A couple of weeks ago, I had a real zero waste crisis. We had just moved to California and I was excited to start our zero waste journey all over again.
But I had no zero waste kit. No shopping routine. No clue about local markets, grocery stores and where to buy stuff. No familiar zero waste community I could rely on for help and advice.
At the same time, I needed to buy so much stuff to get our life here set up, as we had literally nothing (we left most of our stuff behind in the UK to save shipping costs and emissions). So I ended up buying quite a few things new, a lot of it in packaging, due to lack of time, knowledge, equipment, etc.
I was giving myself a hard time: How can I advocate zero waste and then violate my own principles?
But then friends and family reminded me that no one is perfect and that any step anyone takes to reduce waste is better than nothing.
5 compromises I made when starting zero waste from zero
By pursuing a zero waste lifestyle, I usually try to adhere to the following principles:
- Avoid buying anything that is in packaging and/or creates (plastic) waste; and
- Avoid buying anything new if you can buy the same item used / pre-loved
This is easy-ish when you’re an established zero waster in your familiar surroundings. But when you’ve just moved to a new place, it suddenly becomes a lot more difficult.
So here’s when and why I compromised on my own zero waste principles, and why I’m OK with it:
1 …to keep it simple
There are so many things on your mind when you’re moving to a new place, like organizing your move, packing and unpacking, getting to know your new area, trying to make new friends, etc., that it’s hard to then ALSO time your shopping to the local farmers markets, or remember to take your reusable cup everywhere with you.
You don’t know your way around yet and eventually you’re going to be starving after trying to source your zero waste equipment from the local thrift stores, so you end up stopping at a fast food chain and get a burger wrapped in paper and a soda in a laminated cup and a straw and you’re going to hate yourself for it (at least I did).
Don’t beat yourself up. It’s bound to happen. Next time you’ll be better prepared.
2 …to have new things (as in “not used”)
You preach the benefits of buying everything second hand, but you’ve just gone and bought towels, bedding and a mattress new (like in my case) because… you just prefer to have this kind of stuff new and not from someone else. That’s OK.
You still have the option to go for a sustainably sourced or produced item, like bedding made from organic and/or fair trade cotton, or check that the packaging is recyclable, or buy good quality so that you can use it as long as possible.
3 …to pick your fights and pursue the greater good
Following on from point 2 above, our sofa purchase was such a case. While I was totally OK with buying a second hand sofa, Simon really didn’t like the idea of sitting on someone else’s farts (now that I’ve written it down I kinda get it…). So I gave in and we bought the sofa new-ish (it came from a consignment store, so it was a reduced, end of life type of sofa… which probably had its significant share of farts while sitting on the store floor waiting to be sold).
But in return he was totally happy with me buying our entire kitchen implements, including pots and pans, from thrift stores. And he tolerates the huge amounts of cabbage, kale, sprouts etc. I buy from farmers markets, even though he isn’t that keen on his greens.
We are all social animals and not everyone buys into the idea of zero waste to the same level that you do. So if we can let go in some areas and convince our friends and families to follow along in others, then we don’t alienate people but win supporters for the greater cause.
4 …to save time
Sometimes it’s just easier to just go and buy that vacuum cleaner that you want (like in my case, again) rather than trawling through five thrift stores and spending hours searching for the right model and haggling on online market places. And that’s also OK. Life is too short, you have other things on your list.
And the fact that you’ve bought something new means you can sell it or give it away to someone else should you ever no longer need it.
5 …to save money
This is a tricky one, because I normally argue that zero waste will definitively save you money in the long run. But related to point 4 above, there are a lot of things that need buying when you move. And if you’re starting out from scratch, it could be worth buying stuff in large quantities, both from a financial and an environmental perspective.
So in our case I went out and got a Costco membership and I bought stuff in bulk (I can virtually feel all zero waste bloggers deserting me, shouting “traitor!”). But I knew that we’d need certain items in large quantities over time and that it would be a lot more expensive if I bought them in small entities through zero waste suppliers, such as dishwasher powder, washing powder, toilet paper, olive oil, vinegar, etc.
So yes I bought them in (large) (plastic) containers and I didn’t feel great about it, and would normally argue against it, but it made sense financially and practically. And maybe these containers will come in handy one day for other things, so they’re not wasted immediately.
Compromising on zero waste? So what? Who’s going to judge us?
The fact that you’re reading this blog (and thank you so much for reading my ramblings all the way to here, I’ll have to buy you a coffee when we meet next) and thinking about zero waste, and hopefully taking one or more of the steps mentioned above, is great.
Keep doing what you’re doing, and spread the word to have an impact. It’s a bit of a cliche but I just really love this quote from the zero waste chef:
We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.Anne-marie bonneau, @zerowastechef
Let me know which zero waste compromises you’ve made, and how you feel about them, by posting in the comments below. Also please subscribe to this blog for more zero waste tips, personal opinions, and how to take action. Cheers, Bettina