When you think of environmental activists, who are the first people that come to mind? I’m willing to bet some of those might include:
· Greta Thunberg
· Jane Goodall
· David Attenborough
· Rachel Carson
· Aldo Leopold
· John Muir
Perhaps your list even features unconventional activists like:
· Leonardo di Caprio
· Bill Gates
· Elon Musk
What’s interesting about most of these “activists,” is that although they all make political statements on environmentalism in some way or another — with many of them fixated on systemic solutions to our planet’s crises — none of the aforementioned individuals identify as “zero waste activists.”
Considering that advocacy for zero waste and circular systems is strongly linked with climate change and a host of other environmental issues, this comes as a surprise.
As I began to dig into this subject area of “zero waste activists,” I found that the field was utterly lacking. In fact, when I Google searched this term, the number one result appeared as a compilation of bloggers.
This scenario led me to ponder:
Are aesthetic pages consisting solely of inspirational daily habits to reduce waste in the household considered a form of “activism?” How about the zero waste bloggers who used their platform as a marketing scheme to promote products that allegedly ease the load on landfill?
This article outlines my own exploration into what it actually means to be a “zero waste activist.”
In both the traditional environmental activist and zero waste blogging communities, there is an emphasis on solutions to environmental concerns that we as individuals can address in our daily lives. It seemed to me, however, that unlike other environmentalists, the zero waste community was notably individualistic in their tactics.
For example, these pages might host advice on how to personally reuse glass jars or how to revive stale bread in your kitchen. On the other hand, environmental activists tend to focus on broader societal issues such as carbon taxes, fossil fuel divestment, and corporate social responsibility.
This dissemination led me to propose another question.
Is this difference in individualized thinking an asset to zero wasters or a hurdle? In other words, should the systemic thinking of environmental activists be transcribed onto the zero waste community to increase the impact of the movement or should the individual accountability be maintained and emphasized?
From my perspective, as you may have predicted based on my other articles, we need to integrate both the systemic advocacy of environmentalism at large along with individual accountability to define what is known as a “zero waste activist.”
A zero waste activist is a solutions-oriented, morally-motivated, aesthetically & politically inclined environmental activist concentrated on reducing waste and conserving resources through the interconnected processes of production and consumption.
On a sliding scale from aesthetic zero waste bloggers to political environmental activists, “zero waste activists” might be artists, social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, sustainably-focused executives, or lobbyists. There isn’t a necessary particular activity that zero waste activists must engage in to promote their message. Solutions to the complex issues underlying resource exploitation and environmental degradation require diverse solutions. It is instead the purpose and intent behind this action that defines a zero waste activist.
Even in my own journey navigating this landscape, I am still trying to find my identity on this spectrum and where I can most passionately and effectively make a difference. What I do know, however, like many zero waste bloggers and activists, is that I have a passion for environmentally-conscious living and perpetuating my values.
This yearning was initiated in my youth as I grew up around the founders of Lifebook,
“a transformational lifestyle design system that empowers you to ENVISION, PLAN, and ACHIEVE your very best life.”
Although I didn’t realize it at 12 or 13 years of age, the tools I learned growing up in this environment encouraged me to gain clarity on what was important to me in life and create steps for myself to achieve these goals. So even though I may not be able to single-handedly change the world, I choose to live sincerely in alignment with my goals and do my part to encourage others to do so as well.
As I alluded to earlier, this is the case with many environmental activists.
Who would Greta Thunberg be if she cared so intensely about climate change, but did nothing to address it? Or if she encouraged others to spark climate strikes without putting her boots on the ground for 154 weeks straight?
In other words, us activists don’t just talk the talk. We walk the walk — literally, in many cases.
Even though, for example, zero waste activists might not come into contact with overflowing landfills on a daily basis, our internal values and accountability remind us to opt out of plastic straws and throw our food scraps in the compost pile.
If I were to distill a zero waste activist into three imperative qualities, it would be:
As I hope you’ll concur, these are not out-of-bounds, unattainable traits. They just need to be tapped into, and when combined they can lead to extraordinary outcomes!
You don’t have to be an environmental scientist to be a zero waste activist. All you need is a bit of awareness, compassion and commitment and you are well on your way.
The next step after realizing these necessary value shifts and taking personal accountability — which are undoubtedly the most difficult parts of the process — is taking tangible action. Below is a list of activities, a zero waste scripture if you will, for you to refer to for some inspiration:
· Change your purchasing habits using simple checklists and scrutinize your consumption
· Advocate to your local legislators regarding circularity and waste regulation (i.e. EPR, recycling and composting infrastructure, etc.)
· Post about your zero waste journey to encourage others to make the commitment with you!
· Spark conversations with stores, restaurants, etc. about alternatives to single-use packaging and products
· Vote for environmentally-committed representatives who will be more open-minded to your movement!
· Organize a strike surrounding relevant political circumstances and/or initiatives
· Create art as a medium of expression on the need to consume responsibly and reduce waste
· Instigate interventions and discussions with family and friends who are willing to listen to your ideas!
I sincerely hope this article gave you some clarity on what it means to be a zero waste activist and some encouragement as you continue to navigate this constantly-evolving trend.
Know that your efforts — no matter how small — will not go unnoticed by your fellow supporters and future generations who would otherwise be scrambling for resources given our current trajectory.
My personal goal is to craft this community to spark zero waste activism in people of all walks of life. We all have a part to play and a unique piece to contribute to this sophisticated puzzle. And together, we can work to materialize a beautiful, waste-free future.