A few months ago, the PLAN staff had a thought: “Wouldn’t it be interesting to test our chops in a public zero waste lifestyle experiment? And why not do it with our huge crew of interns over the summer when everything is fun and magical?”
So here we are, wading into the difficult waters of a “waste-free” July. Many long discussions have shaped our intentions for this undertaking – conversations of philosophy and ethics, procedures and logistics. Here are a few things we decided to focus on in our challenge:
Emphasizing the gravity of systemic problems and the importance of systemic change.
As an organization that helps students reduce waste on an institutional level, we would be pretty hypocritical not to apply the same goals and values to our own habits and choices. But let’s be clear: individually reducing our waste is not going to fix a broken system or help those who suffer at its expense.
This is not to belittle the efforts of our friends who blog about their zero waste journeys, nor is it to throw anyone into hopeless despair about the futility of their individual efforts. We believe that reducing one’s own waste is a great way to be mindful of and start a conversation around these issues. We also believe that supporting companies who make the products of a zero waste lifestyle (the bottles, the bags, the toiletries, etc.) can help move us towards a zero waste reality. However, we want to avoid placing the responsibility of change on individual consumers – a message that has been fed to us by corporations who wish to deflect their own role in the problem. As we put our own trials and successes under the blogging microscope this month, we’ll attempt to put these in the context of broader systemic problems and solutions.
Highlighting both the accessibility and inaccessibility of zero waste.
The most common criticism of a zero waste lifestyle is that it is only accessible to those who have the time, money, and various other advantages to go about it. With this in mind, we want to explore ways in which a “zero waste” approach might be more convenient, accessible, or affordable… as well as ways that it isn’t. Is buying in bulk actually cheaper? Is bulk even accessible in food deserts and other food insecure areas? We want to talk about how our own circumstances play into the viability of our zero waste pursuits – what inherent advantages or disadvantages do we have based on our physical ability, our budget, or our location? How might this challenge play out if these variables were different?
Embracing our failures and uncertainties.
Striving for perfection is neither possible nor helpful. Instead, we think the areas where we cannot succeed are perhaps more interesting and more important to talk about than those where we can. That’s why this challenge is ‘Made to Break’ – because we’re all operating in a system that is designed to thwart our efforts. Additionally, we want to talk about the nuances surrounding how one defines and measures ‘zero waste’, as well as how one weighs certain aspects of sustainability against others. For example – is it better to purchase imported food with less packaging, or local food wrapped in plastic? What about waste generated in a group setting, like corn chips at a party? Do we throw our dog’s poop in the compost? Bearing in mind that there is no right answer to such questions, each of us will be exploring a highly personalized approach to measuring our waste and navigating our decisions.