero waste, often you will also think about ethics company, mission company acts, et cetera, things that are a more holistic view of a company, rather than just, “Hey, is this the cheapest I can get this particular product?”
Which is good, in that we are voting with our dollar. And that is one of the only things that America will hear is voting with the dollar. But also, as I said before, if it becomes mentally taxing.