The ultimate goal of Zero Waste is to completely prevent any household trash from ending up in landfills. This includes things like meal leftovers, paper towels, bits of paper and plastic and anything else that is deemed “useless” at the end of its life.
As Josh and I start navigating this challenge, we’ve decided to follow the set of rules laid out by Zero Waste guru, Bea Johnson, in her bestseller: Zero Waste Home. This is how they go (you can get the full details here).
- Refuse what you do not need.
- Reduce what you do need.
- Reuse by using reusables.
- Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse.
- Rot (compost) the rest.
The act of refusing requires a serious mind shift.
Bea encourages us to start thinking of our money and our choices as “votes.” For example, accepting a plastic straw in a restaurant when you don’t really need or want one is essentially saying, “Yay! I love single use plastics (SUPs)! Make more, please!”
While none of us set out to make destructive purchases, when we accept them as the status quo we communicate our ‘okay-ness’ with products that harm our planet.
By choosing Zero Waste, we are forcing ourselves to go against the grain and refuse things that we otherwise would have accepted without a second thought.
Here are some examples of how I’ve had to “refuse” in the past week:
- I walked right by the plastic trashcan liners in the grocery store, knowing that if I replaced the ones that had run out at our place I’d be perpetuating my trash habit.
- I asked our waitress at a local restaurant to please not bring me a plastic straw with my drink and also refused the napkins that came with it. These straws aren’t healthy and can be a serious risk to wildlife.
- I passed on what looked like a super great free pen, *cringe*, knowing I already had about a million at home and that it would just die a slow and painful pen death.
- I brought a ceramic travel mug with me to Starbucks so that I wouldn’t have to accept and toss their grande paper cup. Actually super easy!
- I forced myself to ignore that cute little bottle of free shampoo on the counter of our hotel bathroom. I have shampoo at home.
- I asked my local butcher to place my chicken purchase in a glass jar I brought with me, rather than bring the thin plastic and wax paper wrapping back to my house. She looked at me like I was insane; I got over it.
- I hopped on Catalog Choice and opted out of as much junk mail as I could.
Refusing may be one of the weirdest and most uncomfortable social actions I’ve ever had to make.
Choosing to refuse that free pen made me feel like an ungrateful, lame-o to be perfectly honest. In the past, I would have seen the freebies as a jackpot (OMG, free?!); now I’m starting to look at them with new eyes. What is the cost of that pen that I don’t see?
The pen was cheap. It was poorly manufactured from unrecyclable plastic and I’m sure thousands of them were made. If I’d brought it home, I would have very quickly rejected it for my favorites (Pilot G2 fan for life!) or lost it under the couch, and it would have dried up or cracked before it could serve its full purpose.
What is the point of that? If I were honest, I’d tell you I only need two pens: one for my desk and one for my purse. For that reason, I’ll probably be transitioning to a refillable, high quality, metal fountain pen. And I’ll feel like J.K. Rowling and it’ll be grand. Goodbye toss-able G2…
How can you start refusing?
- Bring reusable canvas totes with you to the grocery store and refuse single use plastic baggies at checkout.
- Think ahead and refuse disposables at the restaurants you frequent: think paper napkins, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, etc.
- Keep a close eye on the unnecessary garbage you bring into your house or allow to enter. Great examples are freebies and paper mail! I never find use for the coupons and the rest is just promos I don’t want or need.
You got this.
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