When I casually started my blog nearly three years ago, it felt like the zero-waste movement was at its peak. Everyone was talking about it, posting aesthetic cabinets full of mason jars and how to make your own deodorant. I, like many others, was mesmerized. I was beginning to take minimizing my waste pretty seriously and I was inspired to see how much other people were doing. But at the same time, it felt down right intimidating. I had just gone back to school, was working full time and was training for a big race. I felt like I just didn’t have time to commit to living a zero-waste lifestyle. I started to make lots of swaps in my life; buying in bulk, shopping package free, buying items in glass, ditching single use plastic and paper products, among other things. And maybe it was partially because I tend to hold onto perfectionist ways, or maybe it was part of the zero-waste movement, but I felt like the work I was doing was never enough. From the outside I was doing pretty damn good. The amount of waste I produced compared to the average American, or even myself a few years prior, was quite minimal. I was privileged enough to make some swaps but I couldn’t help but feel a wave of guilt every time I threw something in the trash, no matter how small this item was. I remember being so prepared for a day out of the house with all of my reusable items, until I got hungry. I couldn’t find anything package free so I bought a granola bar (yes, a single granola bar) and felt like I was somehow a fraud because I was creating waste. The sustainability movement, just like the vegan movement, can easily be shaped into an all of nothing mentality. Like if you’re not zero-waste or 100% vegan than you must hate the planet, but this is far from reality. Like many people I started my sustainability journey solely focusing on individual actions. I preached going vegan, thrifting, and minimizing our waste. These efforts are indeed important and something that I still stand behind. But the more research I did, and the more I learned, I realized the desperate need for systemic change. I learned that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% or all carbon emission. Yes, you read that right. I learned the power of collective action vs. individual action. If I wanted to make an impact on this planet, I didn’t have to do it alone.
There are plenty of people out there who are much more committed to a zero-waste lifestyle than I am and I applaud each and every one of them. I still produce a very small amount of waste but every now and then I fancy a tub of vegan ice cream, and I’m okay with that. I do my best to limit waste from my life but don’t beat myself up when I have to use the trash. When we focus on making BOTH personal AND systemic changes, we have the power to shape the entire sustainability movement. As consumers we have power. We vote with our dollar and have the ability to hold companies accountable, to demand change. Shopping local and buying in glass is great, but we must also work to make these options more accessible and hold plastic reliant companies accountable for their actions. So, whether you are completely zero-waste, or just getting started on your sustainability journey, know that no label will ever define your worth or your dedication to creating change. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not achieving the most perfect zero-waste routine. Do what you can in your home, in your community, and in the world. Together our actions are far more powerful than they will ever be alone.