April 30, 2010

Zero Waste Lifestyle: time and money consuming?

Soon after the New York Times article came out about our lifestyle, I received comments on the blog about time and financial concerns related to the Zero Waste Lifestyle.

"I wonder exactly how much time/money you put into the effort?" wrote Julie K.

Not that I particularly choose to pick on you, Julie K, quite the contrary. I completely understand your concerns and feel that they represent those of many readers. I started out just like you (running an average household that filled a number of trash bags a week), and a few years back, I would have raised the same objections to the Zero Waste lifestyle. I would have let those concerns stop me from making waste reducing changes, stunted by the picture of a lifestyle that seemed so unattainable. But here is what I found out thru the course of our metamorphosis (the quotes all belong to Julie K):
"Making of balms, cleaners, etc. and sorting through the trash, etc are very time-consuming for many people who work 1-2 jobs":
  • The 1st step of going Zero Waste is SIMPLIFYING (a bonus if you do work 1-2 jobs and can benefit from any simplification at all), which is figuring out those items that you do need and those that you can live without (remember the 80-20 rule?), and narrowing it down to your personal staples. At one point I made cheese, and then found out that it was not worth the amount of time and money involved when I can just get it from the store straight into my jar. Simplify! You might not need that balm like I do and I am clearly not saying that you should make balm or mustard if you don't need them! More power to you, if you do not need them!
  • Zero Waste is also an ever changing journey, where one can adapt according to the also ever-changing market and/or family tastes. A couple of weeks ago, a new store opened and I found yogurt in bulk... Do you know what that means? I don't make yogurt anymore. Also, my son grew out of his taste for soy milk... Do you know what that means? I don't make soy milk anymore either.
  • "Sorting through the trash": I don't have any to sort. That's the point of all of this. If you stop it before it comes into your home, it does not even need to be addressed.
  • Did I ever mention that I work 4 part-time jobs? If I can do it, you can too... all you need is "to care" to get started.
"Many of your readers with little extra time may see some of these changes not as a fun hobby, but rather as a chore"
  • Caring for the environment is neither a chore nor a hobby, but rather a citizen's duty. Look around, and get informed. Educate yourself about the impact of our society's wasteful habits, it will soon become clear to you that we can't keep on doing things the way we've done them for generations. If you don't want to do it for yourself, then at least have some compassion for those that will succeed you.
So, how much time do I really spend working on our Zero Waste?
A couple of hours a week, Friday afternoons...That's when I grocery shop and run errands that might take me to a store. While dinner is cooking, I might squeeze oranges for OJ or once in a blue moon make mustard.
And this blog helps you access information that took me a couple of years to figure out. Now, that's a time saver!
"Many specialty shops like Whole Foods are quite pricey"
  • Whole Foods, you already know, is not my favorite store (see a "Letter to Whole foods" or "Difficult trip to Whole Foods" article). But it is the largest bulk vendor in my town, and many others. So, while I try to shop as locally as possible, I consider it our main option (I have not been to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco for three months). If you have a better (and more ethical) option than Whole Foods, please go for it!
  • In Whole Foods defense though, it is hardly "Whole Paycheck", if you stay away from the prepared foods and cut down your meat consumption. In the past 2 years, we've seen our grocery bill significantly decrease. About a 1/3 less than what it used to be (How did we ever think that packaging was free? Did it ever occur to you that it is included in the products price?)
"In the past few years I've also noticed a huge rise in the prices at the farmers' market"
  • Inflation hits not just the supermarket, but every business, and that includes the farmers' market. As for organic, I believe that they are worth the upfront investment: the more you buy organic, the more likely we'll see those prices drop. It's a simple economic rule.
  • Quality veggies and food, like anything else of quality, does not come cheap. In the long run, it is better for you than "Top Ramen" and is worth it, but you know that already.
  • That said, the best time to shop the Farmer's market is at closing time, when farmers slash prices. They rather sell their produce for less than pack it to take it home!
"The glass and stainless canisters you use are expensive when compared to the (free) plastic bags at the store"
  • One does not have to purchase a glass canister to reduce their waste, on the contrary. Please reuse those that you have... That empty pickle jar would be perfect for buying olives in bulk. Many other options also abound in thrift shops. No excuses. I personally have been collecting the french jars mainly from thrift stores for 7 years and have loved their versatility (waterproof, durable, heatproof, freezer compatible, universal and interchangeable tops, and available in many different sizes). But no need to comply: Find what works best for you and your budget.
  • Our stainless canteens are one of our best buys. And so you will hear from those who have made the same investment. Canteens pay for themselves in only a few months from what you saved on water bottles! (Not to mention that bottled water is essentially tap, and that you eliminate plastic leaching into your drinking water.)
  • As for the "free plastic bags": Nothing in life is free... find out what the real cost of free plastic bags is! (http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=2)

"All the things you do are admirable, but maybe not possible for the average person to take on (at least not all of them at once.)" That last bit in parenthesis is one thing I could not agree more with! Bit by bit is surely the way to do it.
Besides the environmental benefits, is it all worth it? Just for the sake of our health (knowing the outcome of packaged/junk food, and the effects of plastic packaging on our health ;), I would do it all over again. And while I thank you, Julie K, for your valuable comment, I do hope that you too will take steps to reduce your waste... You'll be amazed at what you'll find out about yourself.