All About Zero Waste

Charlotte Wilken, Staff Writer

When the COVID-19 pandemic started and we were all stuck at home, I began reading a lot about how to be kinder to our environment. This is when I learned more about the zero waste movement and became really intrigued by it. I was reading books and watching videos, trying to learn about how I could be as sustainable as possible. While the Zero Waste movement is amazing and deserves so much credit, it seems there are also many confusions and problems surrounding it. “I don’t know much about the movement, but I’d like to learn more,” says sophomore Ryan Kuff. 

So what is the zero waste movement? Well, by definition, it is “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” Going by this definition, it sounds amazing! All elements of this definition would greatly impact our society for the better. 

Some of the most popular zero waste swaps are using reusable cups, containers, water bottles, utensils, and bags. The methods some people use to limit waste can get really creative though. While sustainable products can get crazily expensive, it is important to talk about how low waste can be done on a budget and how a lot of people with lower incomes are more sustainable than rich people who claim to be. One of the most sustainable things you can do is reuse things that you already own. People come up with sustainable products- from reusable silicone bags to very expensive sustainable fashion, and while yes, these are sustainable options, what is even more sustainable is to reuse what you already own. Reuse old containers and mend your clothes. Lots of wealthy people will claim to be sustainable because they can afford high quality brands. While these sustainable brands are definitely better for the planet, overconsumption, no matter where it comes from, is not, and a lot of wealthy people do over consume from these brands. Overall, making purchases in moderation and from ethical companies when you have the option is the best route to go. But at the core of sustainability and the zero waste movement is the good old phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

The problem occurs when people create their own definitions of what zero waste means (essentially, when they literally think it means you cannot produce a drop of waste). “The movement is definitely cool, but it seems kind of exclusive,” says junior Sage Drew. Within the sustainability movement in general, there is a lot of classism and toxicity floating around. People are shamed for buying fast fashion when they cannot afford it or not being vegan when they do not have access to be able to do that. Just like with these aspects of being sustainable, the zero waste movement is no exception. The main problem with zero waste is that people see it as a lifestyle, not a movement. Zero waste was never meant to be a lifestyle. It started as a movement with a goal of achieving a society which did not produce waste, or at least produced as little waste as possible. “It seems scary to embark on a low waste journey if you’re just going to be shamed by people trying to do the same thing,” says senior Aila Woods.

A lot of shame can come with trying to be sustainable, and I cannot even imagine how bad this shame can get if you consider yourself zero waste. Not only is the shame coming from inside you, but it is coming from other people, too. Someone might get angry with you for having something in a plastic bottle, and this is where the problem really begins. Freshman Anabelle Hughe says, “It’s sad seeing people be shamed when they’re trying their best.” They don’t know where you got the plastic bottle. It could have been a gift, or it could have been a friends’ that they were about to throw away and you saved it from being wasted. And then, of course, as I mentioned, you are feeling guilty too if you are not being perfectly “zero waste.” This is where I think being sustainable can become dangerous. People place all this blame onto themselves and onto other individuals, in actuality, when corporations are a vast majority of those inflicting climate change upon the Earth.

It is really important to focus on balance, when it comes to this and when it comes to everything else. I, myself, try to be as sustainable as possible, but that does not mean I do not do unsustainable things probably every day. I think it is really important to integrate being unsustainable into the sustainability community, which I have seen influencers start to do. It is important to relieve eco-anxiety because at the end of the day, trying your best is all that matters. The survival of our planet does not solely rely on you, but on all our actions when we come together.