A Zero Waste Story: How are WE ever going to DO THIS?
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
I asked my daughter this question back in the summer of 2011 as we stood in the bathroom tissue aisle at Safeway. Surrounded by a sea of rolls in various incarnations—single-ply, double-ply, extra-soft, quilted, patterned, recycled—we couldn’t find what we wanted.
You see, my daughter and I were on a quest. Concerned with the plastic pollution devastating our oceans, we had decided to live plastic-free. In that toilet paper aisle, it dawned on me just how difficult that might be.
The plastic problem:
Between the 1950s and the present, approximately 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide and only 9% of that has been recycled.
Every minute, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans.
If we do not drastically reduce our plastic consumption, by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight.
Micro-plastics are everywhere: in our water, our air, our fish and even human stool.
Can’t we simply recycle our way out of this mess?
With China no longer buying much of our scrap plastic, according to Bloomberg, “By 2030, an estimated 111 million metric tons of used plastic will need to be buried or recycled somewhere else—or not manufactured at all.” Better to refuse plastic at its source before it can become waste.
But how? Once you decide to kick the plastic, you’ll notice it everywhere—because it is everywhere. Don’t be discouraged. Start small. Make a change. Adjust to the new routine. Make another change. And then another.
After we had successfully broken up with plastic, we then went zero-waste. Although everyone’s definition of zero-waste will differ, I think we can agree that we all want the same thing—to both conserve resources and to prevent waste from entering landfills, incinerators and the oceans.
In reality, you never actually reduce your waste to zero. Because unless you move off the grid to a farm and grow your own food and plant the hemp to grow the fibers to weave the cloth to sew your clothes, you will contribute to the waste stream via the supply chain. The final goods you buy—such as staples from bulk bins—may be free of packaging but they arrived at the store in packaging. The staff doesn’t grow your oats out in the parking lot after all.
The term “zero waste” represents a goal, something to strive for, like straight A+’s in every class you took in college. Yes, it is possible. But remember the saying, “C’s get degrees.” You don’t have to do zero waste perfectly to make a big difference. And as you’ll discover on your journey, you’ll reap all sorts of personal benefits as you tread more lightly on the planet.
Anne Marie Bonneau wrote this as a guest blogger for GreenTown Los Altos. She lives in Mountain View and writes the blog The Zero-Waste Chef . You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @zerowastechef.