I started Zero Waste in earnest when my husband and I bought our first house three years ago. I now had space to move and think, compared to our one bedroom apartment we’d lived in previously. Here is what I wish I’d known when I first started.
- The amount of money you save
- The freedom from consumerism
- Less stuff → less cleaning
- Quality of product → increased life span of product
- Easy to fall into Zero Waste “aesthetic” instead of the core of Zero Waste
- Eco guilt is real
- It’s hard not to be judgy
- You end up re-thinking every aspect of your life.
- Buying stuff becomes harder (ethics, company mission, company acts, etc)
1. The amount of money you save
Zero Waste, at its core, is an oppositional movement to consumerism. In America (and likely other places in the world), we’re taught to buy, buy, buy, and want more more more from birth. This is something that pervades our life, and many of us don’t even question it.
Retail therapy is thrown around as a legitimate way of dealing with issues in your life. When you make the mindset shift, however, to one that embraces Zero Waste, you find yourself questioning the necessity of items and whether you can make something that does the job just as well, which saves you money by simply not buying anything.
You also look for products that are already in the waste stream, e.g. you’re shopping garage sales, estate sales, second-hand shops. This gives new life to previously-loved items, and extends their lives, and saves your wallet, since items on the second-hand market are usually less expensive compared to buying new (of the same quality).
2. The freedom from consumerism
To build off the first one, the newfound freedom from consumerism is really liberating. With the mindset shift of necessity first, sustainability second, and desire third, it’s really helped me reduce the amount of stuff that I buy.
I used to absolutely love going to TJ Maxx to wander around and find cute things to gawk at and resist buying. It was a minefield for my wallet. I couldn’t go in there without impulse buying one thing or another.
In contrast, when I go in there, I look for what I need, and if it doesn’t fit the bill, I move on. That’s not to say that I never fall victim to my impulses, but I have stretched it much farther between.
3. Less stuff → less cleaning
Zero Waste goes hand-in-hand with minimalism in many ways. When you focus on what you really need versus what you want, you’re naturally going to bring fewer things into your home.
When there are fewer things around, there is not quite as much to work around and collect dust, so it’s easier to do a quick clean up of your home. As a busy woman who runs a business while working a full time job, this is huge for me.
As a bonus, by reducing the amount of stuff I have in the house, I’ve increased the blank space in my house (that space that isn’t occupied by stuff). This, in turn, makes me feel less overwhelmed and has helped me with my anxiety.
4. Quality of product → increased life span of product
When I do end up purchasing something, it’s rarely on impulse. I’ve made sure to research my options, not only to get the best overall deal, but also so that it meets my expectations for performance. I’d rather drop an extra $200 on a washer that has fantastic reviews and is energy-star certified and uses less water per wash, than save the money and waste the energy and water.
Now, I understand that this comes from a place of privilege, but this can be applied to second-hand shops as well. I bought my desk at a second-hand shop that I like to check out frequently, since it was something that I’ve been wanting to buy/make. I used to use my plastic folding table, which meant that any time that I went to a craft fair or farmer’s market, I had to clean my desk off completely and bring it with me, which was tedious to say the least. But this desk is something that I would not have been able to efficiently make, and it’s significantly better quality than I would have found at a store for $40.
Another huge thing that I have found is that ZW has increased my resourcefulness. I grew up in a frugal household, so I have some background with resourcefulness, but I got lax with it when I started making a decent income. I started thinking more about convenience, and that ended up with more waste than I would care to admit.
However, the switch to ZW has definitely improved my resourcefulness and repurposing powers significantly. I look for things that I can upcycle into elements of my craft fair display or as decor for our house. I will mend the holes in my jean thighs to extend their lives. I will compost so that I can make food for our garden. This has helped us significantly.
However, there are some harder things that come with Zero Waste.
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1. Easy to fall into ZW “aesthetic” instead of the core of ZW
It is so easy to fall into the Zero Waste aesthetic and believe that in order to be Zero Waste, you have to buy a KeepCup and have a pantry lined with gorgeous, perfectly matching jars that you fill exclusively from bulk bins. You need to have that bamboo cutlery set and those absolutely adorable set of napkins. Although those are all fine, you cannot buy yourself a ZW mindset. The very first R is to refuse. Make do with what you have until it’s completely used up, then find a more sustainable alternative. Zero waste starts with a mindset shift.
2. Eco guilt is real
Ohmygod. Eco guilt, for those who don’t know, is the unique sense of guilt that overcomes you when you fall down the rabbit hole of how your actions impact the planet. It rarely paints a kind picture (or at least, that’s how it works for me. Thanks anxiety brain!).
For example, I have a certifiable sweet tooth. One of my weaknesses used to be Oreos. Every so often, I will still purchase them, but I am constantly thinking about the plastic that I’m unnecessarily adding to the waste stream. I’m thinking that I could have just made chocolate chip cookies at home and that would have been just as good (albeit a lot more work.)
This is the same with my commute. I don’t have an electric or hybrid car, and public transportation isn’t really an alternative in rural areas, especially going between towns.
3. It can be hard not to be judgy.
This is not something that I am proud of, but I sometimes also struggle with silently judging people for what they’re purchasing. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, but I also know it’s a dumb one. Plastic is ubiquitous in our society, so it’s unsurprising that plastic is going to worm its way into our lives.
I once heard that the initial thought that you have when reacting to something is what society has taught you, but the second thought is yours. We have to live with grace in our thoughts, and know that others will do so as well.
4. You end up re-thinking every aspect of your life.
Zero waste is not something that fits neatly into a box in your life. It’s not just bulk shopping, mason jars, and canvas bags. Zero waste is an ideology, and it’s one that seeps into every part of your life. When you don’t think about waste and its environmental effects, decisions are easier. This is not to say that it’s unwelcome, but I acknowledge that it would be mentally easier if I didn’t think about all of it, which leads us to...
5. Buying stuff becomes harder (ethics, company mission, company acts, etc)
Buying something is a more in-depth process than it was before I started zero waste. I used to just go buy the thing that fit, or was cute, or I’d always used and I liked.
Now, when it comes to buying, I try to buy local whenever possible. Then I think about how that has been produced. I consider whether the company is solely for profit, or if they give back to the community. This, overall, is better for the community, but it is much more of a process than before I went ZW.