Zero Waste Home Essential: Commitment

By March 13, 2013 No Comments
Filling pockets with beach litter
And being an embarrassment to my teenage boys.

In a recent interview, I was asked to quantify Zero Waste. “For example, if someone refuses junkmail, is he/she 10% or maybe 40% of the way to Zero Waste?”

I went home shuffling numbers in my head and a couple of headaches later, asked for Scott’s input (he is the left side of our household’s brain) . We sat down, and for two hours tried to come up with percentages to define one’s progress towards Zero Waste. But we soon realized that our assignment was pointless. In conjunction with following the 5R’s in order, getting as close to Zero Waste as possible boils down to one fundamental element: Commitment.

If we keep putting Zero Waste (or voluntary simplicity) on the back burner for various reasons (“I don’t have time for this” being the most common), change does not happen, routine sets back in. I found that a zero-tolerance policy was the best way for our household to tackle its waste issues head-on and to adopt Zero Waste practices as quickly as possible. Commitment can feel torturous or simply inconvenient at times, especially at first, when you train yourself to change bad habits. For example, I hated going back to my car when I forgot to bring my tote into the store, but commitment forced me to adopt a system and in five years, I’ve only had to accept one (paper) grocery bag (that was three years ago, on a weekend getaway). Commitment is the best way to make big strides. When we started, it catapulted our progress; today it keeps our yearly trash tally from growing again.

Here are 10 examples when Zero Waste is a pain, but where commitment makes a real difference on how fast and how close you get to Zero:

  1. Going back to your car (or home), if you forgot to bring your reusable bags (you can also carry things in your arms or simply transfer them loose from your cart into your car trunk). 
  2. Bringing jars to the grocery store or a plate to the pizza parlor knowing you’ll get weird looks.
  3. Making do with the available bulk, even when you get tired of its selection.
  4. Taking time to stop a piece of junkmail, and spending money to mail an active discard.
  5. Paying more for a used item or a repair, knowing you can buy new for cheaper.
  6. Not settling for an inferior product at the store (i.e., not buying a plastic item, because the store is out of the glass version) and going home empty-handed (Shopping is voting!)
  7. Leaving a place better than you found it, even if it embarrasses your teenage boys 😉
  8. Saying no to the straw even if it makes a milkshake or a glass filled with ice harder to drink.
  9. Using Zero Waste deodorant, knowing that it does not block sweat in stressful situations.
  10. Forcing yourself to finish your plate when your ordered too much at a restaurant because you do not want to use a disposable container (you forgot yours).

Once you’re motivated to reduce your waste, there is no other way to getting as close to Zero as possible than being fully committed and commitment is the fastest way there too. How committed are you?

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