Why the zero waste movement isn’t sustainable

I know what you’re thinking: Don’t “zero waste” and “sustainable” go hand in hand? Why yes, the two are usually synonymous.

I know what else you’re thinking: Caity, you have posted all about being zero waste! Right again.

So allow me to explain. The zero-waste movement is everywhere right now. With Pinterest and Instagram accounts flooded with perfectly styled images of what zero waste looks like. I mean, I have both accounts and I love to share zero waste inspiration!

And while I’m happy that the word is getting out and it’s inspiring people, I think it paints a rather unrealistic painting of what the movement is all about. We get so caught up in pretty metal straws and waste jars that we forget why there’s a movement in the first place.

It’s about protecting and preserving the world that we’re lucky to call home. The world that God crafted, filled with everything we’d ever need. I think that’s worth taking care of.

I find the movement has been consumed with banning single-use plastic. Something I can get behind but not the main threat. There’s carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, climate change. Just to name a few.

So I don’t think that the current movement is sustainable in the long run. It’s not inclusive and seems to focus heavily on only one issue. Please know that it’s still an important issue, it’s just not the only one.

Now all of that being said, let’s jump into 5 reasons why I think the zero waste movement isn’t sustainable.

why the zero waste movement isn't sustainable

It’s not accessible

I think a lot of zero waste bloggers live in a bubble of bulk shopping, refill stations, and package-free shops. I’m thinking of more mainstream areas like L.A. No shame to them, I wish everyone had access to these kinds of stores.

But it’s not realistic and for a lot of people, even bulk shopping isn’t an option. I know, I was surprised to hear that too. I might not have a bulk store near me but at least my grocery store has bulk options. Not a lot do.

Some places the only safe drinking water is bottled water. There are a million and one different reasons as to why shopping zero waste isn’t accessible. And if you don’t have options it’s nearly impossible.

Shame stigma

There’s a lot of guilt and shame that surrounds people who aren’t perfectly zero waste. So you forget your reusable bags or use a plastic straw now and then. That’s not the point of the movement. Doing your best to care for the planet is.

I’ve noticed that it can shame people right out of trying at all. They’re embarrassed for not being perfect so what’s the point? And don’t even get me started on shaming people who still eat meat.

We shouldn’t be putting people down who are trying to be better. We should be encouraging them.

It’s expensive to start

When you decide to go zero waste the list of things you “need” to buy seems daunting. Now it feels like you can’t even use the plastic Tupperware in your cupboard anymore because it’s plastic.

The movement seemingly wants you to throw that all away only to replace it with glass containers. Which only creates more waste and I’ll never understand it.

And then there’s reusable shopping bags and metal straws and bamboo cutlery and this and that. It’s crazy!

And one of the biggest reasons I think people are afraid to go zero waste. Like I said above we need to encourage one another. So use your Tupperware and whatever else you have on hand! You don’t need to spend money to cut back waste.

It’s restrictive

Are you trying to tell me that I can’t travel the world?? Yikes. What’s the point in saving the world if I don’t even get to see it?

I don’t mean to come off as snooty or rude but a lot of online activists seem very privileged. A lot of people don’t want to or can’t live by a set of restrictive rules. We’re going to be so busy worrying about what we can’t do, where we can’t go, what we can and cannot buy and eat that we’re going to forget to even live.

I encourage lifestyle changes all the time because I very strongly believe that a few conscious changes and decisions can make a huge difference. But I also know that not every aspect of the movement works with everyone’s lifestyle and that’s ok.

It’s out of our control

Try as we might, do the best that we can, some things are just out of our control. Don’t let this stop you from trying. But at the end of the day, for now, some things are out of our control. The movement lacks a realistic attitude. We can’t reduce plastic pollution or stop climate change overnight.

Having to use a plastic bag while shopping won’t make that huge of a difference (but don’t use that as an excuse to use them all the time)

All I’m saying is that it’s not all reusable straws and waste jars. It’s a lot harder and a lot bigger than that.

Change is possible and it’s happening. It’s just smart to be aware of the things we can have an impact on.

There is still a long way to go in the zero waste community to be attainable by all but it is possible.

I hope this post isn’t taken negatively, that’s not the intent at all. Like everything and every moment there are always areas that can be improved and these are the things about this community that I see need some work on.

Do not be discouraged! There is room for everyone who wants to make a change and together, I truly believe we can.

why the zero waste movement isn't sustainable

As always, please don’t forget to share this post and follow me on Instagram for daily low waste and ethical fashion inspiration!

Other posts you might like:

Plastic-free personal care routine

29 things I quit buying 

How to have a zero-waste kitchen

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8 Comments

  1. Alexa
    August 18, 2019 / 1:22 am

    Very well said- very true- any extreme is bad- sustainability has 3 pillars to meet otherwise it is not sustainable:
    Ecological- economical-social

    And yes- if wealthy rich bloggers tell you to stop buying at Zara and Primark they totally forget that not everybody can afford to buy sustainable jeans for 300 USD!

    • Caity Rose
      Author
      August 18, 2019 / 8:33 am

      Yes! Thank you! I’m so happy this resonated with you!

  2. Lucia
    August 18, 2019 / 6:14 pm

    I live in a tiny Midwestern town, there are no options for bulk buying here or within an hours drive. So I’m doing what I can with I’ve got available. You are so right in your observation of the privilege in a lot of these “how to go zero waste” posts. Also thank you for reminding people it makes no sense to turn your existing stuff in to trash and replace it. Use up what you have first!

    • Caity Rose
      Author
      August 18, 2019 / 10:54 pm

      Thank you so much for reading! And for doing what you can. Doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing. Some people have to work harder to make it work but the results are amazing!

  3. Kelci
    August 29, 2019 / 12:35 pm

    You hit on some good points! The perfectionism with all the shame, guilt and despair that’s apart of that, really puts a toxic twist to a very positive movement. Also the “picture perfect” aspect you mentioned had been both powerful to inspire but also with the side effect of potentially making people a little wasteful in trying to attain that perfect look. All in all, I’m glad this movement has become trendy because it has raised awareness and I think it needed to be really specific (single use plastics) in order to do that. People struggle to imagine what they can do to make an impact and at least this movement gave them something they could imagine. Of course, now it’s gone a little extreme which is typical of a trend and lost some of its original anchoring purpose. It has opened the discussion though so we can build on it! Where do you think the movement should go next?

    • Caity Rose
      Author
      September 3, 2019 / 8:35 pm

      Yes, as long as the movement is “trendy” I think it has power to do so much good. That is an excellent question and think it should go a lot of different ways. But a few things I’d like to see more is attainability and clarity. I agree that it can be so overwhelming when there are literally dozens of ways to help and when just starting out it can feel impossible to know where to start. But it’s hard to say for sure. I just hope it keeps growing and that big companies and brands catch on and do their part as well.

  4. October 15, 2019 / 7:49 am

    Thank you. I often feel inhibited when I try to make good choices because it’s so overwhelming. In some ways, admitting that many things are out of my control is oddly freeing. I never understood the “throw away what you do have and get new, sustainable stuff” part of zero-waste, either! So counterproductive!

    • Caity Rose
      Author
      October 15, 2019 / 9:39 am

      Thanks so much for reading! I agree! That’s exactly why I wanted to write this post. No hate to the movement and what it’s trying to accomplish, I just think we can all work together better to understand each other and make a bigger impact!

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