The hardest part of reducing waste is doing nothing at all
Before I launch into my philosophical diatribe, let me share a new tip. A friend recommended a good way to manage the bulk shopping problem. She brings paper lunch bags and fills them, putting the contents back in containers at home. The bags last for a few trips and then can be composted. I will definitely try this approach my next time bulk shopping.
Speaking of shopping, since I started following all these zero waste people on Instagram, my timeline is flooded with ads for zero waste products, like bamboo water bottles and cedar make-up brushes. “Zero waste products” is an obvious oxymoron but a lot of people who are interested in waste reduction also envision products that will somehow assist the process, including me. I have dozens of product ideas.
The problem is obvious (it’s just more crap) but the solution is very hard to do. We have late capitalism on the brain — we want to buy our way out of this problem. We want reusable water bottles and carbon credits instead of clean tap water and safe and easy public transit. The solutions are so much bigger than each of us that individual choice feels like the only option.
There’s a growing culture of Buy Nothing and Freecycle groups where you can find and gift free items to avoid buying anything. They are a great idea but in practice, it’s mostly baby items. When you have a baby, it’s incredible how fast they grow and outfits get worn only once. Most new moms feel guilty about dumping those so they share them. In the olden days, women would keep baby clothes for the next child, either their own or someone else’s, but we don’t have enough babies for all the clothes, and we can’t imagine a poorly made Old Navy onesie sitting around waiting for another generation to be born. Meanwhile, I have a baby sweater that belonged to my father-in-law, who wore them in the 1940s and a pair of baby-sized lederhosen that my husband was given when he was born in 1974, in Germany. Not sure when those will get work again.
Another problem with these “sharing economy” groups is that a lot of the stuff on offer is junk that probably should not have been bought in the first place. People feel guilty about their consumption and want to redeem themselves, which is fine, but Buy Nothing should be just that. Buy Nothing.
I’m not ready for that. I’m sitting here typing this in a pair of pajamas that are completely threadbare that I won’t replace, but I absolutely refuse to wear pit-stained T-shirts. Managing the fine line between a beloved old item and ready-for-the-scrap-heap junk is very time-consuming and guilt-inducing. I manage the guilt by using those old T-shirts for rags and produce bags but not everyone likes to sew. The “sharing economy” needs to grow to a “reuse and repurpose but really don’t buy economy” is it’s ever going to make a dent.
So back to my brilliant title that doesn’t really match the topic: All this is to say, Doing Nothing is very difficult. It’s like the advanced Buddhist level of zero waste. It isn’t hobbies — it’s a total overhaul to our system of consumption and use.