“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” -Anne Marie Bonneau
It happened as I stepped on the garbage can pedal to throw out a clementine bag. All of a sudden, I thought “Why am I doing this?”
I had just bought an orange mesh bag with a big blue plastic label whose only purpose was to hold some fruit until it got thrown away. This plastic was made out of materials mined from the earth, shipped to wherever the clementines were packaged, then shipped to my grocery store. The amount of pollution involved in its creation is incredible, and its destination is a landfill where it will wallow for centuries leaching its decomposition into the groundwater.
I’ve bought many of these clementine bags and other garbage packaging, knowing that it was wrong but thinking I had no choice. But this bag brought me to a realization—I do have a choice. It maybe involve no more clementines. We have control over our consumer spending, and over what we pressure manufacturers and lawmakers into doing. We vote with our dollars, and the step beyond that is directly agitating lawmakers and manufacturers.
I know we are all pressed for time. I deeply desire to slow down and I’m sure other people do as well. Much of our garbage is produced in our haste: you have to buy a gift and there’s no time to shop so you grab a weirdly packaged thing, or you have no time to make dinner so you grab takeout. I’ve done both—and recently, too.
Thinking back in time, people used to eat out of their gardens. No plastic was used, and no refrigeration. Food simply waited on the plant for people to eat it, and after that it was stored in a root cellar. Protein needs were met by meat stored in barrels and beans stored in cloth sacks. People didn’t take out the garbage because there wasn’t any. Yes it took a lot of time and know-how, but it may be healthy for us to incorporate some of that into our lives, as much as we are able in our fast-paced world.
Our waste-filled lifestyle is a new thing, not the way it’s always been. We can take cues from the past when envisioning the future. When I saw an infographic about how our refrigerator uses more energy than entire households in some countries, I realized that I wanted to get rid of my refrigerator altogether.
There, I said it.
It will take a lot of time and will be done in stages. Before I saw that infographic, using a refrigerator was just a fact of life, like having eyeballs. I’m human, so therefore I have eyeballs and a refrigerator. What else am I not seeing until I slow down enough to really look?
We are already making positive changes; the world after the plastic bag ban feels fresher to me, it feels like the world I want to live in. Can you imagine how good it would feel if our cars no longer produced greenhouse gases? If chemicals used in warfare weren’t used on lawns? What if we could live our lives without the guilt of burdening the planet?
Start noticing your garbage. Look past the film over your eyes that says “this is how it has to be” and question whether it’s true. If someone (maybe you) gets another genius idea for what to ban, pressure lawmakers and manufacturers to comply.
The world is big, but our choices shape it. We start in our own personal lives, and the effects ripple outwards, they have to. Let’s make a world we want to live in.