It was almost exactly two years ago today that I embarked on my first ever zero waste grocery shopping adventure. I had just learned of the zero waste lifestyle and jumped into it head-first. I whipped up some produce bags, gathered any mason jars I had lying around, and headed off to Whole Foods. I did pretty well, and I was really proud of myself.
I’ve learned a lot in the last two years, and I’m still constantly learning as I go. Looking back on my journey, here are six things I wish I had known then.
It’s so easy to get caught up.
I became a little obsessed when I first learned of the zero waste lifestyle. It was pretty much all I thought about, to the point that my boyfriend at the time had to sit me down one day and point out to me just how crazy I had gotten about the whole thing, which I truly appreciated.
Of course, the crazy didn’t completely go away, evidenced by the fact that I now have a blog and own a zero waste store, but I realized how easy it is to get yourself down a rabbit hole of information.
One of the reasons I love zero waste so much is that it grounds me. It’s a movement focused on reducing and eliminating trash, but in reality it encompasses so much more than that. I’m reducing my waste in other ways - consuming less animal products, taking shorter showers, turning off the lights, driving less, turning my thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter.
But that’s a lot! And it’s easy to want to learn everything you can all at the beginning. Once you’re aware, you may want to change everything. But it’s important to remember that zero waste is an ideal that doesn’t actually exist yet, so it’s okay to move forward slowly. In fact, it’s encouraged.
You don’t have to do everything at once.
On a similar note, it’s important to remember that going zero waste does not happen overnight. It’s a journey, and there’s no ending point. I’ve been at this for two years now and I still call myself a Zero Waste Wannabe. Enjoy the journey, and remember that every little action we do has an impact. Start somewhere, and grow from there.
Your end goal does not have to be a trash jar.
Let me repeat this one again for the people in the back. Your end goal does not have to be a trash jar. I was a trash jar admirer when I joined this movement, but as I’ve progressed and found what works for me and what doesn’t, I’ve completely abandoned the notion of trash jars. I have an entire post on it here.
Trash jars may be the icon of the zero waste movement, but they do not accurately represent the lifestyle.
If your trash does not fit in a mason jar, that’s fine! If it does, great! But do not get discouraged if it doesn’t. It’s not a requirement to have a trash jar to be zero waste.
People will start apologizing to you.
This is still something I’m struggling with. I love sharing the zero waste journey, and I love showing others how some small changes can add up, but I would never, ever tell someone else how to live their life, or judge someone else for living differently than I do.
It’s absolutely incredible to witness the ripple effect of living this way. I’ve witnessed people adopt new habits countless times, simply from seeing me doing it. It’s breaking down the status quo and opening up new possibilities.
But there have also been countless times that I’ve been out to eat with friends or family, or invited over to a friend or family’s home, and people immediately have started apologizing to me for something they’re using, or for not being more zero waste. These are most often completely unprompted, but apparently my presence is enough of a prompt.
(In fairness, I’m not ashamed to use a real plate or utensils at a gathering when everyone else is using disposable, which has occasionally been the prompting, but I’m still never judging others in these moments - I’m just doing what I do.)
I’m not used to this one yet, and maybe I never will be, but this is definitely not something I anticipated at the beginning.
Be open to learning new things and changing your mind.
Like I’ve said, when you first come into this lifestyle, you may begin reading a ton of news articles and blog posts. It’s so important to stay educated on the topics we care most about. But it’s equally, if not more, important to continue learning and seeking new knowledge.
There is no one way to be zero waste. Everyone’s journey will look different.
Share your experiences and your practices with your friends and family, but if you come across now information or a new way of doing something, don’t be afraid to change, just because “everyone else” in the zero waste lifestyle does it the other way. And don’t be ashamed to share why you’ve changed your practices.
For example, in my previous job, I led a challenge among my coworkers to refuse plastics for a month. I shared my knowledge on how to reduce and refuse plastics in nearly every aspect of life. Since that challenge, I’ve changed a lot of what I do. But at the time, it was what worked for me and I was happy with it.
Keep an open mind, and don’t think that because you change your habits, or you’re doing something differently than you see from Instagram influencers, you’re a failure. There is no failure in zero waste.
You’re finding your own path, and you’re rocking at it.
When you get overwhelmed, take a step back.
There’s a lot to care about in the world. Everyone’s got their “thing” they want you to care about. And it’s all valid. It’s all important. But it’s pretty freaking overwhelming sometimes.
I’ve had my fair share of overwhelm. I’ve had a couple breakdowns from thinking of all the things that could use my care and attention.
But there’s simply no way that we can all take action on every single issue facing our world today. It’s not possible. Find the thing(s) you care most about, and do those things the absolute best you can. Other people care most about the other things, and they’re doing their absolute best to fix those.
When you inevitably find yourself overwhelmed, it’s okay to step back for a bit. Don’t abandon your values, but take some time for self-care - whatever that may be for you. A nice bubble bath, an evening on the couch binge-watching Netflix, a phone call with your mom. Whatever brings you joy, do it. Return refreshed and ready to continue conquering your piece of the puzzle that is life.
If you’ve been living zero waste for a while, what are the things you wish you had known when you started?