I wish I didn't care about sustainability. Here's why.

A Drop in the Ocean Zero Waste Store: I wish I didn't care about sustainability

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on August 7, 2023.

I stood over the stove with a Pyrex full of melted candle wax and bamboo toothbrush handles laid out in front of me. 

I had already spent at least an hour, if not two, melting all of the spent candles that had been collecting between the two of us, and washing each glass vessel by hand before loading them into the dishwasher for a final clean, and now here I was trying to make use of the 2 ½ cups of melted wax and fistful of worn-out toothbrushes collecting dust.

“I wish I didn’t care about sustainability,” I sighed in defeat to my partner in the other room.

“Me too, sometimes.” There was zero hesitation in his reply.


“Yeah. There are so many times I just want to throw something away or do something unsustainable, but I hear your voice in my head and just can’t do it. I’m glad you’ve had this kind of influence on me, but sometimes I just want to do the easy thing.”

My partner and I just moved in together last month, and as anyone knows, moving - and especially combining households - comes with a whole lot of closet cleanouts.

And in my pre-zero waste wannabe days, these cleanouts would break down into three categories:

  1. Trash (aka, “I just don’t wanna deal with it”)
  2. Recycling (mostly incorrectly, I might add)
  3. Donating (even the things that’ll probably never make it onto a resale shelf)

But now, it’s become a constant battle.

“These shoes are in rough shape, but I don’t want to just throw them away.”
“These five straw sleeves are perfectly usable, but they’re clearly from swag bags and not exactly donatable.”
“These candles are totally used up but there’s gotta be another use for all this leftover wax?”

It’s not as simple anymore as, “Does this bring me joy? No? Toss it.”

Now it’s, “Do I know someone else who can use this? Is it actually in donate-able condition? What will this item’s end of life look like? Can I use it for something else?”

And friend, it’s freaking exhausting sometimes.

Those candle jars? Google suggested I make fire starters with them. The new house has a fire pit, and I’d just removed the bristles from 10 bamboo toothbrushes. Let’s make some fire starters!

But after making all those fire starters, I’m still left with over 2 cups of melted candle wax, an unusable Pyrex measuring cup until I find a use for all that melted candle wax, and a horde of empty candle jars that may or may not be recyclable?

Living a zero waste lifestyle is about living in alignment with your values. And I am so here for that. 

It makes me feel good to know that the choices I make every single day reflect the core values that I hold true.

But man, on-and-off-again over these last couple of weeks I sure have missed the ease and the mindlessness of those pre-zero waste days.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t go back to those days for anything.

But this moment between my partner and I yesterday…this moment of vocalizing the very last thing I should say aloud…it got me thinking.

This is why we need better access to ~truly~ sustainable products and resources.

Sure, candles are in glass. And glass is kinda the MVP of zero waste. But we can’t just toss spent candles into our recycling bins. Empty, clean, and dry. That’s the rules of recycling. So then we have to spend our time, our energy, and our resources to empty those jars, clean them out, and get them in the proper recycling channels.

Meanwhile, Bath and Body Works just keeps on keeping on, making more candles and making more money and not thinking for two seconds about what happens to all of those candle jars when they’re empty.

Sure, there’s a new company out there making candle refills, but those come in non-compostable plastic bags and you still end up with leftover unusable wax at the end.

The onus is on us.

We have to make the conscious effort every single day to do the “right thing” with our waste.

Time that could be spent in other, more joyous, ways are now spent cleaning up after the companies that sold us this stuff in the first place.

Even if that product is marketed as “sustainable,” what’s that company doing to take responsibility for the waste that product creates?

If they’re not taking it back, not offering you proper recycling or reuse channels, not creating products that don’t produce any waste in the first place, it’s ultimately just more work for us. 

More work for you.

And I say that’s BS.

Yeah, I’m gonna keep taking the time to clean out my candle jars. 
And I’m gonna buy some candle wicks and make some new candles out of the extra wax.
And I’m gonna figure out if the empty vessels fall under “glass jars” recycling rules or “drinking glasses” recycling rules.
And I’m gonna offer them to my Buy Nothing Group before recycling them and I’m going to keep doing things the eco-way.

But I’m also going to keep advocating for bigger changes.

And I’m going to keep making choices for A Drop in the Ocean that continue to keep the burden of proper disposal completely off of you. 

I’m going to keep taking your empty jars and bottles back for reuse at zero cost to you (money or time). 

I’m going to keep offering totally package-free products so you don’t have to Google whether the box is compostable or recyclable.

Because if we truly want to see a sustainable future for all living things, this is what we need.

So, friend, I tell you all of this not to complain about my time spent in the kitchen yesterday, but to remind you that it’s okay…no…it’s normal to feel frustrated sometimes. To feel burnt out. To want to take the easy way out instead of the planet-friendly way.

The system is rigged against us.

So be proud of what you’re doing. You’re going against the status quo. 

In the words of our friends over at Life Unplastic in Gainesville, Florida - You’re actually a disrupter and you should feel proud about that, you rebel, you.

I’m so proud of you.

And I’m so proud of you for being part of this community of fellow disrupters and EcoWarriors - making change, one jar of laundry detergent at a time.

P.S. If you work for the City of Tacoma or have a concrete answer as to whether or not candle jars are recyclable, will you please let me know? Muchas gracias 💙


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