Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

fail to prepare

Living low waste might seem to be, from the outside, all about going without, exercising iron clad willpower, and generally living a spartan lifestyle.

Willpower is contextual, and changing a habit with brute force just doesn’t work for me. Which is a fancy way of saying, I don’t have a special amount of willpower. I just try to structure my day to day decisions to reinforce my overarching intentions for life.

Restructure your decisions ahead of time

One of my favourite ways to teach myself a habit is to look at ways I am repeatedly making the same decision (and struggling every time) to see if I can restructure and automate it with a healthy default.

We only have so many decisions in us in a day before we get decision fatigue.

This is the insight behind a work uniform. But here’s another example:

I sometimes go for a run in the morning before work. I want the endorphins and I love the energy it gives me through the day. But left to my own devices, I will often vacillate between getting up and going, and just lazing in bed until I don’t have enough time.

My simple automation is to set out my running clothes the night before – right down to my socks and undies. In doing so, I am committing, even in a small way, to following through with my run. This also makes the morning an overall smooth operation. No rummaging through my drawers to track down my sports bra or a pair of socks. There is nothing to derail me.

Rather than deciding whether or not to run, I’m deciding how far and in which direction.

A simple change to my surroundings helps me make the decision my higher self actually wants.

It’s the same thing with Zero Waste living. In the preparation, I am setting an intention and a commitment to a future behaviour. It’s a Zero Waste asana. It’s also creating an environment that supports my intention and sets me up for success.

Normalize low waste living.

Since the trash we produce has so much to do with our eating habits here are a few examples of how I set myself up for Zero Waste in the kitchen:

I make real food, at home // Making my own food is empowering and my absolute favourite way to practice creativity. Michael Pollan tells us to eat whatever we want, as long as we make it ourselves, which I take as permission to make and eat pie. He says this in the context of nutrition and eating habits (I can only make so much pie), but it’s also relevant to reducing household waste. In my own kitchen, I reduce, reuse, compost, recycle, etc. This means that if I made it, I know how it was made, and what was wasted (or not) in the process.

blackberry pie

I shop in bulk // To automate cooking at home as my normal, I shop in bulk at any of the bulk whole food stores where I live. I stock up on seeds, nuts, beans, grains and other ingredients that can be made into a wide variety of dishes. I don’t have to channel my energy into avoiding processed foods or not eating out. Instead I cultivate joy in cooking and eating food that I make myself.

I hide my trash bin // A typical kitchen has a large garbage bin front and centre. Sometimes these are even battery operated, freeing us from the burden of lifting the lid ourselves. This teaches us to use it as the first choice. What if it was the last choice? What would happen if you gave more physical space and prominence to your compost and recycling bins? You’d remember to use them first, I guarantee it. By creating an environment where it is physically more difficult to throw things away, I throw less away.

I surround myself with fresh, local, organic fruit and veg // I order a weekly box from a fellow who is running a small business delivering farm-direct local organic produce, or I hit the farmers markets. This means I’m choosing from seasonal bounty by default. Bonus – no fruit stickers to deal with. Second bonus, I don’t waste time at the supermarket looking for organic or Australian grown produce from amongst it all. The less I shop at supermarkets, the less I expose myself to packaged foods. Since produce comes in its own biodegradable and usually edible packaging, the more of it I keep on hand the less often I turn to packaged foods and the less packaging waste I make.
trio-of-veg I follow plant-based foodies online // Say what you will about the authenticity of social media, I still find that visual inspiration keeps me hungry for healthy, fresh food. I purposely seek out veggie Instagrammers to inspire me in exploring meat-free meals and thinking about new flavour combos.

I keep a ‘to eat’ list // I’m prone to overbuying, which can lead to food waste. So I write down a list of things I have on hand as a reminder of what I should plan my meals around.

Willpower is overrated.

If you want to reshape your life, reimagine your environment.

Living low waste can be so much more about abundance of the good than deprivation or extreme willpower. The good crowds out the bad, and becomes normal. What you’ll end up giving up will ultimately become irrelevant to your lifestyle anyway. Living without making so much trash will start to feel effortless.

If you are looking to start living low waste, start by creating environments that inspire instead of restrict. You’ll be more likely to succeed and more likely to enjoy the process.

Creativity and constraints

Creativity is merely resourcefulness amidst constraints.

Limitations then, are a way to practice creativity. Creativity is a muscle. So being faced with limitations can improve your life by showing you ways and methods you would otherwise not have considered.

  • How can I use all of these tomatoes from my garden?
  • What could I do with this old tee shirt?
  • What other uses might this empty glass jar have?
  • What else could I cook while the oven is up to temperature?
  • What are some groups that might be interested in taking my food scraps?
  • How long could I go without buying anything new?
  • What are some recipes for plant-based meals so tasty I won’t be asked, ‘where’s the meat?’
  • How little household waste can I produce and still live a fun and productive life?

