With the global stress-induced migraine that was 2017 closing in, and the New Year ahead, full of hope and promise, I have been reflecting on my resolutions for 2018. Oddly enough, this year has been quite successful for me and my personal progress, so, with the aim being to shed some residual resistance before January, I have decided to start as I mean to go on, and turn this photoblog into a functioning website. I should preface this article by stating clearly that I am just beginning my zero waste journey, so (much to my perfectionist regret) I can in no way pretend to be an expert on the subject. I tried to shoehorn a Brexit reference in here, but snappy wit has never been my forte, so I’ll just be direct about it.
I am perhaps what is best described as a zero waste toddler. It was not so long ago that I was happily buying sodas from vending machines, unthinkingly giving my money to corporations that hugely contribute to the environmental destruction of the planet, and undertake human rights abuses towards their workers. Now I have learnt the word ‘No’, and I intend to use it liberally and unashamedly. Furthermore, I am far from the first person to reference the fact that our planet simply cannot sustain the levels of consumption demanded by a small proportion of the world’s population. The conclusion I have come to – and it is far from original or radical, though others may dispute this – is that I believe veganism and zero waste are fundamentally interconnected lifestyles, and that the most important action an individual can take to preserve the planet’s resources – water, land, energy, fossil fuels, clean air, human health and animal welfare, and to protect the environment as a whole – is to stop consuming animal products entirely.
Whether one does it for health, environmental, or animal rights reasons, if one cares enough about any of these issues, one should at least consider how they can begin transitioning to a vegan diet. For reasons that I cannot quite understand beyond aversion to inconvenience (also known as the “but bacon!” excuse), that remains a controversial statement for some. But we must understand that it is not a radical theory or a snowflake’s opinion that our planet is warming, the sea levels are rising, species are dying out, coral is being bleached, plastic is being dumped into the ocean where it strangles seals, chokes turtles, breaks down into microplastics that are consumed by birds and fish (and, of course, fish-eating whales, dolphins, and humans). It is happening right now. Not in the future. Right now.
Human impact is to blame, and we have a responsibility to do something to change the established order of things if we intend to preserve this planet for future generations of all the animals (both human and non-human) that call Earth home. We have enough food to make sure no one in the world need starve to death, but not while a small proportion of the planet’s population maintain their demand for meat. The most common causes of death and disease in richer nations stem from poor diet choices. We have the ability, the opportunity, and the responsibility to make a change.
Clearly, living on Planet Earth means that one must consume some things. The point of zero waste is not to achieve an impossible standard of perfection, but to make as much of a positive impact to minimise waste as is possible. I have found Bea Johnson’s “5 R’s” of zero waste to provide an extremely helpful guide to the essentials of the movement:
- Reduce what you need (e.g. meat and animal products; new consumer purchases)
- Refuse what you do not need (e.g. single-use plastics including plastic bags, bottles and cups, paper napkins, flyers and tissues; consider shopping in bulk and bringing your own containers, or making your own cleaning products)
- Reuse what you already have (e.g. wear what you already own, rather than buying new clothes; worn-out old clothes can be cut up and used as cleaning rags)
- Recycle what can be recycled, learn and follow your local area’s recycling rules. Recycling is better than landfilling, but not a perfect solution. The aim is to have accumulated as few materials that need to be recycled as possible, since plastics can only be recycled a limited number of times before they are landfilled, and they will never disappear from the Earth, only break down into smaller microplastics that are consumed by other living things.
- Rot the rest (i.e. compost organic waste)
I am far from perfect, and I make mistakes constantly, but I am trying to see my transition to a zero waste lifestyle as a journey. I will be learning as I go, giving myself the grace to accept that I will struggle, and I will not be an expert right away, and recognising that I will never be perfect. Ultimately, though, I want to live lightly on the planet, and to not see the day when the animals I loved as a child die out, or when the beautiful coastlines of the countries I have called home – and the houses, businesses and lives that go with them – disappear under rising sea waters.
One thing I know for sure is that avoiding such a future is worth any amount of inconvenience to me. How about you?