Going waste-free is NOT easier than you think
It’s actually probably harder. You may think you’ve thought about it, but let me enlighten you… once you really get into the nitty gritty of going waste free (which encompasses but isn’t limited to Plastic free) you start to think it almost looks like an bloody impossibility.
I just saw a post about this very thing – that going waste free is easier than you think. And I may be sensitive to weird things, I may be over-reacting, but this kind of thing starts making my blood boil.
Because it’s a damn lie!
I’m not here to slam the site doing it, they and many others are doing great stuff. But I think we can fall into the trap of trying to make change palatable and appealing to the masses, trying to pretty it up and sell it, like it’s easy and wonderful and painless.
But it’s not. Not real change, anyway. Real change is pretty disruptive.
And I feel like perpetuating this lie is just making things worse. Sure, I get where they are coming from. We do need things to change, and we need a lot of people on board to make it happen. Plastic and waste are big problems that literally aren’t going to go away on their own.
But by trying to make people feel better about it, like, it’s okay, it’s not that hard, just have a go… I know what they’re trying to do. But I think it’s the wrong approach. It’s treating us like we are just a bit dumb and lazy; if I spell it out for you real simple-like, you’re life will magically rid itself of plastic with barely a finger lifted…
It’s not true. And I’m not afraid to tell you so. Because as much as I want us all to do something about the waste issue too, I don’t want to gloss over the real challenges. And I think we all can give ourselves a little more respect — we don’t need it to be easy to do something. They seem to think we won’t, that we are selfish and lazy and only do things when it directly and immediately benefits us.
And by ‘they’, I mean we. We think that of ourselves.
It’s not because we’re lazy or because we don’t care.
What is really going on is that we are overwhelmed. We are exhausted. Even the ‘good’ choices are regularly being apparently ‘exposed’ as just a different flavour of bad. And then we see yet another article telling us how ‘easy’ it is to fix things with a few little changes. But because it’s actually a surface fix at best, and NOT as easy as they’re saying, we are set up to feel like failures. If we can’t even manage the ‘easy’ ways of making a difference, then what hope is there?
One of the ways this article suggested I ‘easily’ go waste free was – “Getting take away? Say no to plastic straws, try and find places that avoid Styrofoam packaging, or better yet, BYO reusable containers.”
Oh, yeah, that’s super easy… you’re probably getting take away because you’re already too tired, or rushed, or just super hungry and need something now. So when you were getting out the house barely remembering to bring your own eyeballs in your head, did you also make sure you brought your own containers? And not plastic ones, you heathen. Metal ones, that you’ve previously purchased at great expense. Oh, and don’t forget cutlery. And probably even your own salt, pepper, sauce, water, all portioned out previously in glass and metal containers of course.
And then never mind the social barrier you’ve got to face, of being brave enough to ask the kid behind the counter to put your food in this weird metal compartmentalised lunchbox you’ve brought, instead of the plastic ones they normally use. So if you have managed to change your routine, to choose different places to go, to be prepared before hand, to have all your own stuff on you – if that hasn’t already exhausted you, you now also have to muster up the courage to ask the takeaway place to change their routines around you too.
Easy? **Eye brow raise**
Okay, so not everything on this article’s list was so simplistic, and it’s not this one article’s fault, or the people who posted it. But it’s just the general tone we all treat this with that really bothers me. An inane cheeriness, a glossy veneer over issues that run deep in a consumeristic society. One that doesn’t make us think at all about how we actually got to this point in the first place.
And we are expected to fight the tide by bringing our own reusable coffee cups, while all the while still being bombarded on every side with advertising and messages telling us to buy! Consume! More! More!
Even in the plastic free movement. How do you stop using plastic stuff? BUY new stuff! Weehee!
Except that’s expensive. And manufacturing of new stuff, even plastic free stuff, still consumes resources and creates waste. And like I experienced, buying a metal popsicle mould set — that was expensive, but I hope a good investment that my daughter could still be using with her kids in years to come — it STILL came packaged in plastic… ffs. And buying second hand is not as easy as it’s made to sound. Your local op shop isn’t always going have exactly what you need when you need it, so you either have to wait or go without. And even DIY requires a level of skill and access to tools and resources that we either don’t have or have to go out and pay for, before we even get to the part where we’re supposedly being self-reliant….
None of this is impossible or insurmountable. But easy? No.
Change is challenging.
Whichever way you slice it, making the change towards waste free is going to take some combination of a time, energy and money. Three resources we already feel are pushed to breaking point on a daily basis. All the while still being bombarded with the directive to keep consuming on so many levels, even within so called sustainable choices.
