Overwhelm and the Zero Waste Model – 5 Ways to Start Small
Zero waste has become the name of a movement based on the principle of sending the smallest amount of trash to the landfill as absolutely possible.
The image that comes to mind is a pretty smiling girl, often in her mid twenties, holding a mason jar proudly filled with all her waste for the last few years.
When I first heard of Lauren Singer three years ago, I already cared about reducing my personal waste. When she held up her tiny mason jar with all her accumulated trash from the last four years I can’t deny that I felt highly intimidated. I felt I could never measure up to that standard. I even thought she was a little bit crazy.
(keep reading to find out why I love her now!)
Overwhelm – The Motivation Killer:
At that time I was living in the middle of Jersey City, shopping at the local Shoprite that had no bulk section. I didn’t even know what bulk shopping was! I was creating a lot of trash. But yet I cared very deeply about the environment and felt a deep sense of intrinsic guilt about my impact on the planet.
I hate to say this, but seeing Lauren Singer and her mason jar made me feel even worse.
What I understand now is that I was suffering from overwhelm.
Overwhelm is the single most insidious motivation killer.
Trust me, I lived in a constant state of overwhelm for years without realizing why I had no energy or motivation for anything. I was overwhelmed by the overcrowded city, I was overwhelmed by our fast paced society, I was overwhelmed by how much I had to work to make end’s meat, I was overwhelmed by myself in myriad ways. (To read more about this see my post about my experience living as an empath).
The whopping wave of guilt for not being better about my personal waste made it even worse! As an empath I could feel the discord between human beings and nature – the disconnect. This overwhelmed me, too! I could sense a hidden harmony in the world but I didn’t know how to align myself to it!
Overwhelm kills our desire to learn new things and also makes them seem impossibly complicated and exhausting at the same time. Instead of using our problem solving skills to break them down into manageable chunks, it all starts to seem like one giant murky mess of impossible. Instead of starting with zero waste baby steps, I let the overwhelm stop me.
I also may have just a couple of perfectionist tendencies. If it can’t be perfect, why bother to try? Hmm… may need to work on that one. 😉
As I started to learn more about the zero waste movement, the more I realized how much it aligns with my beliefs and lifestyle choices. I started to see how starting on my zero waste journey was the perfect way to align myself to the harmony I feel in nature. And that process allowed me to create the space to come into harmony with myself.
What I see now when I look at Lauren Singer holding up her mason jar is someone who cares deeply about the planet and wants to help people make positive changes in their lives to create a more compassionate, and sustainable future.
Sound like anyone else you know? (Me! Duh!)
But I want to do something a little different. I want to talk about that overwhelm. Because I don’t see it as being part of the zero waste discussion at the moment.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed in the face of a lifestyle that asks us to question and change all of our habits.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed in the face of climate change.
It’s hard to forget that it’s all about progress not perfection!
5 Ways to Start Small
So here are 5 steps to take if you’re at the beginning of your zero waste journey. Maybe you aren’t even sure that the zero waste lifestyle is for you. That’s ok! If you take even one of these 5 steps and try it out, you’re already making progress and helping the planet!
I have to admit that my husband and I haven’t fully achieved “zero waste” yet. We create one small bag of trash per month and take out the recycling once every two weeks. But through these five steps we have been able to reduce 90% of our waste going to landfills!
Note: Achieving “zero waste” looks like sending no trash to landfills, consuming no plastic, and recycling as little as possible. That includes paper (only when it can’t be composted), glass and the occasional tin can. A lofty goal indeed.
Step 1) Practice Mindfulness
This isn’t about meditation, unless you’re into that (which I totally am, but no pressure 😉 ) What I’m talking about here is being present in your life about the choices you make and what you consume on a daily basis.
Check in with yourself about your current lifestyle. What things are working for you? What things aren’t? What habits do you have about your consumption – either food or otherwise – that are on autopilot? Where did you get those habits? From TV? From advertising? From family members?
The first step in being willing to change your habits is being willing to become mindful of them. This is definitely not about self judgement. Just about awareness. Just allow yourself to become aware.
Step 2) Take inventory of your trash
What do you throw away every day? Every week? Every month? Could any of those things be either a) composted, b) recycled, or c) not consumed at all? Write it down if you want to! Again, this isn’t about self judgement, it’s just about awareness of your habits.
Step 3) Compost/recycle everything you can
This, in my opinion, is the most vital step and can reduce your waste in and of itself by 50%! All of our food waste can be composted, as well as some types of cardboard, paper and other products. Most of the rest can be recycled.
Also, the act of composting turns those things back into vital nutrients to replenish topsoil and help farmers grow delicious vegetables and produce. Nature renews itself again and again!
For more information on composting see my easy to follow guide: NATURE’S GREATEST MAGIC TRICK – AKA URBAN COMPOSTING 101
Step 4) Cut back on your plastic consumption
This can be the most challenging because almost everything we consume these days seems to be wrapped in plastic or is made out of plastic. But it is quite literally trashing our environment! Plastic can’t decompose. That means that in some form every piece of plastic ever made still exists.
Start to avoid things like plastic cutlery, plastic straws, disposable cups and takeout containers. Buy produce and other items in bulk if possible.
To learn more about how to avoid plastic see my article: 5 STEPS TO HELP COMBAT THE PLASTIC POLLUTION CRISIS
Step 5) Slow down and spend time in nature
This blog is called Back to Nature for a reason! It’s because through spending time in nature, I was able to deprogram myself from our materialistic society and start to hear and feel the subtle vibrations and signals that our earth is trying to send to us all the time. She wants us to connect to her! We are in relationship with her. She provides for us in every way. Her body is literally our home!
When I am in nature I can feel a quiet inside, a sense of harmony and peace, that I struggle to find in our contemporary society. Just spending ten minutes sitting somewhere still, listening to the rustle of the wind in the leaves, feeling the crust of the earth beneath my hands, seeing the tiny shoots of green growing up from moist, fragrant soil, I start to slow down and to become truly present in the moment, in my body and in myself.
If you live in a city and true nature is hard to come by, find a park, even a small one, and spend time with the trees. Trees are such incredibly wise and powerful beings and being near them is calming.
Writing this is reminding me to go for a walk! I need my tree fix! Even a wintry tree fix is better than nothing.
In all honesty, it was spending time in nature that helped me to understand why I needed to embark on the zero waste path to begin with. I found that in order to be loving toward myself, I needed to also be loving toward our Mother Earth. That’s why the tagline of this blog is ‘honor the Earth, honor yourself.’
(the winter sky outside my window)
If zero waste seems too much to tackle, or you feel overwhelmed by the hectic pace of our society and chaotic world, try a few of these steps. Every little step in the right direction is a step in the right direction! And if we each apply a few small changes, we can make a big impact!
And who knows? Maybe after implementing a few of these steps into your life, you will start to have fun with it, and want to do more, and before long you could be fully committed to the zero waste path.
That’s what happened for me (sans trash filled mason jar)! Not only am I having a blast but it’s become a spiritual practice for me, a way of grounding me in the present moment, a way of being mindful of how I live. That truly is a gift!
What are your current sustainability struggles? What feels overwhelming to you? Can I help? Let me know in the comments below! I look forward to hearing from you!