By Shannon Finnan
January 2021: New year, new city, new me - I’m going waste free
3 months later: I burnt out
I ventured into my zero waste journey with images of pretty pantries and watching TED talks with women holding old fashioned mason jars of their rubbish. The impact my rubbish was having on the world startled me but here was a way for me to solve it.
On day 2 I faced my first question when the post hit the floor. What was I supposed to do with the envelope? Its little plastic window peered out at me almost mockingly. I’m pretty sure I never saw an envelope in any of those mason jars.
From there, the questions kept coming:
Can I get packaging free biscuits? If not, what do I dunk in my tea?
What about when I fancy a bag of crisps?
Where do I refill my wine bottles?
My 3 months with a completely empty rubbish bin was helped along greatly by the time period we were in. In early 2021 the world had a stillness for me. Lockdowns and low contact living was still prominent. A blissful time when the world was done with excessive zoom socials but we weren’t ready to return to in person events. It lent the time to go to multiple shops, scratch cooking and googling “how to….” multiple times a day.
Then, as time ticked on, we started to resemble some form of normality. Takeaways and quick meals returned. Social outings vied for my time. Sure there are ways to make it work in a busy schedule, but most of these options come with a price tag. Buying our dry food (pasta, rice, spices, beans etc) package free isn’t that different in price to our normal shop. However, our fresh food (bread, veg, oat milk) had an impact on the pocket, and my time. I now had to plan a chunk of my week around buying plastic free peppers from the green grocer across town rather than nipping down to the local Tesco express. When I started heading on weekend trips, staying zero waste was more and more challenging. Low waste living is an exercise in being prepared. I didn’t do girl scouts, and my mum packed my school lunch box. This is not something I’m good at!
To be honest I became exhausted by it all. The space was geared towards perfection and I was falling well short. During a period of fatigue, I stumbled into the Zero Waste Hub. Over the following weeks my outlook started to dramatically shift - no they didn’t pay me to write that.
As obvious as it seems now, I realised I was caught up in the aesthetic of waste free living. My mindset was less to do with redesigning the system and more to do with a lifestyle brand.
I started to look at zero waste living in the context of community. Rather than fretting over the plastic that came with rescued food, I began to see the bigger picture. Zero waste living can not be addressed as a singular issue. It requires a community.
I recognised that my personal actions are important. I can dramatically reduce my waste with little or no exertion on my part without feeling guilty about not doing it perfectly. Even more so, my personal actions have a larger impact when it’s focused on the community. Pushing to change a broken system, while beginning to build an alternative.
My story continues, more sustainable than it started.