I can feel a subtle change starting to manifest itself in my life. Ever since I first heard about Bea Johnson’s ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle, and wrote about it for Parentables last year, then again for TreeHugger more recently (read my post here), I’ve had a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I should really be doing more to work toward Zero Waste. As much as I loved the idea, I pushed it from my head with the justification that, “Oh, I’m already doing a lot. Plus, I don’t live in San Francisco like she does!”
I do try to be extremely conscious of every single purchase I make — paying slightly more for, say, paper-packaging instead of plastic, choosing meat from the local butcher shop that’s wrapped in paper instead of sold on Styrofoam. All lunches are packed in reusable containers; I refuse takeout containers and coffee cups; the thermostat is kept low; all laundry is hung to dry. I buy second-hand clothes almost exclusively, shovel the driveway by hand, and keep a smelly compost bin. All vegetables and many grains comes from an organic local CSA, eggs from a friend’s farm, meat from a local butcher, and our bread is homemade by yours truly.
But we do have one major household problem — and that’s the recycling bin. I realized it more than ever this week when the biweekly pickup was cancelled due to the blizzard. Since we missed the curb-side pickup over Christmas, we had six weeks’ worth of recycling piled on our front porch. There was so much stuff, and it was so depressing that I could hardly look at it every time I stepped out the door.
This is not acceptable. As Bea Johnson states clearly in her book, Zero Waste Home, which I’m now devouring, recycling must be thought of as a last resort, not as an integral part of the cycle. I learned that plastic is not actually recycled; it’s downcycled, always taking on a reduced, slightly less recyclable form in each reincarnation until it’s eventually sent to the landfill. Glass, wood, and metal, on the other hand, can always maintain their level of integrity through recycling, but that process is incredibly subjective based on municipal and city guidelines, not to mention costly in terms of energy.
Something’s got to change, I realized with shock as I hauled the overflowing blue bin and three bags of paper waste to the curb yesterday. There’s nothing quite like living with one’s garbage to realize how much we create. Seeing it all there made me understand how, despite being “recycled,” it’s still unsustainable and absurd. But how and where to start?
Most change will have to occur in the kitchen, since that’s what generates the majority of our recycling waste, but there are certain things I’m unsure of. Can I really just take a glass jar into the store and ask for a pound of feta cheese, please? I guess I’m going to have to try and see what happens. Really, there’s no reason why they can’t do it — just tare the jar on the scale and print out the price tag as usual.
I have no problem with going against the grain, with doing things that I believe are right, but trying to go zero waste is definitely daunting. My goal, in the meantime, is to reduce the quantity of recycling that we generate every two weeks. Slowly but surely, anything is possible.