The changes I recently made to incorporate more zero-waste actions into my life have resulted in a change in my perspective. Listen to my NPR commentary about how we can have a zero-waste mindset while reducing our environmental footprint. Listen below, on KQED’s website, read the transcript below, and please share with friends and family. It’s a perspective that can change the way we interact with the world.
I’ve always tried to live lightly on this earth and avoid causing harm to animals. I’ve been vegan for almost 20 years. I shop with canvas bags. I compost all of our family’s food and yard scraps. We irrigate our gardens with grey water from our showers and sinks. We shop at our local farmers market. We purposefully live where we can walk everywhere. And when we do drive, we have a single car — a plug-in hybrid whose gas tank we have yet to fill up.
Not perfect, but not bad. And yet earlier this year, I realized I may have unconsciously stopped doing more because I thought I was doing a lot. And so I did it: I “became” zero waste. And it has been absolutely life-changing.
The first time I heard the term “zero waste” was in 2006 when Oakland adopted its zero-waste policy in relation to its waste management. In fact, the term “zero waste” has its root in Oakland as well. It was coined in the 1970s by a chemist as the name for the company he founded to find new ways to use surplus chemicals discarded by the electronics industry.
The simple concept of zero waste is to prevent rather than divert trash, but at its core it’s about valuing and taking responsibility for goods we bring into our lives — replacing a linear system whereby goods are designed for discard with a circular system whereby goods are built for longevity and recirculated for as long as possible.
We need governments and manufacturers to help create a zero-waste world, but there’s so much individuals can do. We can replace our reliance on single-use plastic, reuse rather than recycle items like glass jars and bottles, repair what we already have, eliminate food waste in our home.
The journey thus far has been enlightening and overwhelming and exhilarating, and there have been many gifts and discoveries. Becoming zero waste has shifted some of my behaviors. I buy less, and I value more what I actually buy. But most significantly it has shifted my mindset — from seeing myself has an owner rather than a consumer of goods.
I’m not just living a zero-waste lifestyle. I’ve come to have a zero-waste mindset.
With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
Yes, I have hope. No, I’m not a mythical creature.
I wrote and recorded this radio editorial for KQED Radio, called Why I Am Hopeful. Listen on KQED’s website, or just click play on the audio player below.
In any case, please share. I think animal advocates and vegans need to hear this message more than ever.
I have been an animal advocate for more than 25 years, and I see enough cruelty every day to have a pretty bleak view of the world.
And yet, I have hope.
No, I’m not a mythical creature. No, I’m not delusional, and yes, I’m paying attention — so much so that I’m quite aware, for instance, that in the U.S. every year, over 9 billion animals are brought into this world only to be killed for human consumption.
Elephants are killed in their homes for their tusks.
And wild animals face the consequences of global warming.
And yet, I have hope.
I have hope because I focus on what I can solve rather than what I can’t.
I have hope because there’s much to be hopeful about. History gives you great perspective if you just step back.
I have hope because outrage doesn’t change the world. Vision and vigilance do — along with the political, technological, economic, and moral forces that drive progress forward. I’m hopeful, because:
I live in a Democratic country, I can criticize elected officials, I can vote them out, and I can exercise my power and privilege to help those who have neither.
Scientific advances and technological breakthroughs, such as cellular agriculture, have the potential to save billions of animals from misery and death.
I live in an economic system that empowers visionaries to test their innovations in the marketplace and that gives me the choice to support companies and products that reflect my taste and ethics — and reject those that don’t.
My hope is not delusional; it’s rooted in facts, science, reason, and statistics.
My hope is not complacent; it’s provisional. It’s the difference between wanting things to change and taking action to facilitate that change.
My hope is rooted in joy. We don’t have to be angry all the time to demonstrate we care. We don’t have to be outraged to show that we’re conscious. We can be acutely aware, actively engaged, politically minded, and still have hope.
And so I’m hopeful, and I hope you are, too.
With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
I’ve had so many eye-opening moments since starting this Zero Waste journey — one of them having to do with food waste. It’s why I’ve devoted three podcast episodes to this topic, when I thought I’d just be doing a simple episode on how to compost.
Certainly it’s been revelatory to learn about the rampant (and preventable) food loss and food waste that takes place in the harvesting, production, processing, and transportation arms of the food sector — the animal livestock industry being the number one culprit. But it’s been the food waste that takes place in the consumer sector — in our own homes — that has left a deep impression on me.
