Zero Waste and Ethical Fashion; Where I Was, Where I Am, and Where I Want to Be

Photograph by Tala Parker

Photograph by Tala Parker

Before there was a blog, I wrote lists and notes to myself to document my process of living a more intentional and environmentally friendly lifestyle. The other day I returned to one of those first pieces. It began as a list of toiletries that I needed to replace with zero waste alternatives. Things like facial soap, toothpaste, and deodorant. I remember that when I first made that list, I felt I was in way over my head. There were so many things that I needed to change in order to live a more conscious lifestyle and it was much easier to just continue on and buy what I had been. Nonetheless, I committed to reducing my environmental impact. I was really quite clueless of alternatives at first and searched on Pinterest and online for ideas. Slowly, through research and trial and error I began to find the best alternatives.

From the get-go, I decided that I wouldn’t buy anything that was made of or was wrapped in plastic or anything that wasn’t ethically made. I thought that if I made any exceptions, I would justify all un-environmental purchases. This made my first few months fairly stressful, especially when I began to run out of all my old toiletries around the same time.

Today, I feel much more confident in my zero waste knowledge. When I revisited that first list of toiletries, I realized that I had grown over time without really noticing. I easily added to the list and filled any gaps that remained from before. That being said, I still struggle occasionally with refusing plastic, especially when it comes to packaging that comes with online orders. When I moved to university, I needed a few new items that inevitably came with packaging, and even more so when I ordered them off of Amazon. It’s frustrating, but I chose to opt for ease and quick delivery instead of the environment. This is why I think it’s really important for corporations to change their ways and use less plastic packaging, rather than putting the burden on the consumer. However, in order to get to that place, it’s important that us consumers change our buying habits to force the market to change.

I occasionally lapse on refusing plastic when it comes to take-out food. I attempt to carry a set of bamboo cutlery at all times to eliminate the need for plastic utensils, and usually, this works great. However, it fails when I forget and leave them behind. More broadly, plastic also comes with most processed food items (such as candy or a bag of chips). I rarely would eat these before my commitment to a zero waste lifestyle, but occasionally something I want to eat will come in packaging. Sometimes the packaging is recyclable, but even then I feel conflicted because not all packaging is actually recycled, and even if it is the process requires a lot of energy.

I also recently decided to ease up on my strict rule of only buying ethically. I found that most ethical companies cater to a middle-aged market and as a teenager, I just can’t find some of the things I want to wear. On top of that, buying ethically is expensive. It makes sense because the companies are actually paying their employees for their work, but it’s still hard on my non-existent budget––though it’s a bit easier for me as a minimalist because I already don’t buy very many new items. My current philosophy is to buy ethically whenever possible, which turns out to be around 75%+ of the time.

In the future, I would like to be even more zero waste and ethical. This lies in me doing more research online for alternatives rather than giving up and buying something that’s easy. Another solution is to become even more independent from consumer items and to generally buy less. This is easier said than done, but just being mindful of the goal and truly taking time to decide if I need an item will make a difference. Unfortunately, to go truly zero waste and to only buy ethically would require more money. And because it doesn’t look like my current financial situation will change in the near future, it’s even more important to focus on reducing my need as well as spending a bit more time looking for viable alternatives.

As with all things, going zero waste is a process. It requires time and energy. It can be frustrating, but becomes easier with time and is ultimately rewarding. Looking back, I would have encouraged my past self to be easier on myself. Going forward, I understand that it’s impossible to go truly zero waste, regardless of what we see on the internet by other zero waste bloggers and influencers. There will always be an exception, whether it’s medicine or tags on clothing. It’s important to understand this and to balance continuing to become increasingly zero waste while staying sane. Ultimately, I am trying to do the best I can, and that is the best I can do.