As I started a training course in conscious eating and living, it became clear to me that part of living an awakened life was consuming less for the benefit of our planet and communities.
Though I’ve always been passionate about social and environmental justice, and I’ve tried hard for some to be aware of my impact on the world, I was still producing enough waste to have to take the trash out every week. So some friends and I in Costa Rica decided to embark on our own zero waste challenge. The plan was: producing zero waste for a week. Forget your Starbucks in a disposable cup, any packaged food and Styrofoam containers.
Here are a few lessons learned you can use either to prepare yourself for a zero waste adventure, or simply to reduce waste in your daily lives:
1. Notice what you are doing right.
A lot of us are already curbing down our consumption of disposable products. Sit down and write all the areas where you’re already on the right track. It can be as simple as using reusable bags instead of plastic bags, buying in bulk or avoiding binging into the collection of snacks that always awaits you at the cashier.
One of the amazing side effects of going mainly vegan for me is that a majority of package items I had purchased without a second thought before appeared for what they were: unnecessary and often full of gross ingredients. The money I saved by ditching these products could now be spent on things at the farmer’s market or from friends who produced things such as coconut oil or fruits and veggies.
The point is: I was already doing a lot of things right and had some good habits I could build on—chances are you do to, so write it down and see how you can extend them to other areas of your life.
2. Take a hard look at yourself.
I have to admit, I’m a huge sucker for tea: I love nice packaging and pretty boxes that detail the benefits of each blend. I also love take-out, but the reality is that both these things always end up with plastic cups and tea bags being used only once and then heading to the trash. I knew some of the habits I settled into had to go if I wanted to succeed in this Zero Waste Challenge.
Taking a step back and gathering some information about where our trash bags end up definitely made me realize that my favorite snacks weren’t worth every piece of packaging that will take ages to decompose.
I’m impressed to see how much plastic is now present in every store, including for many veggies and fruits which are wrapped in plastic. Going through the store you shop at, try to find products that are not packaged, or with the least amount of packaging possible.
3. …but don’t be too hard on yourself.
Most of us are all busy, used to grabbing what we need on the way and in charge of businesses, families or both. Many days of the week, I myself have the choice only between not eating until 11PM or grabbing something to go on the way to training. In that particular case, I was resistant to changing my habits and not ordering something that I could eat on the way (read: empanadas).
The thing is, these issues can actually be turned into opportunities to find new ways to produce less trash. I am on the hunt for a nice lunch box/reusable coffee cup combo, and I have started purchasing tea that comes in big pots of herbs rather than tea bags, which is a delicious change.
Getting to the source of why we produce so much waste is a lengthy process that asks us to examine what we eat, wear and use every day. Take one thing at a time is key in order not to get discouraged.
I know not everyone can shop at the farmer’s market, often for financial reasons, and that is fine. However, there are often products that are just the same price than at the supermarket or even cheaper, especially considering quality.
My best lesson since I started living in Costa Rica is that community is our best resource when it comes to living a more sustainable life. I’ve ordered affordable nuts and fruits in common with fellow yoga teacher trainees directly from the producer; I buy local coconut oil that’s packaged in re-usable glass pots; and I spend more time in my community’s shared garden.
I also spend more time hanging out in the rainforest where I happen to live, reminding myself that the earth doesn’t owe me sh*t. She is kind enough to provide all of us with what we need to survive—fruits and veggies don’t grow in supermarkets.
A week of reducing waste was surprisingly hard, which in itself is a sign that our society—and us as individuals, me included—has lost touch with the impact that our consumption patterns have on our environment. But reducing the amount of trash we produce can be simple and fun. It’s easy to start today: shop and cook with your roommates or family, put $10 of your food budget aside to spend at the farmer’s market and don’t forget to ask everyone in your community if they produce any yummy food that you can buy from them!
Author: Soizic June Hagège
Image: bretty hastings on Instagram
Editor: Renée Picard