Zero waste living can be, let’s face it, pretty off-putting sometimes. Surely we’ve all felt bad about ourselves after spending far too long scrolling through perfectly curated capsule wardrobes on Pinterest, only to sheepishly glance over at own mismatched, overflowing closets. Or been absolutely bewildered by the infamous ‘See this mason jar? It holds all the rubbish I’ve produced in seven years’.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who gets super motivated by images like this. If you are, hell yeah, good on you, keep on trucking. But if you are at all like me and you can’t picture getting to a point in your life where you can realistically cut out everything that can’t be composted or fully recycled, then I am extremely delighted to announce that you don’t have to and you can still make a difference.
I don’t believe in black-or-white, all-or-nothing ultimatums. I never have, really. My life has been an overarching series of the neither here nor there; little bit of this, little bit of that; the perennially in between. As, chances are, has yours. I think that the single largest foible of the so-called ‘zero waste’ movement is in the name itself. Zero waste. Zero. The name itself is a turn-off for a lot of people, and understandably so.
When people think about a zero-waste lifestyle, they may picture extremes: growing their own food and bathing in a stream, or living in a platinum LEED-certified high-rise apartment, welcoming a new day with a warm reishi, maca root, insert other supplement here latte.
Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either of those situations. My pants would burst into flames if I said I had never happily imagined living out a tie-dyed, crunchy granola fantasy for the rest of my days or to say that I had never dreamed of being able to afford my own wardrobe full of ethically-produced clothing and kitchen chock-a-block with local, in-season, organic produce. But to believe that you have to subscribe entirely to any kind of totality in order to live sustainably is just not true.
The sheer speed and intensity of a modern life usually brings along well-worn phrases like ‘Go big or go home!’, or ‘Yes! You really can have it all!’. But I’m here to advocate for something else; the belief that you don’t have to do everything all the time. There are infinite ways to live more sustainably in appealing and accessible ways. I am constantly struck by the irony of a movement advocating ‘sustainable’ lifestyles to a mass awareness through ideals and practices that can be so…well…unsustainable to actually maintain or afford. Making a commitment to sustainability begins with a shift in mindset. It’s about trying things out and learning what works for you as well as what doesn’t. You don’t have to adopt every sustainable practice or tip you encounter. Start by integrating the ones you feel good about and go from there.
Natasha O’Byrne is a recovering academic and intersectional environmental enthusiast (try saying that five times fast). She can be found on Instagram @_absoluterubbish where she kindles conversations about the bigger questions and issues surrounding holistic sustainability.