The beautiful thing about minimalism is less consumption and therefore less waste.
This minimalist truism works well for objects and clothes. You buy things intentionally and when it is time to pare down your belongings there are a few different avenues to dispose of your stuff:
-and of course trashing them. ☹️
On the other hand, the packaging of goods is designed for the garbage. The cycle of consumption and the trash that comes with packaging is a big environmental problem and often not considered in minimalism.
I didn’t consider it either.
↟Here I am now carrying my food scraps to a compost location at a friend’s house (sadly our apartment building doesn’t compost yet). For those of you who want to keep track, I’ve been flirting the idea of zero waste for quite some time and pursuing it in earnest since January 2017.
For a long time, I was mindful to practise minimalism in my life, but I was still producing heaps of garbage.
Truly, there’s nothing minimal about an overflowing garbage bin.
This is why I started asking “where does all this trash come from?”
Well, it mostly came from the grocery store and from online orders. While some of it was food scraps, a lot of the trash was plastic packaging. Food scraps can be composted but packaging was on everything and I didn’t know what to do about it. What’s worse, I carried this unwanted packaging into my home with every purchase I made.
Was I just a garbage producing machine?
I was appalled and frustrated.
Where could I go from here?
Now, the heaps of garbage in my bin was not the result of a minimal lifestyle opting for convenience. I never chose packaged goods so I could save time and invest that time elsewhere. Honestly, I’ve just never given much thought to the garbage streaming in and out of my home. And I also hadn’t considered the life cycle of things much. I thought being minimal and frugal was already making a difference.
But this is what I know now: My minimalism didn’t address the extraneous amounts of packaging waste. Packaging is designed for short term, often single use and it is meant to be thrown into the garbage. At best packaging is recycled, but often it streams right into a landfill. By design packaging isn’t precious as for example an old t-shirt or an unloved object is. Unfortunately, until recently, it never occurred to me to work on reducing the packaging waste that came around the produce from the grocery store.
I didn’t know I could say no to the paper bags at the bakery.
I didn’t know I had a choice in how fresh produce, bulk food and deli counter purchases are packaged.
I didn’t know I can bring my own glass containers or cloth produce bags and say no to the obligatory plastic baggies.
I was afraid grocery shopping would turn into a huge hassle but I was wrong. In fact, most stores in Salt Lake City are happy to support zero waste shopping. And it is refreshing to leave a store with just produce and no added garbage.
Also, in case you’re wondering, adopting this new lifestyle didn’t turn me into a crazy bag lady with lots of zero waste knickknacks. On the contrary, I noticed that zero waste reduced the number of bags my husband carried home from the store, it streamlined not just my trash but it also simplified the belongings in my kitchen and bathroom. Which minimalist wouldn’t like that?
In many ways, minimalism and zero waste compliment each other. For example, one of the most important ways to keep clutter and trash away is to control what enters through the front door. This is always a good way to start minimalism or zero waste.
I started my zero waste journey by
-looking at and examining our trash
-and then I set out to shop without buying any packaging
-and I also decided to disengage from using disposables and plastics in general.
Saying no and refusing “trash” made a significant difference every day. At the same time I realized that zero waste is a slow journey that builds momentum over time and it also gets easier with time. In the beginning zero waste isn’t easy because many old purchases in the home are far from zero waste and will eventually be phased out and become trash. This kind of trash is almost unavoidable and it’s especially annoying when you’re so on top of your zero waste game with new purchases. As an added pressure, society assumes zero wasters like me can fit an entire year’s worth of household trash into a single mason jar. To be honest this might be the case if on day zero of going zero waste I filled a dumpster and rid my home of all the half full plastic packaged items so I could start with a clean slate. That’s not the route I wanted to go.
Maybe one day my trash will fit the size of a mason, but I still wouldn’t keep my trash in a jar like a prize or a measure. That’s not for me. I’m much more concerned with the big picture.
Luckily my husband is on board with the zero waste initiative. This is important in our household because he does 90% of the grocery shopping. Therefore, we both had to keep the same goals in mind to effectively keep garbage from entering our home. Overall, it’s been a simple transition and easy to maintain. An added bonus about zero waste is the money saved from buying ‘naked goods’, the frequent and novel conversation with cashiers and the responsible sorting and minimization of our garbage. As the name implies, zero waste means creating no landfill trash. At best it also means sending nothing to recycling. Of course this is the ideal that zero wasters work towards. I’m not at zero in my efforts to reduce waste, but since being more mindful and starting to compost our overall household garbage decreased by 90%.
I’m good with this progress for now. After all zero waste is not about being perfect.
It’s about being aware of one’s impact on the planet.
It’s about being aware of where items go after you have used them.
And it’s about being aware of where your items came from before making the purchase.
It’s not as the name implies creating zero trash because very few people can attain this goal.
On that note, it’s important to know that the zero waste lifestyle is not an all or nothing approach. An all or nothing way of thinking often has little practicality. It allows us to do nothing, be afraid to start, or quit since not being able to do it perfectly is a really good excuse.
With minimalism or zero waste I’m not looking for perfection but I would love to take steps towards making a difference. I look at zero waste as a lifestyle I can pursue daily with simple persistence. To me, it’s not just a fad. It’s daily intentionality that afford me to have a lighter footprint on this earth.
#GoingGreen2017 #SLCzerowaste #plasticfree
Written by Nina Estabrook from SLC Zero Waste. Photography: Spencer Estabrook.