Thursday, July 18, 2024

Forget zero waste: just become a better shopper


A colleague recently sent me an article to read in Canada’s National Observer: “Cutting back on waste is possible – if you can afford it.” It argued that reducing household waste – food-related, in particular – is an expensive endeavor and a near impossibility for anyone working precarious low-wage jobs with little extra time.

The conclusion? Zero waste is something only privileged people can afford, while those “who are struggling to get by simply can’t.” 

While that may be true, I take issue with the idea that zero waste must be all or nothing. I think this is an unfortunate mentality that threatens to undermine valuable progress toward reducing one’s food-related household waste. When we get too hung up on the idea of literal zero waste, of being like the zero waste superstars Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson who can fit years of trash in a single mason jar, we start missing the broader point. The goal, after all, is to make smarter shopping decisions and establish practices that are sustainable for us, as individuals, with our own unique resources and living situations.

Over the years my own food-shopping approach has shifted from wanting to be like those zero waste exemplars to embracing a more realistic low-waste lifestyle. The fact is, I have three growing children who eat ravenously and must be fed without our food budget going off the rails. I live in a small rural town with no fancy zero waste stores or “refilleries.” My husband and I both work full-time. I am uninterested in spending my free time doing DIY projects and driving from store to store in search of perfect packaging. As a result, I don’t stress too much over what’s unaffordable, unavailable, or too much work. I do the best I can. It’s these strategies that I want to share with readers. Read more…

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