Happy Plastic Free July, everyone!
Today is a perfect opportunity to talk about plastic pollution. During this pandemic, avoiding plastic might be much more difficult, but it is not impossible. As some plastic, like PPE, is necessary for our individual and community safety, we can still avoid the use of single-use plastic.
Those who know me well, know how deeply I care about our natural environment. Global warming and the ensuing devastating climate change and plastic pollution will affect all of us in our lifetime.
” We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors;
We borrow it from our children.”
That native saying resonates with me even more so as I work with families and kids. Whenever I look at a child that I take care of, I wonder what that child will be facing 10 or 20 years from now if we keep doing nothing to protect their home? If we truly want children of today to have a future that guarantees them access to livable land, clean drinking water, breathable air, and fresh, healthy food – we all have to act now. We can’t afford to waste one more precious minute.
AND TO ADDRESS THE CLIMATE CRISIS – WE HAVE TO FIRST ADDRESS THE SYSTEMIC RACISM AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE IN THIS COUNTRY. Climate change will affect the most black and brown communities that are already suffering. Climate justice is social justice!
For me, living zero waste is actively taking responsibility for protecting our natural environment. My life, your life, and your children’s lives’ depends on our natural environment. And therefore, I would like to introduce you to my lifestyle.
So what is the deal with zero waste lifestyle and the zero waste movement? What is it all about?
I’ve first heard the term zero waste in the context of lifestyle about ten years ago from a short news spot about Lauren Singer (Trash is for tossers.) and later from the blog Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. The more I’ve learned about it, the more curious I was. Documentaries like “Bag it,” “Plasticized,” “Food, inc,” and few others – pushed me further into that curiosity, but I still wasn’t ready for a big change. That happened about seven years ago when my failing health pushed me into finally making a decision. After lots of doctor visits and no help in sight, as a last resort to get my health back, I decided to change my lifestyle. I’ve never looked back and, ever since, I aspire to live as close to zero waste as possible. I’m not perfect, and there is a lot I need to learn. I’m a work in progress. I’m sure that as I continue forward, a lot of things about leaving zero waste will keep surprising me. As for my health – the improvement I experienced exuded all my expectations. My asthma subsided, my metabolism and my cycle regulated, I stopped having skin and kidney problems – and the list goes on!
Going a little deeper of zero waste lifestyle.
Let’s be honest here – there is no such thing as being 100% zero waste. We all produce waste daily and, it’s impossible not to produce any waste. However, it is very much possible to minimize the amount of waste we produce. Living zero waste means taking control and responsibility of how much waste we produce and how much of it ends up in the landfill. Human waste is the leading cause of plastic pollution that is threatening our oceans. The microplastic is now in almost anything we consume – from cosmetics to food like fish, sea salt, and drinking water. You may say that one person changing their lifestyle can’t change all that much. And yes – one person working alone can’t stop global warming or plastic pollution. One person can though, start a movement and inspire countless other souls to change. The zero-waste lifestyle became a massive movement, and more and more people around the world are choosing it.
To give you an idea of how big of a difference our lifestyle makes for the environment here are some numbers for you:
- We emit globally over 36 billion tones of CO2 per year – the leading countries here are China, the US, Russia, and India; Not a record to be proud of;
- Households are responsible for 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions;
- Average American household produces on average around 22-27 tons of CO2 per year; European households produce on average 8-10 tons – less than half of American homes average;
- Average American produces a staggering 1,500 pounds of trash a year; Zero waste and low waste homes produce at most a few pounds of trash per year – that includes my household; Some of the best know zero wasters like Bea Johnson, Lauren Zinger, or Kathryn Kellogg, or Jonathan Levy produce yearly a small jar of trash.
- Human over-consumption and use of single-use plastics are the leading cause of plastic pollution worldwide.
How much waste did your household produce this year alone?
Living a zero-waste lifestyle is first and foremost about changing how you think. It is not about throwing out every piece of plastic you have in the house, and it is not about buying all-new “eco” items like cosmetics, cleaning supplies, shopping bags, or glass mason jars. The zero-waste motto I follow, agree with, and try to adhere to is this:
REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPURPOSE, REPAIR, RECYCLE, ROT
Refuse what you don’t need. Reduce what you do need. Reuse, repurpose, repair – what you already have. Recycle what can’t be reused ( nor repaired or repurposed). Rot – compost – the rest ( food scraps, organic yard waste, etc.)
