Zero waste: a beautiful practice of existence that emphasizes sustainability and environmental concern. Participants of this culture pose in pictures holding small mason jars of garbage- their yearly (and sometimes years, multiple) worth of trash. Of course, that’s not all they do. It’s amazing, it’s mind-boggling, and as many of the articles I’ve read point out, it’s hard work- but not as hard as you’d think. It involves awareness and consistent intentional practice because the world we live in is simply not designed for zero waste.
Now here is where I need to give you my honest opinion.
Things need to change. Sustainable practices need to be the default not the irregularity, and if I had it my way, sustainability would be taught alongside respect and responsibility. This is an issue that was created by our lack of foresight and it can only be fixed by endorsing a high level of foresight; if you refuse to look at the bigger picture outside yourself and the far off future of the world outside your home, sustainability will never be high on your priority list. I feel passionately about this issue because most of the time it comes down to convenience, both for time and money; excess packaging owns most grocery stores because our current culture is dependent on the pre-made nature of food, and buying plastics is often cheaper than metal or wood. I feel a sense of responsibility to make better decisions and I genuinely feel good when I am able to exercise a level of sustainability. I’m also something of a tree hugger, I cannot help but highly value any and all forms of life, so this obviously influences my desire to cut back on my wasteful habits.
However, I was raised in Alberta, and while I have no love for the oil industry and it’s treatment of the environment, I also understand how difficult it would be to live and work in this province without a vehicle. I was raised in a small town with two small grocery stores, no public transit, and winters that hover at -15 but drop to -50 with the windchill on the colder days in December and January. Fresh food was available in large enough quantities but the variation was limited and if you lived out of town (which many, many people do) you couldn’t be making weekly grocery trips- you’d be paying twice as much for gas as food.
I hug every tree I can, but I also understand that death is a completely normal part of life; my qualms with eating meat come from the unethical treatment of animals as a means to an end, i.e. factory farming.
I’m offering these points of view because I’ve noticed a trend in many of the zero waste articles I’ve read, and while I am sure there are many individuals making a green living outside of large urban centers, I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis on city living. More specifically, on temperate city living. All of which, makes complete sense, and is perfectly fine, except for one thing. Many of these articles are trying to do what I would be trying to do if I lived that lifestyle or wrote that article- that is, they are trying to show how easy it is so that others will be convinced to give it a try.
“But that’s a good thing, Em! If we can start changing the public perception of convenience and waste we could save the world!” you shout at me.
Close, but no! On one hand, the conversation being created by this new trend is really, really, good. On the other hand, because of the repetitive circumstances, it leaves out a large demographic of people and because I believe this to be an issue for everyone, regardless of where you live, I think the weight behind the point is lost.
I have watched several videos and followed several blogs, often finding myself acutely aware of the accessibility that is evident in a city and completely lacking in a small town. I will admit, this makes me grumble. I shouldn’t say this… But I’m going to anyways:
Isn’t it easy for someone surrounded by options to say ‘we always have a choice’?
So cynical, I know! But I can’t help it. Or can I?
I give you my summer project: Small Town Zero.
Where the heck am I going to find toilet paper that doesn’t come in plastic wrapping? How often will I have to go to the city for goods, and what is this going to cost me, including the purchase of metal/glass cooking tools? The hamlet of Lac La Biche (population 3,000, think about that) does have a few things to offer, including a weekly farmers market, but will it be enough? It’s going to be messy (cooking, baking, and likely broken glass), socially uncomfortable (there’s a chance the Ramada might sell me some of their unwrapped toilet paper, fingers crossed), and enlightening, that much I can promise you. Stick around, give me advice, and judge me as I inevitably try to cling to snickers bars and poptarts, while I also try to carry over my practices in the workplace (it’s a campground, how hard could it be?).
Well, here goes nothing…
All the best,