Update: Personal Change Matters

About two weeks ago, thanks to the wonder that is Facebook, I found myself face to face with a widely circulated article that genuinely shook my otherwise solid grounding in zero waste.
Forget Shorter Showers is an essay by Derrick Jensen. The thesis goes as follows: Personal change does not equal social change.
I know you’re probably getting tired of all the homework I keep assigning you, but seriously. Read it. Then count to ten, drink a nice soothing cup of tea, and maybe watch Pay It Forward a couple times so you can shrug off the negativity and forced assumptions that litter this article.

Okay, so the article really bugged me- he came so close to having something great, something truly brilliant to say. But rather than stopping at his brilliance, he got himself all worked up, drank a couple of red bulls, and put this bad boy out on the internet to ruffle some bureaucratic feathers- in the process, attacking the indicator of cultural change (of course, I am referring to PERSONAL CHANGE) that actually supports the change of policy that he is suggesting.

Okay, so I really disliked the article. It’s ineffective, it’s divisive, and above all else… It’s dangerous- this individual has chosen to use the EXACT systematic misdirection which he has identified within our society. He has created an “us VS. them” binary, the thesis creates the idea that personal change has no relationship to social change (which is just absolutely ridiculous), and he continuously speaks from within the walls of the house that he built; he set the rules for the game, and continued to add rules and obstacles (i.e assumptions and facts) as the article continued.

For one thing, Mr. Jensen speaks as though the government and various corporations are the only foes “we” face- Wrong. These institutions actually stand behind a large portion of individuals who have just as much “right” to voice their opinions and live exactly as they wish to live. Storming the doors and staging a coup would change the policy, but actual social change is a shift in culture- the voice of a collective… Made up of individuals… Who would’ve previously engaged in personal change. Do you see what I’m getting at?

Jensen brought the “systematic misdirection” to my attention, and for that I will always be thankful. He’s right, I did feel highly responsible for climate change, for making better decisions personally, and I would get so caught up in my own footprint that I wouldn’t notice the crater left by large-scale industry. But rather than having a beautiful article that tackled potential ways to resist and fight this image, this displacement of responsibility onto the individual, he dived out of the second story window screaming bloody murder- and in case you’re wondering, yes, all of his effectiveness went with him. He identified a missing link in the communication system between individuals and larger institutions, a missing link that is being used by these larger institutions to keep our environmental concern stagnant- he is doing something that amazing, and didn’t spend even a sentence talking about turning this missing link back on the agencies which  happily mislead the public. Instead, he continuously ignored the fact that our wasteful culture supports the current policies and personal change is an indicator (as well as the beginning) of social change. What is this guy expecting? An overnight change in policy? No way buddy, get real.

I took this article personally because I am on the environmental side of things. It is who I am, it is how I think, and it is what I believe. But you know what else? I also believe that repercussions are something to consider at all times when you are trying to facilitate social change. I have an intense fascination with rhetoric because using words to change the world is an incredible, beautiful, unifying thing. All modes of communication have their strengths and weaknesses and I believe all modes of communication are needed to add to the conversation in different ways; we are chipping at the walls, changing minds in any way we can, and you can bet that I will always be working on myself and my writing to do my part in this conversation- just as I will always denounce misleading and divisive rhetoric like that of Derrick Jensen’s, and that of the institutions which aim to use us as means to their own ends.

To you, Mr. Jensen, I say:

You are a big fat finger pointer and I’m not buying it. This is not a new issue in policy, nor does this “systematic misdirection” act as validation to storm the doors of the government. Personal change does not immediately equal social change, but social change could not physically exist without personal change, and guess what? Cultural change does equal social change, successful social change, not this radical gate-storming you’re talking about. You are awarding power to the institutions you despise when you suggest that our only avenue is war with the government and you are ignoring the fact that this war would also be fought against the numerous individuals who hold opposite beliefs to yourself. If you want successful social change, why don’t you start working with the rest of us “personal” changers? We are working every day to undo the environmental blindfold not only from ourselves, but from those around us, as many as we can reach. Why don’t you start using your sphere of influence to convey universal urgency, understanding, and conviction- why don’t you start unifying a collective rather than slicing off those who don’t meet your standard of activism?


