(RE)ENERGIZING THE MAINSTREAM ZERO WASTE MOVEMENT
WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER
As an environmental educator for Be Zero, I'm perpetually grateful for the opportunity to teach workshops on low-waste living in my community. I love working with and learning from folks who share my passion for embodying our values.
Through my work, however, I've met many folks who feel (understandably) isolated by the zero waste movement. Zero waste itself is an alienating term—it's a goal that no one can achieve given that we live in a linear economy. Worse still, popular Instagram accounts within the zero waste movement offer a sanitized vision of zero waste that elides intersectionality across movements. Ignoring how social capital, race, ethnicity, and geography shape access to zero waste is deeply damaging, especially because it presumes that zero waste is a new idea. It's not. The fundamental principles of zero waste—cultivating our self-sufficiency skills, nourishing connections to our community, taking accountability for our waste—are practices that have been alive within indigenous communities for generations.
Learning how to live low-waste has unequivocally transformed my life. It inspired me to live more mindfully, to learn about how things are made, to challenge my conceptualizations of my true wants and needs, and to ground my vision for a better world in everyday actions. My practice is deeply imperfect (and will always be) but even that experience has grown my capacity for compassion.
As a person of privilege in a "developed" country, I strive to make choices that minimize suffering not only in my corner of the universe but also in communities of color in formerly colonized countries. I don't have to live next to my waste—but so many others do. So I reuse and refuse and reduce. I am trying, imperfectly and persistently, to fight back against the fast fashion and fossil fuel industries that are poisoning our planet and our people.
I mess up majorly. I make mistakes. I fly in planes. And I want to see a movement that reflects those struggles as much as it does the beauty of a package-free feast. I want to see a movement that celebrates the circular mindset, extends compassion to diverse communities, and engages with complex issues of intersectionality.
As the year comes to a close, I've been brainstorming ways I can reenergize the mainstream zero waste movement and be part of a sea change in how we frame, share, and celebrate the guiding philosophies of "zero waste." I'm grateful for friends like Liv at Zero Waste Habesha and Jess at Be Zero Denver who interweave practical advice with philosophical and political meditations into their work. My mission is to deepen collaborations with my community and continue to engage with perspectives very different than my own. I hope you'll join me on this journey! And I hope you'll share with me your own strategies for reenergizing the mainstream zero waste movement in the comments.