IS IT POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE ZERO WASTE?
In reality, to be totally zero waste, we would have to live in symbiosis with nature, which is utopian. From the moment you live in a dwelling that required materials to make it, that needs energy to function and that you move around other than barefoot, you are bound to generate waste in one way or another. That’s why zero waste is a goal to achieve, not an end in itself. Your goal is to strive towards this ideal knowing that you will never really reach it.
Because every little gesture counts! Even if we may feel that our small individual gestures are not enough, they initiate a change. By changing our habits, we will push industrialists and the government to review their copy. It is up to us citizens to show them that they no longer have a choice.
Don’t forget: even five years ago, there was almost no talk of zero waste, organic, bulk. Today, it is talked about everywhere!
However, be careful of the magnifying glass effect. Pierre Rabhi talks about it very well in his book Vers la sobriété heureuse, where he explains that by evolving in circles of people sensitive to ecology, one can have the impression that everyone is aware of it. Or even think that, yes, people are aware, informed and that the right gestures will finally be put in place. However, as soon as you step out of these insider circles, you quickly and sadly realize that the majority of people around you are at best insensitive to the climate emergency and at worst completely refractory for fear of having to diminish their personal comfort.
The brakes of zero waste
Zero waste, it’s complicated
Many of you, during my conferences, have expressed your fears about embarking on zero waste. The one that often comes up is the complexity of implementing all the changes necessary to reduce your waste. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not easy. Going to zero waste means profoundly changing all the habits rooted in your education, your lifestyle and in the very conception of modern life. It takes about 21 days to change a habit. So imagine how long it will take you to change almost all your habits! Personally, it’s been 5 years since I started this approach and I still throw garbage cans.
On the other hand, I can tell you that most of the changes are very simple to implement. Others are more complex and require you to fight with yourself… We don’t all have the same difficulties, the same psychological barriers…
As far as I’m concerned, it was very easy to stop buying new, especially for textiles. I’ve never been very attracted to fashion and clothes have always been, for me, simple functional pieces so that I don’t get cold or walk naked in the streets. On the other hand, I had a lot of trouble sorting through my library. I have always loved to read and was very proud of my impressive library. But the zero waste made me realize that I rarely read all these books again. And I wondered what pleasure I had in owning so many of them. In the end, I confessed to myself that I liked the image of myself that they projected on others. The image of a literary, avid reader, with a certain general culture that I didn’t mind putting forward. Understanding that I didn’t need it to exist in the eyes of others, I started by sorting out the books I was sure I would never read again. A few weeks later, I chose about a hundred books, the ones I really liked and wanted to keep. And I started again several times until I only kept about twenty books. Today, it remains a struggle with myself, because I still buy books for myself and for my children. I try not to accumulate them and give some regularly to the school or to the media library.
This is also what we must remember. Your adventure towards zero waste will not be linear. There are moments when you will advance very quickly in the process because you will be physically and mentally available. And then others where you will progress more slowly because you feel frustrated. You may even go back a little bit and produce more waste again. Nothing wrong with that. Changing a habit requires motivation, availability. Above all, don’t feel guilty. Look at all that you have already accomplished and don’t be discouraged.
Going for zero waste is expensive
This is a recurring affirmation, even among people who have already started the process. It is both true and false. The reality is that zero waste is a very profitable investment. It’s expensive to start up, but once the machine is up and running, you’ll make savings very quickly. Let me give you two very concrete examples.
The case of the paper towel
A roll of disposable paper towels costs between €0.50 and €1 per unit for so-called “green” or ecological rolls, i.e. an average of €0.75 per unit. Depending on the composition of your family and how you use it, you use an average of 2 rolls per week. Let’s do a quick calculation: 2 rolls per week × 52 weeks (one year) = 104 rolls per year. 104 rolls × €0.75 = €138.67 per year spent on rolls of disposable paper towels. And here I’m only talking about the financial cost. Not the natural resources and energy consumption needed to manufacture all these rolls.
When you embark on zero waste, you naturally switch to washable paper towels, whereas you could simply use tea towels or napkins, which wouldn’t cost you a cent. But let’s say you have a mental block, and having a roll of paper towels reassures you (you’re not alone in this case!). So you prefer this solution but you don’t know how to sew, so you buy this roll from a designer or in an organic store. Average price of a roll of 10 sheets of washable paper towels: 30 €! Compared to the disposable roll at 0,75 €, it’s for sure expensive! But a roll of washable paper towels has a lifespan of at least 5 years. Let’s do the calculation: 30 € / 5 = 6 € per year spent on a roll of washable paper towels. The figures speak for themselves!
The case of bio
Another subject often comes up: the price of organic foods compared to so-called “conventional” foods. It is true that an organic fruit or vegetable will cost more than its non-organic cousin. But let’s remember that so-called “conventional” foods, resulting from intensive agriculture, are regularly treated with phytosanitary products, the famous pesticides, which are devastating for health and the environment. Organic plots, smaller, with less yield, justify higher prices. But buying in bulk, local and in season reduces costs considerably. Changing your eating habits too. Cooking at home instead of buying processed products, which are unhealthy and expensive, and reducing your consumption of meat, which is so harmful to the planet, will lighten the bill. It will also have an impact on your health: by eating healthier, you will be in better shape.