Why I'm not "Zero Waste" Anymore

Written by Tara McKenna, Founder of The Zero Waste Collective

Okay, let’s get one thing cleared up before we dive into this post! No one is zero waste. It’s just not possible in our current society.


Here’s a sobering quote from the book Cradle to Cradle:


“…what most people see in their garbage cans is just the tip of a material iceberg; the product itself contains on average only 5 percent of the raw materials involved in the process of making and delivering it.”

If we consider that for a moment, think about how much additional waste there was in creating and shipping our products that we don’t even see in our own trash bins!


Sure, we can trade, swap, and shop secondhand (these are definitely sustainable options), but regardless of how we consume, every material item we touch has had an environmental impact.


Until our production and consumption cycle becomes a completely closed loop system where all materials are recovered and safely recycled and reused in a circular economy, trash is inevitable, no matter how few items we personally send to the landfill.


Okay, back to the whole zero-waste lifestyle stuff. I started my journey to “zero waste” back in 2017, and newly obsessed with the idea, I dove right in. The entirety of the transition took about a year before I felt like I had arrived at the “right place” in terms of what I was personally not contributing to my trash bin.


It felt great! Like a zero-waste superstar!


It felt great… but also hard. It wasn’t really a sustainable lifestyle to maintain. I know that issue can be a major roadblock for many people simply considering a more eco-friendly lifestyle.


Oftentimes the sheer complexity and perceived difficulty of the lifestyle prevents a lot of people from trying it. Should they bother? Should we bother?


Heck yes! We don’t have to be perfect! I’d rather see lots of people making small changes, than a select few making all the changes. Myself included. That’s why I say:


Sustainable living isn’t sustainable if it’s not sustainable for you. – Tara McKenna

In light of that, I’ve come to a place where I let the zero-waste ethos guide my lifestyle choices. While I’m not as “zero waste” as I used to be, I feel proud of where I’m at, and still strive to make improvements when they make sense.


I encourage you to do the same. Instead of trying to fit a year’s worth of trash into a mason jar – I mean, go ahead if that’s your jam! – I suggest following the zero waste definition I’ve created for the lifestyle:


Zero waste living is about reducing your waste in the context of your lifestyle preferences, circumstances, and budget. – Tara McKenna

In other words, do what works for you! And ditch the guilt.


In the meantime, our society does need to work on moving towards a circular economy – and to do that, we all need to work together.


If you’re interested, I suggest reading the book Cradle to Cradle! Happy reading!


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