There is zero shame here! If you’re reading this then you have already taken the hardest and most important step. From here on out, you will have a community to support you and tell you that “yes, it was kinda funky the first time I tried a bamboo toothbrush. And I did think it might give me splinters.” You are NOT CRAZY. You certainly are not the first person to buy a reusable grocery bag only to leave it at home and struggle to choose between buying another reusable bag, using a plastic one (don’t…), or, like my partner says, “the best way to learn a lesson is the hard way” and carry all of your groceries in your arms defiantly as you strut down the street- a true warrior for our planet. You will falter on this journey and like good friends and family, we will be here to pick you up or like my family, laugh at you for bringing tupperware to a restaurant so they don’t put your leftovers in styrofoam, only to be told that it’s against their health code policy. Like my good ol’ friends at Olive Garden like to say, “when you’re here, you’re family” and that’s exactly what we are. All of us, even your friend who buys coffee everyday and has never thought to use a reusable travel mug, even that uncle who insists on having two straws with every drink because it “makes him look like a walrus”, and even your neighbor who can’t seem bothered enough by the unsightly compost bin in your backyard. They are all family and they all piss you off sometimes, but I urge you to hop off your high horse and remember that the most effective way to create change is to find common ground with the people you understand the least.
My goal is not to shame or persuade. I want to show you the reality of zero waste living. The good, the bad, and quite often times, the ugly outcomes of working toward zero waste. Quick little anecdote, back when I first started my journey, all the way back in Spring of 2017, I took myself to what will remain (for now) an unnamed restaurant in downtown DC. This restaurant changed their menu 4 times every day. Every. Day. At the time, I was working for an environmental non-profit and was very aware of the resources available to business owners and residents. As I watched the bartender rip about 20 menus and toss them in a garbage bin, I casually asked if they recycled them. His response, and I’m paraphrasing here; “It’s not my job, it’s above my pay grade, and it would be too much to recycle.” It would be too much to recycle? What. That line really got me. So I informed him of all the opportunities available to the restaurant and what an impressive impact they could have on not only the environment, but the city’s relationship with sustainability. It could give them a huge leg up on their competition. And most importantly, all it would take is a phone call to waste management services and a quick email out to employees on how to dispose of items properly. I was excited, naive and passionate. He laughed at me, called me a hippie and then grabbed some unused cocktail napkins and started throwing them in the garbage. Worst part? He maintained full blown eye contact with me the whole time. This, my friends, is the ugly side of moving towards a zero waste lifestyle.
One year later and I’m crediting this bartender with helping me find my voice. Which brings me back to the importance of finding common ground. In the situation stated above, you may be asking yourself, “what common ground did those two find?” Well, the answer is, we haven’t. The answer is, I didn’t find what I was looking for and neither did he. The answer is, that interaction inspired me to create common ground where there was none. I can’t force him to care about the world, but I can show him what it looks like and why it matters.
There will be people here reading this that think their cities don’t, won’t or can’t offer zero waste products or street side composting and therefor they cannot live this idealistic lifestyle. We can’t all live in Brooklyn or Austin or heckin all of California. But we do have a place where we can all live; online. And we are here to help you.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton