We need more diversity in the Zero Waste movement. I must say never before of any of the social movements i’ve witnessed or identified with on some level, have i seen such a homogenous view presented. This is not criticism of anyone, or anyone that fits within what i perceive as the stereotype (I too live some of the aspects i’ll talk about). The issue is that if new additional examples are not soon added to the mix of what it means to be a ‘zero waster’ or live a zero waste lifestyle, the risk is alienation of people who don’t fit the mould or can’t live certain aspects of lifestyle in the same way. I do think that probably lots of different types of people are living low waste lifestyles, but not demonstrating them on social media. I realise not everyone wants to be a part of what might be perceived by some, a very narcissistic thing: depicting your life publicly. However people talking about positive lifestyle changes and more environmentally sustainable living is actually a very good thing. It is what is needed to make zero waste more mainstream and thus implemented in more people’s lives which is required if it is to make any real impact on the environment as a whole. Take this therefore as encouragement if you don’t fit the mould but are making positive environmental steps to create a blog, an instagram account or youtube! The world needs to hear from you.
So what do i perceive as the stereotype:
The ultimate archetype of a zero-waster at the moment is a middle-class Caucasian, heterosexual attractive female in their twenties or thirties, who cares a lot about their appearance and thus implements the lifestyle by making a lot of beauty products from scratch, eats a vegan diet and has a fabulous very flattering minimalist wardrobe – probably featuring a black blazer and some really nice boots. They rent, living in an apartment in a city within walking or biking distance to lots of fabulous vegan restaurants and farmers markets and can fit all their trash in a mason jar. They own a clean kanteen, a stainless steel lunchbox, a keep cup, bamboo toothbrush and beautiful Instagram account and lots and lots of mason jars.
Please take that description in the way it is intended: a critical commentary trying to look at the movement from the perspective of an outsider- not a criticism of anyone enacting any of those attributes of which I myself incorporate some parts.
Missing from this picture almost entirely are men, people from more diverse racial backgrounds, the lgbti community, home-owners, older people, families, people living rurally and people of lower socio-economic means. Eg most people. Thus it would be very easy for someone say with not a lot of money to think that they can’t produce less waste because they can’t afford a kleen kanteen and therefore write off the whole movement. Likewise what is becoming the symbols or iconography of the zero waste moment (the ‘kit’ everyone seems to own) as being associated with whiteness or femaleness and therefore not something those not being either white or female want to be associated with. How many men for example would own up to their mates that they now make their own deodorant.
I actually now see it as a problem that certain more luxury brands have now become such dominant trends within the movement. Kleen Kanteen, Keepcup and Ball Mason jars for example. These are lovely, but expensive and out of the reach of many. Frankly i find it strange these brand trends have occurred as there are many other options out there that fullfill the same functions. And mason jars in particular are not even well adapted to what people are using them for (keeping dry pantry goods and salads in) due to their 2 part lid that is designed for canning and preserving food, not to be taken on and off like a general storage container. As far as Kleen Kanteen and Keepcup is concerned I think it must be clever social media marketing that has aligned them to the zero waste movement over their competitors. Owning these items has become like a status symbol of zero-waste and how people identify themselves as being part of the group in the same way a biker jacket or tattoo signifies someone’s allegiance to a particular biker gang. Zero waste has become a subculture.
The reality too is the presented ideal is out of reach of many even if they would like to do and be all that. So much of the availability of package free items for example is dictated by where you live. If you aren’t living in a major city in a predominantly white middle class area then chances are you don’t have a bulk store or even farmers market nearby. You might not be able to justify buying organic in your tight grocery budget (which is not even a requirement of a zero waste lifestyle but heavily promoted amongst the limited view presented). You might be able to make all your own beauty products, but to do so would involve buying 6 different items in their own packaging on the internet, then posted to you in further packaging all to save yourself the waste of one item in one container.
I feel like my channel is one of the few that talks about growing my own food to reduce waste (beyond a few herbs) and this is probably because it seems most ‘zero-wasters’ rent in city apartments rather than the rural lifestyle i intentionally chose. Rural zero waste is entirely different to city zero waste. Rural living is probably far from bulk stores (luckily i’m actually not but was when i lived more remotely) but has other advantages like a garden. Home ownership is also entirely different from renting. As an owner of a 20+ year old home, maintaining it requires me to produce waste that a renter doesn’t even see (but whose lifestyles still produce- it’s just only witnessed by the landlord or the contractors they employ to fix up their homes).
Ultimately we need to diversify the commentary and the examples put forth in order to be more inclusive, more accessible and identifiable to a broader number of people. Zero waste shouldn’t be some exclusive club that only certain types of people can join. We also need to be more accepting of others that have other types of values that might not align in the same way to produce the same cookie cutter image – because it seems once you identify as a zero waster it is almost assumed you also practice ethical shopping, veganism, minimalism and buying only organic (probably local too). I certainly have been personally criticised if my ‘zero waste’ thing wasn’t also all of these, and lets not even start talking about the fact i have have my pet (and egg laying) chickens or that i personally don’t choose organic unless it is the same cost as conventional (both of these choices relate to bigger picture things that are worth a separate post but ultimately my choices which might appear contradictory result in me producing less impact to the environment overall in the long term).
So please, especially if you are a man, a person of colour, or someone older than about 50 and are living a lower waste or more environmentally conscious lifestyle please share your example with others (especially on social media). In fact if you already have an account on some social media platform and I just haven’t seen it, please share a link with me. I’d love to promote it in the future on my youtube channel to increase awareness of more diverse examples. I personally have a few aspects of my life that set me apart from the stereotype but ultimately as a white, middle class female there is only so much i can do to add diversity myself.