Waste Not


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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  4. 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?

Waste Not

waste not want not

This week I put myself on a $40 grocery challenge for the week to save what little money I can.  Initially, my eyes were properly opened to the amount of food I have in my kitchen, even though I’ve been actively whittling it down because there’s no good reason one person should have as much food as I do.

I am in the habit of buying two of something if it’s on sale for half price, which is something the grocery stores routinely do lately.  I also purchase back-up items, sometimes well before the item in use is going to run out – I hate running out of things.  I have definitely been purchasing less food and working through what I have, but when staring into my fridge, pantry and drawers figuring out how to make it last given my tight budget, I was surprised.  Apart from fruit and vegetables, I could probably eat for two to three weeks easily (maybe not gourmet, and maybe lots of rice with sauce, but still, it’s food that will keep me alive).

Six days into this challenge, I sat down today to write a list around my remaining $23.35 for the week and the food I have.  I realised I had even more food I had forgotten about, even in my tiny fridge it seems impossible to lose anything in, and my surprise grew.  Not only about what I can fit and forget about in my fridge, but that I would have eventually wasted cucumbers, a bunch of eschallots, sun dried tomatoes, a carrot, half a kilo of grapes, probably the opened tofu, coconut yoghurt, and that’s just what I’m using up today.

I’m literally watching a news story now as I write, on the drought and famine in East Africa, and I am gutted that I am so privileged and complacent that at 37 years old this is the first time I’ve really taken stock.  Really had a hard look in my fridge and pantry and make a concerted effort to use every single thing up so as not to waste it.  And to think I’ve done this because I’m doing a little challenge to save money when these people have nothing.  I’m watching an interview with a mother of six in East Africa who has lost one child and may lose another to famine related illness.  The whole family share two handfuls of rice each day.  I was proud of how much food I used up today but now I’m ashamed I’ve let so much go to waste for so long.

People of my generation and older particularly grew up hearing “waste not want not”, and “if you don’t want your dinner we’ll give it to a starving child in Africa then!”, and with no real frame of reference it meant nothing really.

This has been a real wake up call and I am committing to spending two days per week ensuring I am working my menu plans around wasting as little as possible.  Nothing if possible.

This blog post started out as a light-hearted acknowledgement of my oversight of wastage, and as the timely news story ran while I wrote, this post is now a revelation of life changing perspective.  I will obviously save the money I need to be saving if I’m not spending it on food I waste, but now it’s not the most important reason to do it.  I no longer want to be so arrogant as to waste, when others are starving.

I think I will do a post once a month or so, giving a round-up of how I have avoided waste that month.  A good way to remember this lesson, and not let it fade away as a phase.

Have you ever really taken considered stock of your food waste?