My Zero-Waste Exceptions

Photograph by Camille Seaman

Photograph by Camille Seaman

Being 100% zero waste is near impossible. Everyone will have their exceptions, and that’s ok. Plastic is an incredibly useful product. It’s strong and durable and does things like keeping medical instruments sterile. What’s important is to remember to continue reducing your waste as much as possible.

I personally grappled with the dilemma of whether or not to buy and use certain plastic items. Eventually, I realized that there will always be some plastic in my life, and that’s ok as long as I try my best to reduce other areas of waste. That’s not to say you can’t necessarily find zero-waste alternatives for the items I choose to continue to use; in some cases there are and I’m just not up to putting in the time, money, and work required to make the switch.

Most of the plastic items I continue to use fall under the medical category. For example, I still buy cough drops that come in individual wrappers and a plastic bag. I still take Nyquil when I’m sick. I still take birth control. These are things I feel would make my life worse if I didn’t continue to have, and would therefore make me less dedicated and interested in being zero waste overall.

I’m pretty fortunate that I don’t like most processed foods and therefore have no need to buy plastic bags full of chips or candy. I’m also lucky that I live in a part of the world where I can often buy produce without any packaging at all. That being said, since I’ve started studying at university and living on campus, I’ve struggled much more with being completely plastic free when it comes to food. I try my best to avoid anything pre-packaged and bring my own food container when I need something to-go.

Another area that I often produce plastic waste from is online shopping or shopping in general. Almost every time I buy something it’ll come wrapped in plastic. This is on the company and should be their responsibility to clean up. However, there are ways of avoiding producing waste associated with shipping and buying new products. For example, if I’m looking to buy an electrical kettle I could look on free and for sale sites or I could reduce shipping waste by shopping in store. In an ideal world, I would put in the time and effort to do that for every item I wanted to buy but in reality I often need to prioritize my time in other ways.

There are other things like receipts which are near impossible to avoid. In cases like these, I just try my best to avoid them when possible and dispose them properly when I can’t (landfill).

It can be difficult to find a balance between necessity and possibility. I know there are some inspirational people, such as Lauren Singer who’s the owner of Package Free Shop, who produces hardly any plastic. If you’re dedicated enough and privileged with the time and money to spend avoiding plastic, it is possible to live a truly zero waste lifestyle. But for me, I often just don’t have the time or money. It’s more important to try my best and still produce some waste rather than to sacrifice some of my time, money, and happiness to avoid plastic at all costs. I’m not perfect, but at least I’m trying to be better.