An article was recently published in the New York Post arguing, in summary, that zero waste is expensive and zero wasters won’t settle for “regular” grocery store foods, and instead want to pay $10 a pound for pasta.
As a zero waste wannabe myself, I’m saying oh hell no to that.
Can we, as a community, check our privilege for a second? I will preface everything I’m saying here with the fact that I recognize I am immensely privileged. But I’m also in school, and currently without an income. Do I want to save the planet? Absolutely. Do I love zero waste? Of course. Do I want to pay $10 a pound for pasta when I can get it for $2 in a cardboard box with only a small plastic window that I can tear out and recycle the rest, or even from a “regular” grocery store bulk bin for the same price without any packaging at all? Hell. No.
I may be a zero waste wannabe, and I may be privileged, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a cash-strapped broke college student millennial drowning in student debt. I buy everything I can from the bulk bins, and sometimes, when I am able, I spend a little more on my groceries to get a higher quality or package free product. I also believe that in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to choose between package free and organic. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and right now, I’m not at all in a place where I can always choose package free or organic. Sometimes, I have to go with the cheapest option.
How are we supposed to encourage people to try out this lifestyle if we advertise it like this?
Now, I understand the laws of supply and demand. And I understand that this article was written in New York, where everything is more expensive. But the sweeping generalization that all zero wasters are willing to pay significantly more for products is simply inaccurate and misleading about this lifestyle.
“‘Ordinary food’ just won’t cut it for proponents of the zero-waste lifestyle.... The bulk goods these environmentalist eaters crave are ideally organic, sustainably produced and locally sourced.” - Excerpt from New York Post article, 26 Dec 2018
This article, in its brevity, also represents zero waste as a perfectionist lifestyle. The author cites Lauren Singer’s trash jar (as any New York journalist would). If you’re unfamiliar with Lauren, her trash jar is 16 ounces, and holds all of her trash from the last five years or so. The author then goes on to say “she hasn’t quite reached the zero-waste ideal yet.”
...Um, excuse me?
Forget the fact that trash jars are bull. Zero waste does not exist in our current economy. To produce that little trash is an absolute feat, and to diminish this effort and say that she hasn’t reached “perfection” yet is so incredibly exclusionary...I can’t even.
Then again, it kind of fits with the rest of the article.
Listen to me, cash-strapped zero waste wannabes of the world. You do not have to pay $10 for a pound of pasta to be a “good environmentalist.” You do not have to fit all of your trash for the rest of your life into one mason jar. You do not have to be perfect. None of us are. Do what you can. Find what works for you. Live your values. I think you’re amazing, and I am proud of your efforts. Keep it up.