What are your constraints? How are you deciding to being resourceful?

Zero waste is a practice

Is a fear of failure stopping you from adopting a Zero Waste lifestyle? The solution could be to think of Zero Waste as a daily practice rather than an outcome.


Why start a practice? To improve. To develop a good habit. 

And yet many of us will not start something out of an irrational fear of not being good at it – even if we’ve never tried before and should have no reason to believe we have a special talent for it. Known by another name as Fear of Failure.

Only in the last few years have I embraced the idea of failing as a tool for learning. I wasn’t in a growth mindset before, so I would rarely attempt something unless the outcome seemed achievable.

I’m a little kinder on myself now. I liken my Zero Waste practice to yoga. Nobody should expect to do a handstand on their first day (or maybe ever). I have never done a handstand during my yoga practice, and I have never produced no waste during my Zero Waste practice.

It’s not the handstand that is the most important anyway, it’s all the actions, intentions, and reflection that lead to one, and that make the inversion physically and mentally possible – it’s the practice.

Everyday actions to reduce waste are the asanas of a Zero Waste practice.

The cumulative effect of these asanas is that I’m better able to reflect, respond and react in more productive ways to the challenges of living in a wasteful world. It helps avoid impulse purchases. It also reduces my waste hugely, even if not to a complete zero.

More important than the optics is for me to get better at graciously refusing things I don’t want or need, or offer only marginal benefits, plus anything with too much or un-recyclable packaging. I get better by practising what I believe. I aspire to be satisfied with the things I already have more than I am enticed by those things I don’t. The only way to do this is to turn belief into an action.

If you find an expectation of what Zero Waste living should look like is actually preventing you from getting started, don’t. Using a mason jar to store your trash is one outcome, but not the entire point. We can only start from wherever we are. Your practice may start with a single swap of a single use shopping bag for a reusable.  Who knows where it may lead you.


 

You down with OPG? Why I break a trashy taboo.

Othe People's Garbage

“You’d better wash your hands after.”

My boyfriend has caught me acting trashy again.

I was snatching a wayward plastic cup from the sand after a surf. He, clearly, questioning our relationship.

He doesn’t love it when I touch Other People’s Garbage.

There is taboo attached to picking up someone else’s garbage. Oddly, more so than around the act of using a cup once and discarding it.

What I don’t bother explaining to him anymore, is that while this piece is someone else’s, it might as well be mine. I’ve made my share of trashy bits in my short life.

We’re all responsible when trash ends up on the beach.

It’d be easy to blame the volume of debris I find on run of the mill litterbugs or a handful of bad people. But there is too much of it. Gyres-full.

We’re all responsible.

Before it was trash and ewww, it was probably useful and convenient. It was a quick way to get a slushie without having to bring our own cup and reusable straw. An easy way to pack food to put in a pocket for a day on the slopes. A way to save time on cleanup after the party. Maybe it was your toothbrush.

toothbrush

Even if we don’t willfully throw things into the ocean, that’s somehow where a good proportion ends up.

It’s the flyaways that escape from the top of the overstuffed bin. It’s the random objects that fall out of car doors. The hat that blew into the ocean when the Southerly howled through. It’s the fin I snapped on a rock in Punta Mita and never could find. Anything in a storm drain’s path. So many ways. 

Much grosser things are in store for garbage that we don’t pick up.

Something else I think to say aloud, but don’t, is that touching Other People’s Garbage with my bare hands is probably slightly better than swimming through it face first, and far better than eventually eating it after it disintegrates, gets ingested by a fish, and swims through the food chain to end up on my dinner plate.

ocean trash
What’s for dinner?

Maybe worse – the fish doesn’t make it as far as my plate, because it died of starvation after feeding on bulky, yet nutritionally empty pieces of plastic.

Opting out of single use can feel like swimming upstream.

Our culture loves the convenience of ‘single use’, making it feel inconvenient to opt-out of this cycle. I know this because these days I try to live with the philosophy of Zero Waste.

This means I try to create as little unrecoverable waste as possible while living life normally in ever other way. I refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle and compost before I will resort to throwing something ‘away’.

I’m by no means always successful in avoiding the plastics, the packaging, and the unrecyclables. I have not achieved the elusive zero in Zero Waste.

Zero Waste is a practice, not a destination.

I recommit to it each day, and each time I go to the beach.

As part of my practice, I’ll keep picking up those reminders of my own trashy past – I’ll keep picking up Other People’s Garbage. Because whether or not it’s yours or mine or someone else’s, litter is an invaluable and tangible reminder that throwaway culture is a pile of rubbish.

As for my boyfriend? His protests are getting weaker all the time. And he wouldn’t tell you this himself, but I’ve seen him getting down with OPG.