Practicing What I Believe 3: Waste

I don’t think I need to give any explanation for why reducing waste is so important to me. Waste is a huge issue that has spurred the zero waste movement and rapidly increased the number of people willing to let go of paper towels and plastic forks–as well as the number of businesses offering more positive solutions.

Still, it’s hard to see how our waste affects the world when we are simply putting it in a trashcan. How do the pictures of plastic in the ocean connect to my home? Does cutting up straws and plastic wrappers really save turtles? It’s easy to throw something away when the issue seems so distant. I have to remind myself, though, that they are not distant. Our world has contracted, and everything is connected.

The problem is that waste is a part of our daily lives. We can’t go to a party or a restaurant without receiving plastics and styrofoams. This is an issue that is constantly creating cognitive dissonance in me. I know what I must do, but it is a challenge to do it. So again I’m forced to have grace for my guilt until, eventually, I don’t have anymore guilt to motivate me to do better.

I want to do better.

Lately, I’ve been doing little things to practice this conviction.

  1. Never ever buy disposable dinnerware or water bottles. Wash dishes instead.
  2. Reduce fast-food trips (which means Chick fi la mostly) and bring reusable travel mugs to coffee shops.
  3. Turn off lights and electronics.
  4. Don’t use the AC or heater in the car unless I absolutely need it, which means dressing appropriately.
  5. Keep reusable shopping bags in the car so I actually use them.
  6. Combine trips in the car.
  7. Hang-dry clothes when possible.
  8. Turn off the “heat dry” option on the dishwasher.
  9. Use a safety razor (I’ve had one since college and have bought blades once)
  10. Recycle everything (even if it’s inconvenient to clean, like shampoo bottles)
  11. Wash clothes in cold water.
  12. Buy less (no fast-fashion)
  13. Use bar soap (no plastic)
  14. Compost food and disposable paper
  15. Buy fewer packaged foods
  16. Use products made with recycled plastic or paper (Who Gives a Crap toilet paper, Seventh Generation laundry detergent)
  17. Use containers instead of ziplocks.
  18. Wrap gifts in fabric, or re-use gift bags.

But there’s more I want to do during this season.

  1. Make reusable napkins and paper towels.
  2. Install an aerator in faucet to reduce water.
  3. Collect grey water for watering plants.
  4. Carry reusable dinnerware for on-the-go
  5. Use shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets
  6. Buy more locally-made and sourced products to reduce shipping
  7. Buy from stores to reduce shipping
  8. Buy an outdoor clothes line

I’m sure there are innumerable things I can do to reduce waste, but there will always be the needs for lights, electricity, water, paper, fuel, etc. It’s especially easy to be discouraged when I remember that big industries are making more waste than I could ever reduce on my own. But businesses are also paying attention to what their customers want. More and more products are becoming eco-conscious. My favorite shoes right now are Allbirds, which are made from wool and sustainable plants materials. The other day, I saw an ad for Dove that said that their bottles were now 100% recycled. When we start buying more conscious products, the businesses will become more conscious, too.

For now, I can’t let the inevitability of waste around the world to stop me from reducing my own. This is at the core of my pursuit of practicing what I believe. Even I make little difference, I will be doing what I believe to be right.

In fact, I believe being wasteful is harmful not just to the environment but to ourselves. Waste comes from greed and laziness. It comes from a need for luxury and abundance. But I am under the conviction that, as a Christian, I am called to be poor and humble and generous. Reducing waste puts me in that humble state of mind that seeks to put other things before myself even when it is inconvenient. It makes me patient and appreciative of the true value of things. It helps me see the non-monetary costs of each item. It gives purpose to every trip to the store or switching off of a light. It brings harmony to the cognitive dissonance.

Going zero waste, then, becomes a spiritual practice–a liturgy of thanksgiving, repentance, and supplication. I begin to feel more human in the original sense–as humus, or dirt. As humble.

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