A while back, I posted on Facebook about how I had retrieved an empty glass coffee jar from the bin at work. As I picked up the jar, my initial thought was, “why didn’t the person who’d finished with the jar put it in recycling?”. My second thought was “I can reuse this!”. Rather than getting angry about the jar not being disposed of properly, I quietly asked my colleagues if I could take it home. This simple action sparked a conversation.
One colleague noted that they’d seen the jar in the garbage and recognised that it didn’t belong there. Vocalising awareness of a problem is a great first step (I mean, just look at the fantastic work Extinction Rebellion is doing)!
Another colleague then mentioned that they’d seen a video on social media about someone living zero waste. We subsequently had a discussion around the following questions, and I wanted to share my viewpoints on them with you. As always, feel free to share your thoughts; let’s keep the conversation going!
Is zero waste more expensive than conventional living*?
(*in a developed country with a high level of consumerism)
It depends. I personally believe it depends on how much you consume, what you consume, and where you live. For instance, some bulk foods at my local shop are way more expensive per kg. than buying the packaged equivalent in the grocery store. However, I’m paying for an organic product, able to fulfil my ambition of shopping zero waste, and supporting a local business. It does mean that some bulk food items are not within our budget, and we need to resort to the packaged option.
We have saved money by changing our diet. Rather than buying expensive convenience food and meat, we are eating a lot of whole plant-based foods, which are cheaper overall. It’s important to recognise that many people don’t have access to these options as they may live in poverty, areas of food insecurity, food deserts, have a job/lifestyle that are restrictive to making healthier choices etc. I am aware of my privelege of being able to access and afford healthy foods.
Over the past year we’ve been buying less stuff generally, so while individual items can be pricier than the conventional equivalent, “zero waste” living works out as less expensive in the long run. The main expenses come during the transition period when you start living with less waste. I’d recommend focusing on using up what you already have, buying less (doing without), and then gradually replace items you need with sustainable alternatives. If you do it slowly, you can keep the expenses on budget. Within a few months, I noticed that our grocery bill had declined, and I no longer needed to budget for new clothes and toiletries every month.
Check out my other posts in the zero waste series for swap ideas!
Is zero waste living time consuming?
Yes. The ability to live low waste could come about two ways. One, you have the privilege of time and the privilege of access to healthy foods, local retailers, and package free products. Two, you live in an area where you don’t have access to conveniences, and therefore you are obligated to put time into subsisting. Either way, modern day conveniences are unsustainable and largely account for why our planet is in crisis. We need to make the time to live sustainably, and our society needs to facilitate this.
An additional example of dialogue comes from the simple action of me sharing my blog content on my personal social media. A friend read my post on 50 simple ways to live more sustainably, and asked me a few follow up questions via Facebook. Although I replied directly, it got me thinking that it would be beneficial to share my responses here since they are great questions!
Is Fairtrade sustainable?
Friend: Under the impression Fairtrade is more about paying a better wage to the workers.
My Response: Fairtrade means people are able to live better lives. I interpret sustainable as beneficial for the whole planet, including people. Often Fairtrade partners with other environmental protection programmes too.
Some of the foundations of sustainability relating to Fairtrade are:
- Standard of living
- Strong business with ethical governance and leadership
- Workers’ rights, safe working environment, living wage
- Environmental protection and climate change adaptation
- Market access and fairer trade
- Gender equality
- Productivity and quality products
- Access to basic services for communities
Check out www.fairtrade.org.uk for more info!
How is using a freezer sustainable? Wouldn’t it be better to buy seasonal?
Friend: Freezing food saves her money, but is using electricity to power the freezer sustainable?
My Response: Buying seasonal is good, yes. But food goes off quickly so freezing leftovers prevents waste. Batch cooking and meal prepping is also more sustainable than relying on convenience food. Also, don’t just think about your electric power, think of the production and transportation of all food. Hence, frozen out of season can be more sustainable.
Lucy added that a full freezer is more energy efficient.
Why is having houseplants sustainable?
My Response: They clean the air, and are a more sustainable option than plastic homewares or cut flowers. They allow us to connect with nature and can make us happy. Happy people are better able to make sustainable choices!
I would suggest doing your research to ensure you’re buying houseplants that have been grown sustainably (i.e. how are they grown? where are they shipped from? are they sold at an ethical price?). Most importantly, can you look after plants? Lots of dead houseplants isn’t sustainable.
Since the main sustainability element of having houseplants is improving air quality (reducing VOCs and CO2) it is a good idea to consider toxins you have in your home from furniture and paint off gassing, scented candles, and cleaning products. Having a lot of these things in your home is counterproductive to the plant purifying the air, and therefore not sustainable.
It’s great to see people commenting on my posts, whether on my blog directly, in person, or via social media. Dialogue is one of my main aims in writing about sustainability, so I encourage you to comment or discuss these topics with others! What are some sustainability topics that you’d like me to explore further?