Zero waste is not a literal translation, but a lifestyle. Strive for your best, but forgive your missteps.
It all started last Thursday. I was desperately in need of clean clothes and realized it was time to do the laundry. I typically reach that point when I start trying to match miscellaneous loose socks, wear shirts I dislike and consider turning my underwear inside out (okay, I don’t actually that last one!).
I am fortunate to have a washer in my building, just down the stairs and around the corner from my unit. I lugged my clothes and some coins to the room and saw that the washer had been pulled from the wall, the cord was unplugged from the socket and there was a not that said it was out of order. I had seen this setup in the past and decided to give it a go anyway. Given past experience I knew that in spite of the signage there was a chance that it would work anyway. Since it was pulled further than usual from the wall I decided to attempt to start the machine prior to loading it. It was a good thing I had done that because it made this sound as if it was attempting to fill the washer with water, but there was no water in sight. My seven quarters didn’t seem interested in reappearing either.
The next few days were busy working, hanging out with friends and running a half marathon, so I didn’t have time to check on the status of the washing machine. I had decided to do laundry Sunday afternoon after running that half marathon, but midday had come and gone and by the time the evening had arrived I couldn’t be bothered to deal with laundry.
Fast forward to today, Tuesday and the unpleasant realization that my clothes were still in need to washing had come over me. I was literally on my last undershirt, pair of dress socks and underwear (an uncomfortable pair that I didn’t like and was reserved for days like today) and had a week-old stinky soccer jersey that I would soon need to put on for my match.
I decided to give the washing machine at my building one more shot, but it was still out of service. I don’t want to sound like an ingrate, but I am not a fan of the laundromat, especially when trying to do three loads of laundry in a short window. That being said, the laundromat is where I went.
I loaded my laundry with expediency then decided to use what would normally have been 30 minutes of idle time to forage the neighborhood for dinner. There was a hold-in-the-wall vegan fast food restaurant that probably wouldn’t have been ideal to eat before exercising, but I was short on options. Sadly, they had a $10 minimum for credit cards but I only had $2 cash. Strike one.
With only 15 minutes before I would need to return to move my laundry to the drier I was now desperate. There was a Mediterranean restaurant across the street and down a block so I decided to give it a shot. When I entered I quickly noticed Styrofoam everywhere. Strike two.
By this point I had only 10 minutes to get back to the laundromat so I made a game day decision to order dinner there despite the Styrofoam. Yes, the Zero Waste Guy ate food served on Styrofoam. My stomach was ravished with hunger that if had been allowed to continue would have been detrimental to my ability to play soccer.
I write this piece with anxiety; anxiety that I will be judged for my lack of preparedness, that I didn’t have my own reusable containers on hand or snacks in my car.
Six months ago I would have beat myself up over this, damaging my spirit and self-esteem in the process.
Zero waste is not literal, but a lifestyle. I’d say that I use only about 10% of my effort to achieve 90% zero waste and another 50-60% of my energy to get to about 95%. And that’s okay. The Zero Waste International Alliance was the first internationally recognized group to establish what it meant to be a zero waste business and to this day it is still the only officially acceptable standard. Would you like to know how effective you must be to certify your business zero waste? Ninety-percent or greater!
I by no means intend to hurt anyone’s spirit or momentum in this zero waste movement, but it is damn near if not impossible to be absolutely, 100 percent zero waste. Sure, in this instance I could have gone hungry (Or decided to order a burger or some sort of meat which I don’t eat), but I chose to satisfy my hunger instead. I had already sacrificed a meeting and needed to be ready for soccer in a short amount of time.
As I mentioned earlier, zero waste is a lifestyle. I do everything in my power to prevent waste from entering myself, but every now and again it appears, whether I like it or not. There is so much indirect waste associated with our participation in the modern world that we can’t truly be 100% effective. It’s just not possible. Something will always come up. When I paid for that half marathon there was no way to opt-out of receiving t-shirt, medal or swag. Although I refused them all, that material was still generated; that waste was still assigned to me.
As I wind this down I feel much more at ease with the situation than when I started writing. I do my best each any every day to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. And just like you, I’m not perfect, but I am real. I am also not afraid to admit when I make mistakes.
Wherever you are on your journey to zero waste, stay strong. Keep up the fight and celebrate all the good that you do so you don’t have to feel bad when things don’t go your way.
About the author:
Jonathan Levy is a environmental consultant who focuses on developing and implementing zero waste plans for businesses and municipalities. When he is not consulting, Jonathan is a blogger and social media influencer as Zero Waste Guy, where he shares tips and tricks for living a zero waste lifestyle.