I wanted to share a few times recently that I haven’t been “zero waste:” I bought soba noodles in plastic packaging because I loooove them and can’t find them in bulk. I broke a ceramic mug whose pieces weren’t recyclable. I buy some supplements like B12 and probiotics, and their plastic safety seals have to go in the trash, though the bottles themselves are recyclable. My sunscreen + some skincare products I'm not willing to live without come in plastic, and some are recyclable and some aren't.
I say this not as a confessional, but to address how to approach sustainability realistically, flexibly.
It’s true that I don’t make very much trash – maybe a little bag of trash each month and an armful of recycling. But I definitely don’t reach “zero” waste. I think for most of us who use the term, the word “zero” is an approximation or a goal, not the literal reality. I’m close to zero and always trying to get better, but I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get there.
All I can do my best, and know that it’s good enough. I wanted to write this so that you know that yours is, too. Whether you take out the trash once a year or once a week, I really believe that what the world needs is people who care and act and try and fail and try again. What our environmental problems demand isn’t perfect sustainability from a few people, but general sustainability from all of us.
I worry that the label “zero” in “zero waste” is too intimidating and keeps people from believing that even a small reduction in the amount of disposable goods they use is worthwhile, even if they can’t make it anywhere close to zero.
If the label “zero” is intimidating to you, it’s perfectly fine to discard it. Instead, think about what changes you can feasibly make and start there. If you’ve started bringing your own coffee cup with you everywhere, amazing. If you compost but are still for the time being wedded to yogurt from the grocery store, who cares. I hope this comes as encouragement to work on what you can instead of feeling daunted.
Do what you can. Give yourself grace. Start somewhere. I’m cheering you on.
PS More inspiration in the same vein, here.