Monday, 10 April 2017

The Zero Waste Myth

Waste in Accra, Ghana
There has been a lot of attention lately about living zero waste lifestyles or the promotion of reducing waste through minimised packaging, consumption and ultimately consumerism. I have been chastising myself for every bit of plastic I use and anything I consume trying to achieve this very goal. As a rule I generally aim to use as little as possible, I bring containers, I buy used clothing and try not to accumulate much, the overall objectives of the green living we all need to adopt to reduce our environmental impact and reduce the effects of climate change. Yet, I can't help looking at my garbage bin at the end of each month and seeing my failure in its contents.

When I came to West Africa I had this idea that because people lived in poverty and with fewer means they would waste less and reuse everything. I imagined a world of a hundred years ago where living simply meant living with little impact, which is not the reality I have encountered.  The naivety of this idea now astounds me; countries in the developing world have totally embraced the disposable life. People here use plastic bags like they are going out of style; I am even laughed at when I bring reusable bags to the grocery store. This leads me to the truth behind the trend of zero waste; it is a privileged and western concept.
Recycled Art: Ghana

Extremes are not helpful in increasing participating in a green economy. When we put the extreme labels of zero-waste and total minimalism we are setting a rather unachievable standard that at best perpetuates the divisions in class and at worst, deters environmental behaviour. A friend told me, "we are just worried about the bread and butter, I can not even begin to consider sustainability until our basic needs are met." A disconnect exists in the environmental movement between making greener choices without considering accessibility to the broader human spectrum.

When we examine the trend that is environmentalism and the niche of zero-waste what I can’t help but see the pressure we put on each other to achieve a sort of eco-perfection. As if we needed anymore stress in our already chaotic post Trump lives we must further be bombarded with messaging about being the greenest, the minimalist and aiming to achieve the impossible.  This all or nothing attitude serves to dissuade those who may have been interested in greener choices but is then scared off from fear of failure. Effects of climate change on mental health cause a sort of eco-anxiety as we worry about our impacts, our outputs, our futures. But how can we take these fears and use them to fuel our action towards lower impact lifestyles? 

If total Zero waste seems just a little out of reach for you, try following these principles as an expanded version of the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle):

Reject-   Speak up against the capitalist model that perpetuates our over consumptive lives!
Refuse- Just say no to things, decline non-reusable materials.
Support companies that offer repairs like Patagonia 
Reduce- Buy less, simple enough.
Reuse-   Reuse plastic bags, water bottles, food containers etc.
Repair- Fix things instead of disposing or replacing them.
Repurpose- Up-cycle something old to something new, like a dress to a pillowcase.
Recycle- If you have facilities to do this, use them! In Ghana we don't even have recycling and it pains me.

Let us allow the imperfections in life that make us all human. Sometimes you will use a water bottle, sometimes we will eat fast food but as long as we ensure that the principles that guide our every day choices are the least impactful we can still affect change. Maybe together we can build each other up instead of deterring our further progress and make an accessible movement that all people can be apart of. So let's stop trying to be perfect and just make better choices, ok? 


Melanie XX

"The only thing you can't recycle is wasted time" - Unknown 

1 comment:

  1. I also think that a complete zero waste life is not possible, you can't apply it in every aspect of your life, the maximum you can do is try!