Wrapping My Head Around Zero Waste
Dom and I have always believed in trying to reduce our use of plastic and things that end up in a landfill. But belief and actions aren’t mutually exclusive. After not really paying attention to how much waste we personally produce, I started looking for ideas of how to transition to a life with less plastic. I knew for sure what I was going to do for my coffee company which took a few weeks to figure out the steps I needed to take to transition. It happened towards the end of the holiday season when we had over 50 orders a day going out. Every time I opened a new tin tie coffee bag that is lined in plastic, or put a label on the front and back of the coffee bag, and then throwing out the label backing, I thought about it.
I thought about how I was missing out on building soil for our farm. None of those label backs can be used. They’re all plastic bound to paper.
I devised a plan for transitioning, and the shipments of new plastic free, compostable packaging have already arrived.
I’ve even started reorganizing and making changes in how I set up my workflow, the materials I’ll be using while working and how I’ll use any leftover materials.
That was fairly easy.
Then I discovered a lifestyle movement called Zero Waste.
I think it broke my brain. I agree with a lot that this lifestyle is hoping to achieve, but I’m unsure if we’ll ever be a zero waste farm and family.
Our biggest concern is Simmi. She has severe life-threatening food allergies to peanuts, most tree nuts, dairy (cow, sheep, and goat), eggs (duck and chicken), soy, and wheat. Simmi was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies when she was only nine months old. We cannot shop for bulk items from a bin…ever. Everything we purchase for her must be sealed.
Here’s the scenario:
We’re at Sprouts or Whole Foods in the bulk food section. About an hour before we get to the store, someone who was casually walking around the store eating nuts (you’ll see them if you look) decides to get foods from the bulk section. Without first washing their hands which have nut oils and salts from eating, they get a bag and start putting basmati rice into the bag. Then the scooper slips out of their hands, and they pick it up NOT from the handle but from the scoop end and put it back into the bin. We use it next, and the tiny particles and oil residue still on the scooper contaminates rice we cook for her. We thought everything was okay until she goes into anaphylaxis and we need to administer epinephrine.
The bins are being refilled by the clerk who first decides to fill the soy flour, peanut bin, nuts, granola bins, and then without changing his/her gloves, opens the rice and pours it into the bin. With contaminated gloves, they put their hands into the rice to help it along into the bin. The air is still filled with particulates from the other products that went in, and he just contaminated the rice as well.
These are things that happen every day.
When we lived in Vermont, our favorite place to go was the co-op in the town we lived in. One day Simmi started sneezing and couldn’t stop. We were walking past the backroom where they happened to be filling smaller bags with something she was allergic to. It was in the air and she was breathing it in. We had to leave the store immediately. Then it happened in another store we went to. This time she broke out in hives, had a hard time breathing and we needed to leave. We were at an indoor farmer’s market and they were making fresh pies from scratch.
So we cannot under any circumstances use bulk bins for Simmi. I’m a Celiac, so bulk bins are out of the question for me too.
I’ve started to pick apart what we purchase each week. The first item up is Simmi’s pasta. Because her diet is already restricted, I’m not up for removing pasta just because it is packaged in plastic. However, I have found a recipe for making her pasta and a manual pasta machine to cut it into strips.
We can make her pasta and forego the cost of ready-made pasta. This would be a good solution for us, and it would be something she can learn to make for herself.
The cost of bulk flours for her is way cheaper than buying one or two pounds at a time. Bulk flour can be put into a large container and save on garbage.
We can do the same with bulk rice.
I don’t think there will ever be a time when we could consider ourselves a zero waste household, but we can greatly reduce how we purchase products and be mindful of the garbage being produced while making sensible choices.
I also see that people in zero waste are carting their glass jars and cotton bags to the stores in order to not use plastic bags or plastic containers. While this is admirable, I think it is a little bit too much with all the separate cotton bags for produce. Tomatoes won’t mind being intermingled with the other softer veggies, and I don’t think celery and carrots would have a problem being lumped together either. After all, they are often mates when put into a hardy stew.
These are just a few of the things that feel unnecessarily cumbersome. I understand putting bread into a cotton bag, but most things won’t mind being next to each other for a few hours between shopping and home.
The next thing I have a hard time wrapping my head around is all the justifications. We live in this weird world of absolute extremes. I’ve seen it with homesteaders, where one will bicker with another if they choose to work outside the home. Everyone seems to have rules about the proper way of living a lifestyle.
Zero Waste seems to have the same issues. One person will tell someone else they’re doing it wrong. If you’re into eating a keto diet, one will tell you that you can’t eat this or that and be truly keto.
I’ve seen it with those who live off-off grid too. That’s where you choose to live without generating any electricity or regular propane and fuels and basically live in a pre-industrial lifestyle. Then someone will come along and point a finger at the off-off grid person and claim they can’t use a computer.
It’s really sad.
I don’t want that for our family. We don’t fit the mold of an environmental family. I don’t do things to “save the planet.” I do things because I care about the planet, especially how it impacts my family and my community. My desire to be plastic free has to do with the love I have for my community as well as my land. I’m not trying to change other people or how they choose to live.
My desire to farm organically doesn’t lead me to condemn or shame those who don’t.
My need to have compostable coffee packaging is very selfish. It is if we want to call a spade a spade! I want to be able to create soil for our farm. I can’t do it with what I’m using now. If it doesn’t have a past life purpose, I don’t want it, nor do I want others to be burdened with not knowing what to do with the packaging either. I want to put empowering tools into my consumer’s hands that allow them to recycle the packaging or even compost it. If they don’t, it’s okay, but at least I empowered them to make a new choice.
Some people will try and reuse plastic in order to save it from a landfill. I can’t do that either. I HATE seeing plastic containers around. I even despise plastic 5-gallon buckets, but I’ll use them until something better comes along for storing things. I don’t find it attractive to use old Folgers plastic containers to store things either.
But that’s me. Not you. And just because I feel that way about plastic doesn’t mean I would condemn or shame you for using it the way you want.
We’re going to do our best moving forward to be accountable for the waste we produce. That’s about where it ends. I’m not planning on making others accountable for their waste products. We all need to follow our own convictions.
Guess what is going into the landfill that we can’t avoid? The rig we are living in right now. At some point, we will be taking it apart, and it will be put into a dumpster and hauled off along with all the things that couldn’t be recycled.
However, by 2022, our hope is that we no longer will need to bring anything to the dump. At least, that’s the plan.
Are you living a zero waste lifestyle or looking to move in that direction? What are some of the changes you made to keep yourself accountable?