“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Anna-Marie Bonneau
This Friday, millions of students around the world will skip school to protest their politicians’ lack of action regarding climate change. It’s no secret that the Earth is in bad shape. While it’s true that this is largely due to the actions of politicians and major corporations, many of us are also living unsustainable lives which doesn’t help. While you don’t need to fully go zero waste, we can all make low or no waste swaps in our daily lives in order to minimize our ecological footprints.
Of course, moving towards low waste is not about being perfect, nor should it be. Being 100% zero waste is incredibly difficult, expensive, and inaccessible for many. However, by swapping out some of our everyday products for more sustainable alternatives, we can all help to keep trash out of landfills.
It’s important to note that making a low or zero waste swap isn’t always as simple as just switching to a reusable straw. While the interest in metal straws is great, it’s far from the only change that needs to be made (not to mention that using a metal straw isn’t practical, or even possible, for many people with disabilities). Rather than just looking at which swaps are turning into fads (although again, that can be a great place to start), look at what you throw into garbage cans. Try to figure out what your most common non-sustainable pieces of trash are and see if you can find viable sustainable swaps for them. If you aren’t throwing out plastic straws to begin with, buying a metal straw still creates waste. This is why you need to be conscious of the waste you create before you try to switch to zero waste alternatives.
In my own case, I tend to use a lot of cotton pads when I do my skincare routine. I’ll admit that, at first, I didn’t think there were any good low waste alternatives. Even the smallest facecloths seemed too large to use for a skincare routine, not to mention the fact that I’d have to buy several extra facecloths to let them dry in between uses (and they would probably absorb much more product than a small cotton pad would). I also didn’t want to just pour my products into my hands to apply them – I had tried that before (with clean hands) and often ended up with little bumps all over my forehead.
However, after doing a very small amount of research (aka a single Google search), I realized that some people had taken old t-shirts (you know, like the one that’s been sitting in the back of your closet for years), cut them into small circles of cloth, and had created their own reusable cotton pads. A woman who was making them on Youtube took about 10 minutes to create a set of about 30 reusable pads that she’ll probably have for years to come. As someone who knows basic sewing, I could easily do the same and cut down on my waste.
If you always seem to be throwing out plastic cutlery, consider investing in a reusable set (or even just wrap a fork from home in paper towel and take it with you). Constantly tossing plastic water bottles? Buy a reusable one. But also think wisely about when to start using it.
What do the plastic water bottles you have stocked up in your basement, the huge bag of cotton balls in your bathroom, and the endless supply of plastic cutlery in your kitchen all have in common? They’ve all been bought already. Unless they’re sealed in their container and you bought them recently (and you’re willing to go back to the store to return them), the damage is done. That product is pre-destined for a landfill, regardless of whether or not it has been used. If you toss the product so you can immediately switch to a sustainable alternative, you aren’t doing anyone any favours. In fact, you made the least sustainable decision. Make sure to use up all of the stock you already have, low waste or not, and then go out and replace it with a low waste alternative. Only then will you have truly have made a sustainable decision.
If you do try to make a low/zero waste swap, use up all of the non-sustainable products first, and actively take steps to minimize your waste, congratulations! You are keeping trash out of our overflowing landfills and helping the Earth when it needs it most. Of course, we still need to keep politicians and companies accountable, but doing your part is important as well!