AND IN THAT ORDER. I did not come up with it. I saw it all those years ago on Bea Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Home. She has another motto that I also love:
COLLECT MEMORIES, NOT THINGS!
Changing a lifestyle takes time and patience. Deciding to change is only a step one in a lifelong journey. Have that in mind when you embark on your own journey of change. When I slowly started implementing low waste changes into my life, I reevaluated a lot of my everyday routines, from taking a shower and brushing my teeth to cleaning my house. I realized that most of my routines only required change in how I was thinking. We all have habits we often go through without a second thought. Changing those takes time. To be exact – it takes around six weeks to develop a new routine. A lot of it is about taking those additional 2 seconds longer to remind yourself to do your routine a little differently. Remembering something as simple as putting eggshells in the composting bin actually takes mental effort and continuous repetition until that becomes our new routine. The same goes for things like always carrying with you a reusable shopping bag, or taking with you your reusable water bottle/coffee cup and reusable cutlery.
What do you get out of a zero/low waste lifestyle? How much does it cost?
Over the years, I’ve heard countless misconceptions about my lifestyle. One of the biggest ones is that living zero waste is very expensive. In reality, living a zero-waste lifestyle saves you a lot of money AND TIME.
In the past seven years, I have not spent a dime on:
- household cleaners,
- trash bags,
- paper towels,
- mass-produced laundry detergents;
- plastic packaged and liquid shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, or lotions,
- shaving creams and shavers,
- sanitary products like tampons
And this list goes on and on! When I started my journey, I slowly fazed out all the commercial cleaning supplies and over-the-counter cosmetics to better, healthier, and Earth-friendly options. Now I only use bar soaps and bar shampoos – my favorite of all time still being the original Aleppo Soap. That bar of soap lasts for more than 3 months – about three times longer than any bottle of shampoo. (Shopping the Zero Waste Way is a broad topic, so I’ll be posting another post to cover it.)
If protecting the environment and saving money is still not a reason good enough for you to consider changing your lifestyle to zero waste one, your health definitely should be. Your body and your health will thank you! Switching to a low waste or zero waste lifestyle can help you get your health back – it sure did save mine.
In regular grocery markets, almost everything we buy to eat or to put on our skin comes packaged in plastic (bottled water, canned food, yogurts, juice, milk, lotions, shampoos, face creams, etc.).
Things packaged in plastic bottles, especially liquids, including drinking water – can sit on shelves, often in direct sunlight sometimes for months. Plastic photodegrades and over time, more and more chemicals from those plastic bottles/containers leeks into the held content. One of those chemicals is often BPA – bisphenol A – a known endocrine disruptor that can cause serious health problems, especially with prolonged exposure.
Those may include:
- Impaired brain development
- ADHD and anxiety-related disorders
- Childhood weight gain and obesity.
After about 6-8 months of living zero-waste and no longer consuming anything packaged in plastic, I started to realize that my metabolism has regulated. And so did my cycle (no more PMS) and my skin (I stopped getting crazy itchy for no reason). The biggest shocker of all was that my asthma went away. Within a year of starting my zero waste journey, I was able to run a 5k – which I have never been able to do before!
If you are still not interested in trying to implement some low waste changes into your life, maybe this last point will trigger your interest. During this pandemic, we all had more time on our hands, but if you have kiddos, I can bet you still had days when you wished for more free time. And TIME is a pretty big perk of my lifestyle. You get way more of it to use as you please. As your life gets decluttered and streamlined, you spend less time shopping, cleaning, or doing a lot of other time-consuming activities. Living ZERO-WASTE leads to NEEDING LESS AND HAVING MORE TIME FOR WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.
I know that my lifestyle maybe not for everyone. I know that in some parts of the world or even this country and this state, a zero waste lifestyle would be a lot of hard work. I also know that doing nothing is no longer an option. If we want children of today to have a future, we all have to change – as individuals and societies. So whether you choose to only change one thing like switching to a bamboo toothbrush or reusable water bottle – that is a step in the right direction and it counts! To slow down climate change we don’t need one perfect zero waster – we need billions of imperfect human beings simply trying to protect Earth’s natural environment to the best of their abilities.
Ana that is it for now, from your fellow imperfect human being on a zero waste life journey, also known as Dana.