My zero-waste journey was born out of a guilty conscience. The more I learnt about the global waste problem, I felt uneasy. Accepting the fact that I am consuming more than necessary and mustering the courage to face it, isn’t as easy as it sounds. To minimise my sense of guilt, instead of confronting the problem, I looked for instant solutions.
A quick search for ‘eco-friendly’ products will give you a million results. I thought adding some of these zero-waste products to my online cart would ease my predicament. When the products finally reached me in unsustainable packaging (not to forget the emissions from shipping!), the irony dawned on me. My purchases are part of the problem.
Buying more is not a solution
Don’t let the clothes from H&M’ s Conscious collection or the stylish reusable tote bags distract you from the main problem: We are still buying a lot more than what we need. We are constantly surrounded by products and advertisements that urge us to buy items that we don’t necessarily need or use! The more stuff we buy, the more we need to throw away.
Buying more is the anti-thesis of a waste-free life. We shouldn’t let ‘zero-waste’ be another consumer lifestyle. A waste-free life should stem from a change in mindset. It is about building a habit of making the best of what we already have. The Rs that can drive this mindset are:
- Refuse: Don’t worry if you don’t own a reusable straw. You can choose to refuse the non-essential item when you order a drink.
- Reuse: I keep a little pouch of reusable cutlery in my bag. You don’t necessarily need to buy bamboo cutlery exclusively for that. Pick a spoon and fork from your kitchen drawer.
- Reduce: The most sustainable clothes are the ones in your wardrobe. Use what you already have before you purchase new ‘sustainable’ clothing.
- Repurpose: Mason jars are a pretty addition to your kitchen and a useful tool in bulk grocery shopping. If you don’t want to invest in new ones, you can repurpose your old jam jars or pasta sauce jars and reuse them as containers.
- Repair: Mend the torn handle of your bag before you purchase a new reusable one.
Do I not buy things anymore? Of course I still buy items, but my reasons to buy has changed. I think I am a lot more conscious about what I buy (What is it made up of? Can it be reused, composted or recycled?), why I buy something (Do I really need it? Is there a better alternative?), and where I buy it from (I choose to buy local, second-hand and from independent stores that share my values. Giant online marketplaces like Amazon don’t make the cut).
Keep your eyes on the goal
Is it completely wrong to buy zero-waste products? No!
If it helps in encouraging a new lifestyle and makes you rethink your wasteful practices, then go ahead. When I got my first set of reusable straws and cutlery as a gift, it empowered me and I felt inspired to start new habits. Every time I refused a straw or pulled out a reusable straw to drink, a lot of curious eyes fell on me. Either people who are dining with me or the restaurant manager would have questions and that always encouraged a healthy discussion about the plastic crisis. Something seemingly trivial as a straw, often led to talks about how industries fuel plastic pollution! At the end, everyone had something to think about and a small action led to more awareness. Win-win!
An initial investment in basics like a reusable bottle or bag can be helpful as long as it motivates you to focus on the above mentioned Rs and make more conscious decisions.
The idea is to keep eyes on the goal: send less waste to the landfill. With that in your mind, you’ll be able to adapt and make smarter choices for you and the planet.