So let’s set this straight. There is no real easy way. So just put that thought out of your head. We will all be better off once we face up to the truth. Plastic and waste is a huge, pervasive issue. And to change it, so many facets of our lives will have to change — from the way we buy food, store it, dispose of it; what and where and how we buy things; our routines and habits when it comes to work, shopping, eating, socialising…
We need to change our whole attitude to consumption.
That is not easy.
So while I’m glad the issue of waste and plastic is coming more into the mainstream view, and I’m glad for awareness raising, I still can’t help cringing at the way it is happening. The commodification of change-making too easily gives us the impression of doing ‘good things’ while still marching in oblivion off the edge of a cliff, shouting “Look, how easy!”
The truth is, we do need to make things easier for real change to happen. But that doesn’t mean getting to ‘easy’ is the easy part. We need systemic change. So that when it comes to choosing your food and your products and services, the choice is made easy for you — you don’t have to go out of your way to hunt for plastic free, waste free, organic, local, sustainable — it’s right there on your doorstep, it’s real, and it happens as a natural part of our way of living. You don’t have to question every product you buy, you can just trust that whoever made it actually cares about their product, you and the planet and is doing what they say they’re are doing with no hidden agenda.
More importantly, you don’t feel compulsively driven to buy in the first place…
Fortunately this is happening. A little. More and more, Farmer’s Markets and small-scale, local, pop-up businesses are becoming a fixture in our lives instead of just a trend. But there is still somewhat of a stigma, and application of the labels of hipster/snobby/expensive/privilege surrounding these things, that is not totally undeserved.
So you may be wondering what exactly it is I do suggest. If I haven’t thoroughly disillusioned you and you are still reading at this point, and not returned to bed with your head under the covers.
Well, my thoughts on these things, whatever issue, are nearly always the same thing:
These issues are symptoms, not the disease.
Plastic and waste are symptoms of the disconnect and isolation of our society.
(This could be a whole other post, but just think of the reasons we buy things in the first place: The way we try to make ourselves feel through stuff. How far from connected we are from the sources of our food and clothing and products. How isolated we feel when we think about trying to make changes, but realise we’d have to do it all alone. How we try to be everything and do everything that was never meant to be done by one person. Consumption is an addiction caused by our isolation.)
So my recommendations are what they always are:
- Start with your inner self & treat the issue holistically.This is ‘Think global, act local’ taken to an ever closer level. You don’t even have to start with your own behaviours around waste yet, though these can come simultaneously. Start closer to home than that.Because you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle if you don’t examine and release your conditioning and fears and beliefs around consumption to begin with.Just start to become aware of what you are spending, how you are living, why you are living the way you are. Where are things out of balance?Because problematic symptoms are always an indication of things being systemically out of balance; when it comes to your health, your emotions, or your life.
- More of what you do want, not just less of what you don’t.
In permaculture, we think of weeds as being indicators. They tell you valuable stuff about what is lacking in your garden and your soil. And they are there to actually help restore that balance. So if you want to get rid of weeds, rather than simply fighting a losing battle of pulling them out, you take the messages they are sending you and provide more of what your soil needs – bring in more of the plants you do want, types that draw certain nutrient in, add more richness, organic matter and diversity.And your weed is now redundant and can no longer overtake the garden because the ecosystem is in balance.Of course in practice, it takes time and patience and trial and error to do this — to understand the system and introduce new things gradually, in the right succession, to reassess, to let the ecosystem renew and rebalance itself without too much interference, to trust the process.
It’s the same in our lives. Whatever the undesirable thing is, whether it is a mindset, or a habit, or a behaviour, it is an indicator of a lack of balance. It is also a message to us about what is lacking.
So if we take the time to listen — what is this thing I don’t want in my life telling me about what is missing? And then begin to gradually add in more of what we do want — by trying something new, or simply by just beginning to think something new — then we will start to see balance restoring itself.
When it comes to waste, if we feel like we are creating too much of it, then just cracking down on the waste itself can feel too restrictive and harsh and overwhelming. Instead, look at where the waste is coming from. What is it telling you about what is lacking in the soil of your life?