As I explain in Food Waste Part 2: Food is Not Garbage, Americans throw away up to 40% of perfectly safe, perfectly edible food — all of which winds up in a landfill, sitting in a dump, creating methane and other greenhouse gases.
The lightbulb that went off for me is simply this: food doesn’t belong in the garbage. I know that may sound ridiculously obvious, but I think because it’s so ridiculous obviously that it doesn’t even penetrate our skulls. We can’t see the forest for the trees.
When I started on this journey and began making changes in my life and in our home, one of the dilemmas I was faced with was what kind of garbage bags would I be able to find that fit our existing cans (below) and that are biodegradable. I started researching and googling and stressing until I realized…we don’t need ANY garbage bags at all — because there’s nothing stinking up our garbage!
The only reason we line our garbage bins with plastic bags is because of all the wet food we throw away that becomes stinky and smelly. Once we put those stinky garbage bags into our outdoor garbage cans, hungry, opportunistic critters (or “pests” as many people consider them) find these food-filled cans and create the human / animal conflicts that lead to their demise. The raccoons, skunks, opossums, crows, foxes, even bears who topple our garbage cans and make a mess are simply being resourceful enough to want to eat the food we considered waste and discarded.
Animals are the ultimate zero-wasters!
But, no food breaking down in our garbage…no smell. No smell…no “pests.” No “pests”…no conflicts or fear of disease-transmission. No conflicts…harmony. (And if you’re worried that urban and suburban wildlife would starve if we stopped throwing food away, my recommendation would be to focus on creating a wildlife-friendly habitat.)
Same goes for dumps.
The only reason dumps smell putrid is because of all the food we throw away that becomes stinky and smelly. If organic matter weren’t putrefying (especially because it can’t properly break down without the oxygen and soil and microbes it needs to do so), dumps wouldn’t smell. They also wouldn’t create greenhouse gases or attract “pests” that also create conflicts and a certain bad reputation and sometimes death for them. (Listen to the podcast for more about the negative effects of food in dumps.)
So instead of buying biodegradable garbage bags (which, by the way, can’t biodegrade without the right conditions, and there are no right conditions in a dump), we simply put our garbage and recycling into their respective receptacles — sans plastic bags.
Despite the goal being zero waste, we do still create waste in our home, mostly from products we still had and are using up before starting this journey and packaging from online orders (for the garbage) and aluminum cans from the cats’ food and the beer bottles David occasionally buys (for the recycling). All of the garbage items are dry, so there’s no issue there, and as for the recyclable items, we simply rinse out the cat cans and beer bottles before putting them in the garbage bin. The rest is any mail I can’t compost (yes, I’ll be discussing the challenge of reducing unwanted mail!) No need for a liner.
On garbage days, we bring take the receptacles directly to the city cans in our garage, dump in the contents, and rinse out our cans before returning them to the kitchen. Easy. Peasy.
As for what we do with food scraps, you’ll want to listen to the Food Waste Part 2 podcast episode for the gazillion ideas I provide for reducing food waste in the first place — and composting is the final (not first) suggestion. That’s right…the other massive revelation that guides my actions every day: ZERO WASTE ISN’T ABOUT WASTE DIVERSION. IT’S ABOUT WASTE PREVENTION.
Yes, I compost all the food scraps that remain (more to come on that topic), but I’m now focused more on eliminating food scraps in the first place, including when I eat out or at other people’s homes. (And for years we used compostable bags to line our compost pail on our countertop to make it “more convenient” for us to bring it down to the city’s green bin in our garage, but we stopped buying those, too, because it’s only a little less convenient to bring the actual pail down to the green bin, dump it, and bring it back to the kitchen. Big. Friggin. Deal.)
I’m reluctant to even recommend biodegradable garbage bags, because of all the reasons I gave above, but I realize there are municipalities around the world who don’t offer green bins for homeowners or apartment dwellers and many people don’t have compost bins (or know what to do with them if they did), however, please do me a favor and first:
The animals who live among us are residents — not intruders; listen to my NPR commentary about how we can be better neighbors to our wild brethren. Listen below or on KQED’s website, read the transcript below, and please share with friends and family. It’s a perspective that can change the way we interact with the world.
With access to healthful fruits and vegetables lacking in many areas of Oakland, the city modified its zoning regulations to make it easier for people to grow and sell edible plants… For more, listen below.