What is Zero Waste?

This past weekend I facilitated a conversation for the Zero Waste Victoria Online Festival. The focus was on Community Stories and I spoke with two members of Zero Waste Victoria about their journey and experience.

This wasn’t what I expected to be doing when I volunteered for the festival, nor did I expect the great sense of connection and accomplishment I felt after. This is important as often our zero waste actions don’t leave us with a tangible outcome.

In preparing for our talk I thought about the moments that have led me to this point in my zero waste journey. When I started I wasn’t familiar with what zero waste was or people who were actively trying to achieve this. But despite this, I can see times over the last 10 years when I knew something wasn’t right with the world and that our mass consumption was a problem.

Ten years ago I moved to Los Angeles and was confronted by waste everywhere I went. In the supermarket vegetables were pre-cut and pre-peeled, then sealed in plastic. All groceries were double-bagged, regardless of weight. Stacks of napkins and handfuls of ketchup sachets were thrown in with every takeaway lunch. And straws were given with every drink, even water. I knew this wasn’t right, and I constructed letters and petitions in my head to highlight how unnecessary this was. Ultimately I pushed the thoughts away and continued on recycling. It was too big a problem for me to solve.

In 2015 after reading the book ‘Stuffocation’ I attempted a life of minimalism. I may have felt lighter, but it didn't pause the BUY button I clicked so often. And it left me with many unanswered questions. Where does all the stuff I donate end up? Why are products getting cheaper and cheaper, and being packaged in more and more plastic? And what is the impact of all of this on our planet?

When I found myself at home with two babies and undergoing a renovation Amazon became my go-to. Boxes were arriving every day to 'solve' a problem. It was not until later I realised, that the problem I have, is I’ve stopped solving problems myself. Rather than being self-sufficient and asking if I could make do without, or looking around to see if I had something similar, or borrow from a friend, I open my computer, type what I need and wait for Google to spit out the answer. This doesn’t feel good. Yet, I keep doing it because I’d been sold on convenience as the way to a better life.

Packing up our home to move back to Australia in 2018 I did my best to find new homes for the stuff we no longer needed. I gifted, donated and sold stuff. On my last trip to Goodwill, I had a stack of carpet tiles from our nursery. They were near new and I'd failed to find a home for them. When we were unloading the attendant said, “We don’t accept carpet Ma’am”. It was 430pm and I had a hungry 2-year-old and a screaming 10-month-old in the back of the car, so when he said, “I can get rid of them for you.” I said, “Thank you.” This scenario bothered me for a long time. I felt guilt that something in good condition, that could be used for years to come was likely trashed. Rather than pushing these thoughts away, I resolved to make better purchasing decisions in the future.

On my return to Australia, I was so disappointed. The fruit and veg at Coles and Woolworths were wrapped in a sea of plastic, and 'Stikeez' were washing up on our beaches. Unlike in 2010, this time I did something. I refused to buy fresh produce with plastic packaging. I signed petitions and I contacted Coles to tell them how I felt. Like many before me, I began to make small changes.

Zero Waste is a philosophy and different for all of us. We can only act with the information we have at any given time and this means that my actions last year, and even last month, will look different from today. And we all have different reasons for wanting to reduce our waste and consumption. I want to be able to tell my children I did all I could to help our world with a clear conscience. Others are motivated by the rubbish on our beaches and in our oceans or seeing the vast amounts of single-use plastic in their workplace. But whatever our reasons while talking to my new Zero Waste friends I realised that we tread a similar path. From the turning point that drives us to take action, the frustrations and accomplishments that accompany that action, as well as the unexpected positive effects we feel in our lives and the community we find.

You can view all of the panels and workshops from the Zero Waste Festival by becoming a Zero Waste Victoria Member - memberships start at $5/month.

And if you have any questions about zero waste you've been wanting to ask, hit me up and I'll do my best to answer!

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