The successful zero waster…..
Has developed an immunity to advertising
If something is advertised, then you probably don’t need it. Advertisers use all kinds of deviousness to try to part you from your cash, but ignoring them means freedom. This applies just as much to eco friendly lifestyle products as anything else. If you didn’t think you needed an organic peg bag or a sustainable fly swatter before you went online, what’s changed?
Similarly, the successful zero waster never relies on marketing as a guide to what to buy. Large corporations can be very clever about making themselves appear green, although they usually stop short of telling outright fibs. Meanwhile smaller, independent businesses may have more of a focus on sustainability, but seem less inclined to check their facts, and regularly make the most preposterous claims about the eco friendliness of their products and businesses.
Regardless of whether a business is large or small, they both have one thing in common: they are hoping you will give them your money. So get your information about sustainability elsewhere. If it helps, I’ve made a list of what to buy and what not to buy here.
Always Plans Their Meals Ahead
This is something which is a bore for about 10 minutes but pays off. It’s the most effective way I know to avoid food waste, and if you get it right, means you’ll always have something good to eat. I really enjoyed this example from the Green and Rose Blog.
Doesn’t believe everything they read
There is no shortage of misinformation out there, so be savvy about who you listen to. Sources to treat with caution include: social media memes, special interest groups and campaigners, anyone trying to sell you something, emotive documentaries that you haven’t fact-checked, and random people on the internet.
Also, sustainable lifestyle bloggers that tell you to buy beeswax wraps but don’t mention meat consumption and transport are the environmental equivalent of health bloggers that tell you to eat obscure foods but don’t tell you not to smoke.
It may not be realistic to review the scientific literature before every decision, but it is possible to be smart about your sources. As a guide, look out for articles that reference research and get quotes from well-qualified people. Serious news reports that are written by specialist science and environment journalists are also more likely to be reliable. Organisations who base their advice on evidence include Hubbub and the Waste and Resources Action Partnership.
Knows how to do the laundry
This is that one weird trick that can reduce impacts in so many ways. Wash your clothes only when needed, at 30°, using a full load on a short cycle. Then air dry if poss. This will not only reduce your consumption of electricity, water and soap, but it will make your clothes and your machine last for longer and help to reduce the amount of microfibres in the oceans. Life is too short to do any more laundry than necessary anyway.
Sees the bigger picture
A sense of perspective is essential for anyone who is looking to reduce their impact on the planet. Given the urgency of the planetary crisis, it makes sense to focus on the actions that will make the most difference – I have already written about those here.
Of course, small steps can still help – as long as a) they genuinely make a difference and b) they are relatively cheap and easy to do. Investing a lot of time, energy and focus on the small stuff can do more harm than good if it diverts attention from the most pressing issues. Yes, there are environmental benefits from using reusable bags, plastic-free teabags and taking care not to overfill the kettle. So let’s do those things. But for most people, the areas with the biggest potential to make a a difference will be things like reducing the amount of energy used for home heating, transport, and eating more earth-friendly foods.
The successful zero waster will also avoid a narrow focus on a single issue. So yes, it’s great to reduce rubbish, but not if it means buying mountains of new stuff and driving 5 miles to reach a shop that sells unpackaged nuts. Scrolling through social media, it’s amazing how much resources are consumed in a attempt to avoid rubbish or eliminate every last trace of plastic. Tunnel vision can lead to unintended consequences for the environment – either shifting to a different problem or causing more serious impacts than the original one. See also: ‘War on Plastic May Do More Harm Than Good,’ ‘The Unintended Consequences of a War on Plastic,’ and ‘Do We Really Need to Avoid Plastic?’
(And while we’re on the topic of perspective, take care to prioritise your health. Please don’t take risks with things like sunscreen or contraception, or make any decisions about medication or dental care on the basis of avoiding packaging. Pill packets, plastic pots etc can often be recycled anyway).
At the larger scale, a public focus on small details can allow unsustainable big businesses to get free publicity by making superficial changes to their operations. Supermarkets and burger chains must be delighted that environmentalists are concentrating their efforts on straws and bags rather than looking too closely at the environmental destruction caused by their business models. Meanwhile, the national policymaking agenda will be tied up with things like plastic straws when what we urgently need is action on co2 emissions from housing and transport. The planet is burning, people, and we need to stay focussed.