I’ve been seeing them more and more - videos across the internet with the clickbait title “I tried zero waste for a week.” I have such a love/hate relationship with these videos because on the one hand, the first time I ever heard about zero waste was from a Buzzfeed video titled “I Tried to Make Zero Trash for 30 Days.” I actually highly recommend this video, and you can watch it here. But so many of the videos I’ve seen since seem to do a disservice to this lifestyle.
Zero Waste Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Videos reviewing the zero waste lifestyle over the course of a short period of time often make the transition seem difficult. Trying to make any major lifestyle change overnight is overwhelming and can often lead to failure. I can’t even count how many times I decided I was going to start working out again and went at it hard for a week or so right away and then just...stopped. It’s exhausting, draining, and frustrating. The same is true for zero waste. If you wake up one day and decide to go zero waste, you will drive yourself crazy.
There’s so much information out there about zero waste, low impact, and plastic free living that it’s pretty easy to get yourself stuck down a rabbit hole of new information. Believe me, I’ve been there. And once you’re aware, it’s really frustrating when you can’t make every change immediately. But it’s important to pace ourselves and remember why we’re making these changes in the first place.
Efficiency Takes Time
When you’re used to doing things one way and then suddenly try to change to doing them another way, it’s going to take longer to accomplish these things until you’re used to the new way. Grocery shopping zero waste, for example, takes some adjusting. When I first decided to pursue a zero waste lifestyle, I knew I was going to have to change my shopping habits. Step one? Scout out the grocery stores in my area. I took a couple hours one day just to walk around the different grocery stores around me to understand what they offered that would align with my zero waste changes, and how the stores were laid out. I didn’t buy anything that day. In hindsight, this was probably one of my best decisions. By the time I was ready to go zero waste grocery shopping, I knew what I could get and where.
However, it still takes a while to get comfortable with this new shopping style. Using your own bags, jars, and containers is not typical in today’s society. So making the adjustment and finding what works for you and what doesn’t takes time. Beyond that, sometimes you find yourself with a cashier that’s never experienced someone using their own jars before, and this can slow your trip down, too. It’s important to have patience and remember that it will get easier as time goes on. Just like with anything else, it will become habit.
Check out my two-part video series on zero waste grocery shopping for beginners for more practical tips for making this change.
It’s Scary Breaking the Status Quo
As I said, we live in a society where these lifestyle changes are not the norm. So when we walk into a grocery store or coffee shop armed with our own mason jar, it can be a bit intimidating at first. Sometimes, even if it’s your first time doing it, you may be the expert in the room. Fake it ‘til you make it, friends. Pretty soon, you’ll be a pro, and your barista won’t even bat an eye anymore. Change doesn’t happen within the status quo. If we want more options and less weird looks, we have to be brave enough to be the change.
No matter what, always be kind and appreciative. Smile and say please and thank you. We’ll get a whole lot further when we act with kindness, even in the most frustrating of times (we’ve all had them).
You Had a Life Before Zero Waste
My absolute biggest frustration with these videos is the emphasis on either not using the products you already have in your home because they create waste, or being frustrated when you have waste from using these products. This drives me nuts. I’ve been going zero waste for two years now and there are still products in my home that I purchased pre-zero waste that haven’t run out yet. I’m not going to not use them just because they can or will create waste. Throwing them out or letting them go bad in a cabinet is still creating waste.
If you have packaged foods, eat them.
If you have packaged personal care and cleaning products, use them.
Please, I beg of you, do not throw out perfectly good products because they are not unpackaged or plastic free. Moreover, do not feel guilty when you use these products. Use them up until there’s absolutely nothing left, dispose of the packaging properly, and seek out an alternative for their replacement.
“Being zero waste isn’t about doing an extreme challenge, it’s really about being responsible to the world around us. When you change your lifestyle in any fashion, even if it’s not zero waste...there are gonna be frustrating aspects about it. Not because it’s bad, but because you’re changing your habits. And I’m just really excited knowing that every day when I do those things it is something really positive for the world” - Michelle Khare, “We Tried the Zero Waste Lifestyle For a Week”
Zero waste takes time. It takes patience. It takes thoughtfulness. If you’re thinking about trying zero waste, or low impact, or plastic free, or reducing your waste in any way, remember to start small and conquer one challenge at a time.
Never, ever judge yourself or feel guilty for the choices you made before. Do what you can, and if some days you can do more than others, that’s perfectly fine too. There is no zero waste police. Make your own zero waste rules. Live intentionally, be aware, and be kind.