Zero-Waste isn't perfect, it isn't even ZERO waste!

Originally Published on March 14, 2018

I think that a common barrier to approaching a "zero-waste" lifestyle arises from the intimidation of the name itself. People think, "Oh, I could NEVER make ZERO waste!" The truth is, you don't have to! Even the best and most "aesthetic" zero-wasters create SOME waste. It may be an extremely low quantity: maybe it's only from prescription medicines, straws they don't ask for and a sporadic appearance of junk mail, but it's waste nonetheless, and it's their waste even if they don't put it in their trash jar.

Recently there's been a discussion about terminology: should people call themselves "low-impact," "waste-conscious" or "zero-waste" when they describe their journey toward waste-free living?

The internet has been buzzing about the terminology recently because a zero-waster,  "Sustainably Vegan," now better known as The Low Impact Movement, decided to ditch the term "zero-waste" for a plethora of reasons.

[Zero-waste is] "not an all-encompassing term that isn't showing how a lot of you guys are reducing your impact on the planet," - Sustainably Vegan

She posted a video about it, which you can watch here. In sum, the origin of her decision to "ditch zero-waste" and promote the terminology, "Low-impact," lands heavily on her desire to encompass her activism while simultaneously acknowledging everyone's contributions, big or small, to living waste-conscious lives. She strives for equal representation. Her hope is to build a community and then leverage that community so everyone is able and empowered to do what they can. By switching terms and promoting an increased attention to what people can do, instead of a guilt about what they can't do, she hopes to create safe spaces where people can build together.

The definition of zero waste from Wikipedia is, "a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills or incinerators."

The definition of zero-waste, an industrial term, is a positive goal for us all to reach for. We, unfortunately, will never accomplish the goal of no trash being sent to landfills without corporations and companies adhering to stricter policies and governments enforcing those. We, as individuals, can massively contribute to a redesign of economy by putting our dollars into responsible businesses or secondhand buying and encouraging re-use, recycling and no single use items. That being said, the definition of zero-waste doesn't quite explain the "aesthetic" and redesign of lifestyle that the current zero-waste movement promotes, alongside the positive attention it brings to waste-conscious living.

Our goal is to create a circular economy. "A circular economy is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and closed recycling loops. This is in contrast to a linear economy which is a 'take, make, dispose' model of production." We currently live in a linear economy. 

No matter what you choose to call yourself, I think it's all good because it's all bringing awareness to a massive environmental issue. Any earth-conscious decision made by an individual has positive ramifications for the world, and economy. I also agree with Sustainably Vegan that zero-waste can be exclusive: it's an extreme people think they can't reach which is promoted by this beautiful picturesque version of curated instagrams and mason jars. 

Whatever you choose to label yourself, "low-impact," "zero-waste," "waste-conscious," or just, "Emily," if you're making small or big contributions to reducing your waste, or promoting a circular economy, you're doing an amazing thing!

You shouldn't feel guilty when you mess up, or buy something you think won't come in plastic only to find out that inside the cardboard box, it's wrapped in plastic (happened to me last week), you should feel proud that you're sacrificing convenience in the hope of creating a better world. 

I prefer the term, "waste-conscious" but I often use the term, "zero-waste" when I talk about my lifestyle. And, it isn't always pretty, or aesthetically pleasing to live this kind of life. It requires a lot of preparation, attention to detail and SO MANY DISHES. My sink is full of jars, my groceries are laid out on the table so I can see what I have and my jar shelf is a mess. That's what you don't see on my Instagram.

It doesn't have to look good, you don't have to bulk shop in mason jars, you don't even have to change everything you're doing! If you make small decisions like bringing your own bags to the grocery store, or buying less plastic, saying no to plastic straws, that adds up to a large positive impact over time! 



Emily McCollister