Trying not to be part of the problem.

Taking the Zero Waste Plunge

In which I ponder the possibility of never eating beans on toast ever again.

I've been aware of the "zero waste" movement for some time, but only since my sudden blogging renaissance a week or so ago did it come to my attention how widespread it has become. I think I partially dismissed it as another pseudo-radical hipster sub-sub-niche lurking somewhere among the raw food vegans and over-pedantic minimalists who've also buzzed across my radar recently. This was unfair of me. As with vegans (at least of the "cooking your food is probably OK actually" stripe) the ones who might first strike you as a bit bonkers, are in fact more likely to be the ones who've achieved a level of clarity, given up compromising with norms that should never have become normal to begin with, and stepped over the line into a fresh perspective that is radical, but only in the positive sense of that term: grasping at the roots. Cutting through the bullshit and seeing the simple truth at the heart of the matter. "Taking the red pill"? Not a phrase I want to be associated with, but then why should the alt-right get all the memes?

That simple truth is this.  On a planet of close to 7.4 billion humans, more and more of whom are rushing to join the affluent "West" in the adoption of hyper-consumerist, hyper-wasteful, factory farmed, individually wrapped plastic fork-using convenience culture we have taken for granted for decades, no amount of "waste" can really be considered acceptable. We can no longer be satisfied with the virtue-signalling gestures of recycling, of "reducing" our carbon footprints, of paying the 5p plastic bag tax, or of all the other tiny acts of environmental "awareness" which, while not 100% ineffective, count for next to nothing unless the entire planet simultaneously adopts them, and now. Which of course isn't going to happen.

What does this mean? And is going "zero waste" really possible? Well, pedantically speaking, no, of course it isn't. There are, however, waves of enthusiasts taking the spirit of the idea very seriously indeed.  The most active Facebook group I found has over 42,000 members, and there are numerous national and regional offshoots, all with respectable membership numbers; not to mention the likes of "Frugal minimalists", "Minimalist zero-waste Vegans", "Zero Waste Minimalists" and many, many others, all of them active.  Discussions range from working out the least wasteful way to clean cloth nappies, to collecting rainwater from your roof and mixing it with vinegar to wash your hair, to regrowing your vegetable scraps (hooray!) to homemade toothpaste recipes. Curious about whether eating food from recyclable tins would be considered "zero waste" or not, I posted a question about where to find alternative supplies of kidney beans, and the relative merits thereof. I received 50 replies in less than 2 hours, most of which led to conversations of their own, all sharing ideas on the merits or otherwise of tinned food.  (Maybe TS Elliot had a point after all).  Needless to say, the whole thing is attracting significant attention.  Even the zero waste corner of the blogosphere earned itself an article on the Guardian last year, with only the slightest of jibes against the "millennials" who keep it spinning.

Last week was my blue bin collection day, that perennially controversial moment in British life.  Blue bins in Bury are for plastic but not, I was educated suddenly, for all kinds of plastic.  My return home that evening was marred by this:



This was upsetting.  There are only so many empty crisp packets you can shove inside your sofa before you start having to think about where else you're going to hide them.  Landfills are not a satisfactory solution; I think we can all agree on that.  So - what do?  The answer is obvious.

STOP EATING CRISPS.

Stop eating anything that comes wrapped in plastic, encased in aluminium, or trayed in tin foil.  Stop buying toothpaste and deodorant and baby wipes.  Stop it.  That stuff you throw away all goes somewhere.  That place isn't actually called "Away".  It's called "Here". The ground beneath our feet, the water in our oceans, even the air we breathe.  It just stays here; for the most part, to all intents and purposes, forever.  We all know this, and we've known it for years, but almost none of us have really adjusted our lifestyles to take real account of that.  Why?  Again, the answer is obvious.

BUT CRISPS ARE NICE!

All but the most stubborn among us are probably prepared to make certain adjustments for the sake of maybe not totally destroying the only planet we have to live on sometime this century.  It's when the sacrifices we are being asked to make become too difficult that the cognitive dissonance seems to kick it. The challenge of the zero waste lifestyle is found here.  It's asking a very realistic question: is any degree of waste really acceptable?  It's asking just the sort of question I pondered yesterday about our attitude, in the context of conventional politics, towards consumption of energy and our wider responsibilities to society.  The sort of question that needs to be asked a lot, lot more.  In nature nothing really goes to waste, in the human sense of that term.  Nothing ever becomes obsolete.  Everything is broken down, reused, recycled and renewed.  What exempts us from this?

I've decided to give a zero waste life a try.  Instead waiting until I'm ready (whatever that means) I'm just going to do it, and see what happens.  No more "recycling", no more discarding.  Only reusing, or not using at all.  On the way home I popped in to the market and bought two large potatoes, a head of broccoli and some garlic. Do you want a bag, the marketer asked.  No.  I dropped the vegetables as they were straight into my knapsack, and that was that.  Back on the other side of the bus route I slipped into the Co-op for some cat food.  There's a variety they sell that comes in a cardboard box: compostable, I can only assume.  I carried it back home in my bare hands.  Boring and innocuous and simple and barely worth commenting on at all.  Which is usually a good sign, actually.