Wrapping Up Plastic Free July: Thoughts On Low Waste Living

Rainbow plastic trashPhoto by Jasmin Sessler

How was your Plastic Free July?! Not sure what I'm referring to? Learn more HERE.
As Plastic Free July wraps up, I've been thinking a lot about the controversy around individual environmental actions. The short version is that large companies are contributing more to climate change than any individual action could offset. Some people feel angry that they are asked to stress about take-out in styrofoam while billionaires sit on private jets. I get it! But I can only control my own actions and, while the impact may be small, if thousands of people make steps towards climate advocacy we can make change. The trick is that the steps everyone will take may look different and we have to be open to each other's lives and needs. 

I don't know about you, but my low waste intentions have been completely destroyed with the pandemic. Bulk bins are gone, additional packaging has been added to many items for safety, and the grocery store has generally been pretty hit or miss over the last few months. I have been feeling so much eco-anxiety, but I've also been trying to stop and acknowledge how much those things are not my burden. 

I've spent most of my adult life being broke and, as I slowly creep toward financial security, I've had the luxury of adopting more reduced waste habits. It's important to recognize that these environmental changes stem directly from financial changes in my life. Recently, we made the decision to invest in solar panels so our home and our electricity consumption will be at net-zero. I am so excited about this, but I recognize it is at the more financially intensive end of personal actions. The focus should remain on people doing what they can where they can, but refraining from judgement or accusation on others than do not make the same choices. 

I do think it is great when various platforms list a variety of ways to support sustainability. THIS LIST for example has 101 different ideas ranging from washing your clothes in cold water (pretty easy) to taking public transit (not as easy for everyone). We're all at different places in life and there are many, many ways to create a sustainable life that meets you where you are at. Generally, when you see lists of ideas, I think it's natural that not every idea will apply to you. However, previously, when I would see lists that included things that were not attainable to me, I would think it was because I was quick to make excuses. I was passing judgement on myself, but also potentially on others not taking up those zero waste choices as well. I've come to realize that I've been holding a lot of eco-anxiety that stems from very problematic thought patterns. It is so easy to get caught up in the Instagram lifestyle of beautiful, affluent, and whitewashed zero-waste living.  

Photo by Markus Spiske

Shopping plastic free is only one of hundreds of actions you could take, but I think it's so popular because it's tangible. Taking out the trash less often feels "real" as opposed to signing a petition which, while still helpful, may not feel as impactful psychologically.  We all have different privileges whether it's time, money, resources, networks, etc. Check all that apply. If you find yourself with an abundance of one or more, use it to create change but never forget that activism looks different for everyone. Have some disposable income? Donate it. Have some extra time? Call your elected officials about the climate issues that are most concerning to you. Have resources to share that will reduce the waste stream of either yourself or a recipient? Reach out to your community and see who needs it! Have someone in your network who could help you enact environmental change? Call them up!

Currently, the pandemic is making our normal possibilities for activism feel unattainable, but HERE'S A GREAT LIST of zero waste ideas that involve not leaving your house!

There is still the huge issue problem that consumers are handed the blame of wastefulness rather than the powerful companies creating the waste in the first place. Sometimes I get so resentful of how much eco-anxiety I am holding and yet huge companies are still allowed to keep making unsustainable products without end of life solutions. Because of this, I do believe in my buying power. Refusing to put money in the pockets of billionaires, asking stores questions about the origins of its products, or choosing the locally made option are small things that can add up. Ultimately, it's important for me for live my values especially when some of the changes (like keeping a bamboo fork in my bag) are so easy. THIS ARTICLE explains the individual responsibility conflict well, although, I will say I could do without the fertility aspect mentioned. 

Photo by Maria Ionova

At The Morose Bee, I believe that artists should not have to choose between caring for the environment and pursuing their craft. I am always open to new ideas on how to run this business more sustainably or what products are in the greatest need for your low-waste creativity. At the time of writing this post, my shop is closed for the summer. When I reopen, it will be with a new collection of lower impact textiles, vintage items, reduced waste handmade goods, and compostable packaging and materials. I am just one small business trying to make my way in an economy that is doing small business zero favors, but I firmly believed that every small action matters. 

No post would be complete without a few ideas. There are several links here which I hope will informative and helpful, but here's a few ideas of my own!

1. Do not throw away what you already have. Whether it's finally getting cloth napkins or switching to a safety razor, don't throw away your existing single use products. Getting rid of them is still potentially sending them to landfills, wasting your money, and creating extra effort. For example, I no longer use tampons, however, when I made the switch to reusable mensural products I still had some tampons leftover. I kept them and used them in emergencies or loaned them to friends in similar emergencies. If it's possible to donate certain products to someone who can use them because you can afford a zero-waste replacement, great! But do not feel obligated to stop using when you already have. 

2. Refusing to throw things away can apply to craft materials as well! Looking for some ways to use up those scraps? There's a tag on my blog to save all those good ideas HERE. Have no time to deal with little scrappy bits? Here are some other ideas:
- Mail them in for a destash
- Compost 100% natural fibers
- Sell what you don't need here
Have non fabric scraps that you need ideas for? Look up your local creative reuse store who might be happy to take whatever you have. HERE'S a starting point, but more may exist!

3. Join a Freecycle or Buy Nothing Group. When I first heard about these groups, I was skeptical. It's not that I couldn't see the value, I just assumed it was a glorified garage sale. I recently joined my local group and I have blown away by the amazing community support. People are giving everything from clothing to small favors and, so far, everyone has been overwhelmingly kind. Because we're still in the middle of moving, I haven't had anything yet to give or take but I know it will be a great resource once I'm ready. 

4. If you do need to purchase something, buy it used or shop small. There are times when you just can't get to the store and you just need to make that 3am Amazon purchase for some essential item. I get it. But there are SO MANY websites now that make thrifting almost as easy as buying new plus nearly every small biz has an online shop these days. Sometimes it's even cheaper! Here is a GREAT LIST of online options to check out, but don't forget to see what's in your neighborhood. 

5. When you're ready to swap an item, take it one item at a time. It is so overwhelming to try to decide what changes you should make and sometimes those changes have a higher price. I have been actively trying to reduce my waste for years and I'm still working on it! This month, my big swap was switching to a low-waste toothpaste, but that was only after switching my toothbrush and mouthwash MONTHS ago and feeling ready to tackle the next product.  

I hope this list helps and additional reading links are helpful for you on your sustainable journey. 

Stay safe, be kind to yourself, and do something kind for our planet <3