Three weeks ago, after a solid week of researching zero waste with the zeal of a person possessed, I decided I was up to the challenge. For those that don’t know what zero waste and it’s resultant ‘movement’ is all about, it’s essentially a conscious and proactive lifestyle change, to ultimately stop producing any waste whatsoever. Now, this is impossible – the term is aspirational and meant as a catchy motivator, as a lofty goal to remind us we can probably always do better, or make better choices next time we’re faced with *insert waste producing situation here*. We shouldn’t be holding ourselves to impossible standards such as literally producing zero waste, and then beating ourselves up when we don’t manage the impossible.
Which brings me to the alleged #zerowastefail. The more I scroll through social media the more I see this term or this hashtag and lament. There are several points to be made here, important ones, and the message is, you have never failed.
- We live in a world where in many countries consumerism is king. Where people mistakenly attach their identity and their worth to material possessions. Capitalist societies in particular rely on the business of making stuff, and the manufacturers are aided and abetted by the marketers who tell us that if we don’t have this thing, that thing, the best thing, the newest thing, then we are less than. We can’t feel the way we want to feel or be the person we know deep inside we can be, if we don’t have this material symbol to show our friends, families and strangers that we’re enough, or better than.
Manufacturers have a social and environmental corporate responsibility to start making more environmentally sustainable items, packaged in environmentally friendly packaging – if packaged at all.
The onus does not lie solely with the consumer. You can and should vote with your dollars, contact manufacturers and alert them to the new and growing demands of consumers that you’re provided with environmentally sustainable products, and petition retailers and manufacturers alike to make the changes that will help you leave a planet future generations can actually survive upon.
You have not failed, because you were unable to find, within a reasonable distance from your residence, at a price you can afford, a product without packaging. That is not your fail to own, that is the fail of the manufacturer and the retailer.
- If you are out and about and have forgotten your zero waste kit, or your cup or straw, or are out for longer than you thought and got hungry and needed to buy food that comes in packaging or a takeaway container, you have not failed. Society isn’t geared towards zero waste. Society is geared towards instant gratification, convenience, and minimising expenditure of money and energy. Sadly it’s cheaper and more convenient for most takeaways and some restaurants to serve food in plastic containers and provide plastic cutlery. That is not your fail to own.
- When you do have your zero waste kit with you, you’ve brought containers from home to buy something, and the retailer refuses to use your container, that retailer has failed you, that is not your fail to own. Sometimes you do not have the time, the patience, the budget or the inclination to say no and go somewhere else. That is still not you failing at zero waste. You certainly did what you could, and some days you’ll go somewhere else, some days you won’t. It’s a learning curve, and you’ll know not to go there again if your intention is to use your own container.
Generally it’s not possible or practical to know or find out if every place you may enter will accept your brought-from-home container. They may say things like ‘it’s against health and safety laws’ (FYI in Australia it is not part of any legislation that a person cannot have their food, regardless of what kind, served in their own containers) or ‘I don’t think we can do that’. What you do from there is your personal call based on your own personal circumstances at that time, and making the decision to still buy the product is not a failing on your part.
- Failing is knowing you can do something – anything – and flatly refusing. Failing is having your eyes opened to a problem and making a conscious decision that it’s somebody else’s issue to deal with, or that one person won’t make a difference, or that you callously don’t care what happens to all the inhabitants of this planet because you’re completely about yourself only, with no regard for others.
To do what you can, when you can, with the resources you have, at a pace that makes the process sustainable in the long term for you, is not a fail.
To see so many people claim a #fail is counterproductive to the movement. It gives the impression that it’s easy to fail, because so many people seem to be doing it. It gives the impression that it’s hard to be zero waste, and that failing is inevitable (so why try). It gives the impression that people are constantly failing, when in fact they’re constantly doing wonderfully. If you’re trying you are not failing when it comes to zero waste. The goal is never perfection, perfection is impossible, the goal is simply to be the best you can be at any given moment in time, based on the your circumstance at that moment. You don’t fail, because industry/society is constantly working against you. As one person, you have the power to make a difference, and all the armies of one out there are succeeding every single day, with every choice they make, and telling yourself you’re failing is to undermine all of your wonderful and helpful efforts. To try is to succeed.
I hope to see this term, this hashtag, this idea taken out of the vocabulary rotation. To my mind it’s misleading and wholly incorrect. What do you think?