The Problem with the Zero Waste Aesthetic

You’re sitting at a coffee shop, the walls are white, there are big windows, the table is definitely birch. You sip from your glass and cork travel mug, eating a salad with your bamboo fork. Your Klean Kanteen sits proudly on the table, and you take your laptop out of your cream tote bag. You earth warrior, you.

If you’re anything like me, you start salivating when it comes to crisp linen, glass jars, and bamboo. So imagine my excitement when I could walk into a shop like Package Free and get my Nordic design fix. I imagine a life where everything is made from sustainable materials like stainless steel, I have a room full of plants inside baskets and terracotta, i’m thriving, the earth is thriving. At least that’s what I feel when I scroll through Instagram and Pinterest.

There’s this perpetual understanding that minimalism and zero waste is beautiful, clean, sophisticated. I don’t know about you, Karen, but putting food scraps inside my freezer so I can compost them later isn’t exactly clean… Seriously. Coffee grounds everywhere.

We like the idea of simple, minimal, because our world is so chaotic. The idea of coming home to pasta and rice organized in mason jars on your shelf and cozy white rugs on a wooden floor is calming. But this idea of Zero Waste and Minimalist Aesthetic has actually hurt the movement.

Go back to the time you decided to reduce your waste (me, a few weeks ago) You’re on YouTube, watching some zero waster go through all her “must have” products. You think I don’t have a bamboo toothbrush… or a shampoo bar… and i’m definitely still using my plastic Tupperware. You panic, and order all these things on Amazon. But you’re on your way! Except… not.

Why do you feel this way? Somehow inadequate that you don’t have a canvas bag to put all your produce in? Because even in a space that encourages no consumption, consumerism needs to rear its ugly head. It will show you gorgeous photos of ultimate earth saviors who haven’t even used a trash can in years. What it doesn’t show? The years it took for these people to get to this point.

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A few problems I have with the minimalism/zero-waste aesthetic:

  • The Zero-Waste Aesthetic still encourages consumerism and consumption

Like I mentioned before, this makes us want to go out and buy things. When the whole point of zero waste and minimalism is to buy way less. We want to buy a set of bamboo utensils when we could just take a fork or a spoon from home. We want to buy the stainless steel container instead of just using your plastic Tupperware until they break. You have a travel mug already, but it’s bright green and ugly to you. So you want to buy one of those cute KeepCups because it’s glass and cork and adorable.

Stop. Breathe. Put down the bamboo chopsticks (can you even use them?). The whole existence of these products are for you to replace your other ones. If you just bought yourself a plastic toothbrush and then read how terrible they are for the environment, don’t throw it away and rush out to buy a bamboo toothbrush to clear your conscience. Wait until you need to replace it, then get a sustainable option. No more Tupperware because they’re warped from the dishwasher? Go get yourself that airtight stainless steel container. Plastic wrap all used up? Invest in the pretty wax wrap. On your last uses of shampoo and conditioner? Reach for the shampoo and conditioner bars.

  • It makes Zero Waste look overwhelming and borderline un-achievable

You may see these things and think you will never be able to be lower waste because you can’t go out and buy reusable cotton rounds for your face or invest in a stainless steel butterfly razor. If you opt out of a straw, or take your water bottle to work instead of buying one, or use your own bags when you grocery shop, you’re doing a great job. And we see you.

What a lot of people don’t tell you is it takes so much time to fully transition. I’m still going through products, like my Tide laundry detergent, my plastic toothpaste tube, my plastic bottled body wash, and many other things. It’s probably going to take me a few months to become fully zero-waste, and that’s okay. Because i’m making a commitment to myself and mama earth to do better.

I’ll be doing a post about things that helped me transition, but not things you need to buy to be low-waste.

  • It’s in danger of being a trend rather than a movement

This one isn’t as serious, because there are genuine warriors at the forefront of this and are doing amazing. And sometimes things that start as trends create genuine, passionate individuals who want to make the world better. But this isn’t the case for everyone. On the flip side, if anything is a trend or fad, helping the environment is a good one. But we do want people to take this seriously and try their best.

  • It doesn’t highlight the fact that mass corporations, the military, and the government are to blame for environmental destruction

I’m not going to go into detail here, because it would make this post way too long, but it is not the individuals sole responsibility to save the environment because they actually contribute very little to environmental degradation. Should you use this excuse to litter everywhere and not recycle? No. Still take care of your home. But you are not a bad person if you cannot afford to buy reusable bags or a stainless steel food container.

So what should you take away from this? I found this perfect graphic off pinterest and it highlights the exact message I’m trying to convey, here.

  1. Use what you have first
  2. Don’t have it? Can you borrow it?
  3. Can you swap something for it?
  4. Have you checked your thrift store?
  5. Find a sustainable option.

By choosing to reduce your waste in any way makes you an earth warrior. No matter how small your contribution. Thank you for trying your best to make this planet better.

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