So overall, here’s what I think:

Do you know why environmental activism is not having the monumental social change that Jensen is demanding? Because even the environmentalists can’t agree about where to draw the line. We are not speaking as a unified collective because- well, we are not a unified collective. Despite the fact that things really do need to change, this is not a black and white issue- the speculations and white noise of information act as both communication inhibitors, and perspective dividers. There are hundreds, thousands, of factions, identical and varying, existing side by side. Blatantly put, we as a movement are not organized, and depending on where you stand, it can seem as though none- or all- of the people around you feel the same way. Jensen identified the systematic misdirection which we as individuals experience, but he failed to acknowledge why this misdirection is successful and how we can turn it around.

I truly believe that communication- effective communication- is the key to enacting the sort of social change that environmentalists are hoping for. For many, it is difficult to muster more than a few moments of concern for the environment/climate change because it is one of those creeping issues; it won’t be a universal urgency until the world is on the brink.
But we are in a new age of activism and social change. Given the power of the “majority” who might not be able to understand the urgency now, any and all personal changes can only help shift our culture in a better direction, but Jensen was right- just personal change won’t be enough on its own.
That’s why we need to be moving on all levels of the personal and collective arenas, and more importantly, we need to be able to find and support each other.

We need some level of unity- perhaps some sort of information-based organization which umbrellas various environmental groups- so that we can start moving as a collective and knocking on the proverbial door of the government not just as individual activists, but as a large demographic of citizens who are working together, talking together, and ultimately, changing- personally, and collectively- together.

But hey, that’s just what a little zero-waster thinks. With all my personal change getting in the way, what would I know?

All the best,

Groceries: Sore Shoulders & Simple Living

IMG_0140.JPGOkay, so maybe grabbing the 36oz glass jar of Adam’s All Natural Peanut Butter wasn’t such a good idea after walking to the grocery and gathering bulk goods to make granola bars. But at the expense of my shoulders, the entire escapade left me with a week’s supply of fruit and no waste to show for my work- I used paper bags for the granola and nuts, and walking even saved gas.

IMG_0001But I’m going to be honest here, I was procrastinating grocery shopping with an expertise that can only really be found in the later years of a university student. I let that one sit on the back burner so long, it boiled over several times before I finally set the day, and wandered out the door so early, I only really woke up halfway to the store.

So what was it about going grocery shopping that I was so afraid of? I’ve never been stressed about grocery shopping before (quite the opposite in fact) and as small towns go, the grocery stores here have more than enough fresh food to supply a diverse diet- so what changed?

It was on my early morning walk back home, sometime between accepting the numbness in my left shoulder and losing feeling in the right, that I realized I was the one who had changed.

Grocery stores now make me uncomfortable because of the lifestyle they represent.

IMG_0247.JPGExcessive packaging and the use of plastic to maintain freshness is thought to be a necessity  when it comes to stocking the shelves these days- such is the way of the “convenience” culture we live in. If the food is pre-made or frozen, that’s even better, regardless of the chemicals used to keep it edible. I’m not going to preach about healthy diets or avoiding certain chemicals, that’s what vegans are for (harmless joke, I respect your lifestyle. Take a deep breath and keep eating your carrots). I will, however, say this:

There is an undeniable relationship between the food we eat, and the way it’s packaged; in addition, there is a clear relationship between the garbage we accumulate and the values we hold as individuals. Both of these things, now that I have written them out, seem very obvious, I know. And yet, in the grocery store, I couldn’t help but feel this sort of rational logic slip away, to be replaced by the rush of opportunity and the desire to eat any and all foods with an abundance of ease. There is something truly liberating about having that sort of variety and choice; you don’t always get to choose your circumstances, your job, even your wealth, but I’ll be damned you get to choose what you’re having for dinner tonight. And while I am aware of the financial boundaries created in the food market, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that the prep/cook time saved with pre-made food is a large deciding factor in many of today’s grocery shoppers.

