We spend our days in ways that are unique to each of our lives and consequently, we create waste in ways that are unique to each of our lives.
The unspoken reality of the low impact and zero-waste movements is that reducing waste will vary from person to person. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. The differences in our income, our proximity to bulk food stores, accessibility to public transportation, eatings habits, consumer tendencies, etc, is reflected in the kind of waste we create.
For one person, bringing a to-go mug to work will prevent 5 single-use cups of coffee from going to a landfill every week. For others a to-go mug isn't impactful because they don't drink coffee on the go, so the to-go mug wouldn't be wise purchase would end up idling in the cupboard, taking up space.
While there are 'recommended' steps to be eco-friendly and the 'easiest' ways to go zero-waste, the reality is that we just need to look at our selves (and our waste) in the mirror, and make changes that are personal to each of us. Taking a peak into a garbage can (and recycling bin) will tell tales of how someone consumes, and is the first step that everyone can take to reduce their waste.
When I first assessed the waste I was creating I wasn't all that surprised. My garbage fell into two categories, and were pretty much all attributed to a lack of preparedness, lack of intention with my time, and lack of research.
This is the waste I was creating
- wrappers from protein bars & the odd to-go snack;
- the plastic tops and seals of nut milk containers;
- plastic labels and plasticized paper labels for cans and jars;
- sealable plastic bags from frozen fruit;
- empty mascara, foundation and concealer 'containers';
- qtips; and
- plastic seals on skin care products.
I'm pretty proud that I don't produce too much waste, but I know that I can do better. Taking a step back, I was able to discern similar root reasons why I was creating this waste, and the actions I should take.
Being better prepared with my food options (i.e having many snacks on hand) enabled me to eliminate the wrappers from protein bars and to-go snacks from my waste. I packed more nutrient rich snacks that would fill me up until the end of the day, which was when I would usually reach for my wallet and head out to buy something to-do.
Being deliberate with my time meant that I wasn't ending up with as many plastic labels and plasticized paper labels on cans and jars. I typically buy things in bulk, but with the winter, and very limited access to a car, I made excuses. I naively (and guiltily) thought that 'well at least the cans and jars are recyclable'. The cans and jars might be, but the labels, seals and caps weren't. What's more, is that it was probably just as much effort to take into account what I had then going out to a bulk or my local zero-waste store to buy everything I needed as it was to separate, sort and clean the plastic and glass to recycle.
Being deliberate with my time also involved thinking ahead - so if I knew I had friends coming over and we'd want something like hummus and veggies to snack on, I would make sure to soak and cook my chickpeas in advance to make my own hummus. Being more deliberate with my planning meant thinking of my needs in advance helped me avoid having to rush to the grocery store to buy the plastic heavy alternative.
Tackling the waste created by my makeup containers was challenging and these are a source of waste that I need to dive deeper on. I've improved tremendously since doing research on sustainable disposal methods - like TerraCycle, which enables me recycles the "difficult to recycle" containers at the terra20 store near my home.
There is waste that I create that I don't yet have a solution for. But that's alright, because I would rather make educated changes that can be sustained and that are personal to my life and my waste than to rush to buy all the zero-waste products under the sun. There is no single formula to save the planet, simply singular people finding their solutions, taking action on their own, for a collective impact.