If you are relying a lot on packaged foods in your kitchen, eliminating packaged foods might seem like the ‘easy’ and obvious solution. But why are you relying on packaged foods in the first place? Because you don’t know where to get the non-packaged stuff? Is it because you don’t have the time and energy to do things from scratch? Because you don’t know how to make things from scratch? Is it because you alone are responsible for the bulk of meal making for your family, plus all the other things, and packages make your life easier?It is those things that are the indicators of what is out of balance in your life. And not saying this is easy to do, but imagine you could balance those things — you had time and energy, you knew how to cook things, you knew where to buy the ingredients, they were convenient to find, you had support and cooked as a family or community, or if you hate cooking, there were others who loved it to do it instead, and it wasn’t all down to you…. Just imagine for a second that’s all true.
Now is waste even on your radar? Barely. You haven’t had to focus on eliminating packages, because suddenly food feels joyful again, it’s part of a natural rhythm, it’s a social event filled with connection, it’s fun to buy and use fresh ingredients, everyone is on the same page… so packages just sort themselves out. They become a non-issue.
I know that might sound idealistic, but I’m not saying this is where you should try to get overnight. That would be impossible, and I don’t recommend you try.
But this is the kind of visioning I wish we would do more of! Daring to have a picture in our minds of what life could and should be, and being willing to — patiently and gently, like tending a garden — take steps towards it.
On the way, it doesn’t hurt to try things, like eliminating single-use plastic straws, or buying soap berries as an experiment. It’s eye opening to see how much we rely on things and habits we didn’t even notice before. But start with the things that actually are easy for you – set yourself up for success in the practical changes. And if none of those things are easy, let yourself off the hook and don’t even worry about trying just yet.
In a permaculture garden, sometimes you need pioneer species to do the groundwork, breaking up the soil, replenishing nutrients, building the living organic matter, before other more sensitive plants can thrive.
This is the same for your life. Even the best ideas and intentions will fall flat if you are not ready for them. Lay the groundwork. It’s the deeper issues of connection and community, the soil in the garden of life, that need the most attention — this is what we should be focusing on because everything else grows from there.
If we put a rainforest plant in the desert and it died, we wouldn’t blame the plant. You haven’t failed because it’s easy and you’re just dumb or lazy — you’ve been an adverse environment & you’re just trying to survive.
So give yourself a break, and:
- Have fun! I may have seemed pretty serious and sombre over the whole thing in this post. And I do think we should take a serious, sombre look at stuff sometimes. But then, take a deep breath, release it, and have fun! (This is not always easy either, but it’s so vitally important.) Let advertising have it’s fear-based lies. Let’s remember, even in the midst of the serious issues, that life is a gift and we are allowed to enjoy it! In fact, if we do enjoy it, truly not just superficially, then the real change is far more likely to happen with far more ease.In our permaculture garden metaphor, joy is the rich, humus-filled, living earth that sustains everything.So seek joy! Find the things that really set your pulse racing, make your spirit quicken a little when you think of them, and then start moving towards those things.Because my example above of a package free kitchen coming naturally from a connected, social, community experience of life, this doesn’t come by you being all things to all people, and the solver of everything.Our garden needs diversity. Our lives need diversity. The world needs diversity. You are who you are, and you love what you love for a reason.What kind of plant are you? Do you have deep roots, wide leaves, small leaves, fruit, nuts, woody stems? Are you a climbing vine, a ground cover, a canopy level tree, a food tree, a medicinal herb, a support species? Do you like full sun, shade, are you drought tolerant or do you need rainforest humidity? Don’t try to be all of that, or try to thrive in every single environment. That’s what the other plants in the garden are for. And we want them all — if any one of those types of plants took over, then that’s when we’d call it a weed.So we need you, where you are, as you are!Make it simple for yourself. You’ve got enough choices to make already so…Follow your curiosity. Whatever arises and brings you joy, do more of that.
And if we all do that, combined, we will have all the bases covered. Doing the things that bring you joy and a feeling of purpose are not frivolous or self-indulgent. Because we are human beings, we are wired for connection and social harmony. And we have that used against us every day, in fear based marketing and consumerism, that tries to sell you connection that it cannot ever deliver. Because it’s telling you must conform to belong — which is actually the opposite of the truth — making us afraid of standing out to the point where we contribute to our own enslavement to stuff and call it freedom.
So combat fear with love. For yourself, for those around you, for whatever you do. Follow that call of joy, and the rest will follow.
And that is how we create a diverse garden where the weeds become a non-issue.
So, no, going waste-free is not easier than you think. And there isn’t a quick fix.
But that’s a good thing. If you do it right, it might be slow, and hard, and it will shake your life up and it will mean soul-searching in ways you never thought eliminating plastic could make you do.
But it will also be the best thing that ever happened to you. No explaining weird metal lunchboxes at the takeaway place required.