IMG_0002Another thing to consider is the nature of the seller; excess packaging and the use of plastic is often an indicator of a mass-producer. I am far from being economically educated, but this sort of process line usually results in cheaper products, creating an effective win-win for grocery shoppers everywhere- or so they think.

“Given the excess of waste, and the steadily declining nature of, well, nature, this is the exact opposite of a win-win.” Says the radical hippy girl.

I know I have my green goggles on here, but there is so much more to this on a larger scale. Think about this:

IMG_0168Food is the fuel of our bodies and the fluid of our minds. It is the medicine to keep at bay our inevitable death, and in hand with the physiotherapy we call “activity”, the secret to a long life. So at what point did we lose such respect for ourselves that we can’t be bothered to maintain our bodies with proper nutrition? Such that we can’t be bothered to maintain and consider the environment that we wholly depend on? What possible priorities could surpass the well-being of your children, of their children? I have some theories as I’m sure you do too, but my overall point is that something so fundamental, so completely necessary, should be talked about and considered with intention and foresight- not a price tag and a stopwatch. IMG_0186.JPG

“But Em, pizza pops are life. I don’t like cooking…” You whine.

Well, fingers crossed you marry someone that does. You will get no sympathy from this tree-hugger.

A dose of reality: I understand that this is view is not going to be widespread across the board, trust me, I do. But coming from someone who is sauntering (I mean, really sauntering, we’re talking record low sluggish speeds) through a degree, I have a lot to say on the entire topic of speed walking through life. I don’t see the point in moving so quickly I don’t have time to enjoy the view or choose the menu, and balance is really important to me. Socially, physically, financially, it’s all entirely circumstantial, but it can all be balanced- it just takes a little work and focus. Responsibility is another huge one for me, something I think going zero waste has already spoken for. All of these values will play a crucial role in my current transition, and they will be highly present in my blogs.

What I’m really trying to say is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tthd7LJPfmE

In other news, I did in fact make homemade granola bars (which turned out to be fancy granola, bonus!) this week.IMG_0194.JPG

I found a great recipe on a site called minimalistbaker.com which I think creates a huge amount of conversation regarding convenience and health food, as much of what this amazing woman creates is quite simple and designed to be “minimalist” in some way. Needless to say I will be frequenting this site. IMG_0199.JPG

I am sad to say my DIY fabric flowers were low on my priority list this week, however I did manage to get outside, breathe plenty fresh air, and hold many, many sticks.

IMG_0053.JPGAs May Long Weekend approaches, I assure you, camping is on my mind.IMG_0146

Every week is a new adventure and I never could’ve anticipated finding this much joy in giving my beliefs a  chance to flourish. Well wishes and encouragement for you to do the same, whatever your passions may be.

All the best,



The Horse Before the Cart

IMG_0327.JPGAfter traveling with such a small bag and even smaller wardrobe, my outlook on material excess has shrunk- literally. Cleaning out my closet was one of the first things I did when I returned, and I didn’t just stop at clothing, donating several additional boxes of items and objects that were just collecting dust on my shelves.

IMG_0359.JPGBut what does this have to do with zero waste?

I truly believe that going zero waste is not just something you do- its a state of mind. Learning to let go of unnecessary things has served to create emphasis on the things I do keep, while also cutting my ties with the culture of consumerism; I have to decide what I need before entering stores or browsing online and I subject myself to heavy interrogation before signing in blood on the dotted line of the receipt.

