By Tara McKenna
A lot of us on the zero-waste bandwagon get caught up in the details of the waste we create each day. I’ve found this to be a tedious (and exhausting) task and have let go of the high expectations that can come with the lifestyle – and you dear reader, I hope that you do too!
Not because the waste issue isn’t real or important – we are dealing with a waste crisis of epic proportions – but fretting over every piece of single-use plastic that comes your way, in my opinion, is simply a drop in the bucket and not necessary.
Additionally, many people don’t bother to pursue a life with less waste because it seems too restrictive and unrealistic for most. And fair enough! The lifestyle would be much more inviting if it didn’t seem so out of reach. Would you agree?
To be Human is to be Wasteful
This might come as a controversial statement, but I believe that to be human is to be wasteful. To meet all our needs as a species, humans need to use the natural resources around us, and that process creates waste.
While hundreds of years ago the waste produced by humans would have been minimal (and more biodegradable) compared to today (and was that way for thousands of years), we were still impacting our surroundings. That’s the human experience. Today we’re doing it on a whole other level because technology enables us to extract resources at an exponential rate to meet the needs of a large human population.
What I want to highlight, though, is this statement: “to meet the needs.” What are our human needs? Surely, we need air, food, water, shelter, sleep, a safe environment, clothing, and relationships with other humans (cue Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). After that, it's all extra.
I like extra, don’t get me wrong, but extra has largely been defined by big corporations. In wealthy countries such as Canada and the United States, what’s “extra” has become synonymous what we “need” to live a good life. And corporations have been defining our life priorities by creating a vision of success that primarily includes being financially rich and obtaining a vast array of material possessions.
Unfortunately, this version of extra can be quite wasteful, especially if the people pursuing this version of the good life aren’t doing it because they want to, but because they’ve been told that this is the life they should aspire to lead.
As such, I believe it’s necessary to define your own life priorities. Create your own vision of success, one that’s authentic and meaningful to you and not defined by corporations selling you a specific lifestyle (one that’s expensive and wasteful).
Define Your Own Life Priorities
How do we go about defining our own life priorities and vision? Grab a cup of coffee or tea and ask yourself the following questions:
What do you value in life?
What does success mean to you?
How do you want to spend your time?
What are your goals in life?
How do your answers to the above questions compare to the conventional and mainstream notions of success and the good life?
When you reflect on the above answers, what would you change – if anything – to live your most authentic life?
Use these insights to develop your own dream to pursue. Rather than pursuing money for the sake of success as defined by our broader culture (success meaning lots of money, a big house or a few, multiple cars, fancy wardrobe, etc.), pursue a meaningful life as defined by you with your own life priorities.
What does this have to do with waste?
Pursuing “the good life” can be wasteful because buying material possessions simply because that’s what you’re supposed to do creates unnecessary waste.
The alternative is to determine what material possessions you truly want and need in your life and leave out the rest. When we avoid mindlessly pursuing stuff, we become intentional, more refined, and ultimately, we choose a life with less. Less but better, and a life with more joy. And that in and of itself results in less waste (without fretting about plastics).
If you liked this exercise, you’ll enjoy my book, Don’t Be Trashy: A Practical Guide to Living with Less Waste and More Joy. Get your copy today!