But in all seriousness, I have to be honest with myself. This whole experiment is about balance, and I believe that genuine change comes from genuine understanding; the more I learn about myself and what I truly value, the more likely I will make a successful and clean transition into a responsible lifestyle.

Which is also why I needed to create a “craft” pile while cleaning out my closet. I had a really hard time giving away/throwing out items that I was attached to, even if they were just scraps of paper or old T-shirts. I enjoy DIY projects, just small-scale crafting stuff, so naturally I thought a craft pile was a great idea- but there was a catch.I wouldn’t let myself put anything into the scrap pile until I had an idea of what I would use it for, and all projects left uncompleted by the end of the summer will be forfeited. I’ve set these rules down to prevent my craft pile from becoming another junk pile, I guess we’ll have to see what happens!

IMG_0372.JPGSo far I’ve made a keepsake out of all the scraps of paper and tickets I collected while in Southeast Asia (including a napkin with directions, you use whatever is available!) I’m thrilled with how this one worked out, and having found the same sort of keepsakes from my first few years at university, I plan to do the same once I dig a frame out!

After cleaning out my closet, I began to plan for every day applications of zero waste. I knew from my online research that I needed to put together a grocery shopping kit as well as a food storage kit for the kitchen. I also needed to pack lunches for work and store leftovers, something to consider now that tupperware is out of the picture. IMG_0297I found a great supply of tin cans and glass jars at thrift stores for insanely reasonable prices, I have a cloth lunch bag with drawstring, and even a small pillow case for wrapping bread on the counter. Easy peasy!IMG_0368.JPG

I do, however, want to give a dose of reality to the situation. Despite the fact that I’m living back in my family’s home this summer, I personally only own the bare-minimum for cookware; this has made it almost too easy to make a lifestyle change because I don’t have to throw out perfectly good plastics- I’m just purchasing glasses and metals for the first time, and in that sense, I’m lucky. I do want to add that I found the jars and tins in the city at a thrift shop, simply because I was passing through and did not want to risk it on the small shops in town. I purchased four glass jars of varying sizes, and six tins also of varying sizes, for just under $15. As for soaps and cleaning, I have a small stock leftover from my wasteful days, so while I tackle the food related issues of zero waste, I plan on using them up. IMG_0375Why throw away perfectly good lotion or shampoo just because it’s in a plastic bottle? I can’t control what I bought in the past, but I’m controlling what I buy now, so there’s no point in adding additional (and blatantly irrational) waste to the pile. Having said that, if one were trying to make such a transition and found their home littered with plastics, they could always donate or recycle (when possible) the plastics and upgrade to other more natural materials when and if they had the economic standing to do so.

I think the big thing here is to cut back from consumerism and one-time use practices. The granola bar wrappers, the bottles of soap, the bag of peanuts. I’m soon going to find out how economic/time efficient this lifestyle proves, but already I’m noticing a serious difference in the foods that are available to me- those mostly being fruits and veggies. Needless to say I can feel the health flowing through my veins, but that doesn’t mean I don’t really, really, miss chocolate bars.

Next up, I dive right into grocery shopping, food storage, granola bars, and drift wood flowers, although, things could change by the end of the week. I’ll let you know.

All the best,










How To: Scrap Paper Keepsake

Save your ticket stubs, your receipts, your stickers and your stamps! You can’t always control where and when you pick up a bit of un-recyclable trash, but you can choose how to use it.

Rather than scrolling through hundreds of photos from my three month journey in southeast Asia, I’ve managed to fit all the countries and unique personal memories into one frame.

Yes, that is in fact a napkin with directions to a remote beach on the north-east side of Koh Phangan.

I can tell you where I got each and every one of those scraps, and whats more, looking at them transports me straight back to the moment I got them- something I’ve never fully experienced with a picture.

I’m thrilled with how this worked out, and having found the same sort of keepsakes from my first few years at university, I plan to do the same once I dig a frame out.

All the best,
The Dirt Mouth