Ever since I lost so much weight and began experiencing life in a fundamentally new way, feeling perhaps like a once-earthbound caterpillar feels like when it emerges from its cocoon and begins to fly around, I've been obsessed and driven by the idea of making everything in my life "lose weight" -- eliminating excess, concentrating on essentials, and making lean, potent effectiveness my goal. One idea I've been batting around, and intend to start working toward, is that of Zero Waste.
Waste has become endemic to modern living. Virtually everything sold in supermarkets comes wrapped in plastic, and even if it is sold by itself, as perhaps clothing is, cashiers will insist on throwing it in a plastic bag. Food, too, is wasted, filling the dumpsters of grocers, and the trash bins of people at home. The urban environment of America is waste made visible, in the form of suburban sprawl which forces people to make automobile trips for every need, and to drive hither and yon across the landscape because no place is near any other place worth going. Laws, too, promote waste: traffic lights mar every intersection in cities, even in quiet neighborhoods, forcing drivers to sit burning gasoline to go nowhere, obeying the god-machine above them and defying common sense: no one is coming, so go. And if they do go, a police cruiser materializes out of thin air and promptly fines them. And the waste is not merely financial: people work fifty and sixty hours a week enriching someone else, while their children grow up on the sidelines, most of their childhood lost forever to their parents.
I have grown to hate waste. Life is short; time is dear. This is part of the reason I've been thinking more on simple living and minimalism. I am motivated, too, by my abiding belief in personal responsibility. I consider frugality a virtue: I despise spending money for the same reason I loathe realizing something I own has no worth, and am disgruntled at throwing something away. This belief in personal responsibility is interwoven with my sense of citizenship: every bag of trash I might produce is a municipal burden, every second a lightbulb glows is a teensy bit of local coal burned (though happily, most of my local power is generated by a hydroelectric dam). Why use the city's resources when I can open a window and let the sun in? Why burn petroleum when I can bike? Considering the United States' dependence on importing goods, saving energy and using less isn't just personally responsible and fiscally wise; it's positively civic.
So, how to work toward Zero Waste? Some ideas I have had..
- Using hand tools instead of electrical ones. I had never used a hand-powered can opener before my electric one died; I'd never even seen one. But since then, I've found I enjoy the experience much more than listening to the screech of the machine.
- Avoiding processed foodstuffs (always sold in boxes, bags, and individually plastic-wrapped packages) and buying whole foods instead, like fresh greens that aren't shrinkwrapped. Not buying processed foods means cooking my own, and exercising complete control over what is used and what isn't -- and culinary uses can be found for everything.
- Bringing canvas sacks with me to the grocery store instead of using plastic bags; if said bags are used, take them back to the store. Both of the supermarkets I reluctantly patronize (no local grocers save seasonally-open produce shacks) have places to return plastic bags.
- Only using kitchenware that is durable: dishes and utensils meant for one-time uses are obscene. Plastic glasses are a conundrum they're more likely to survive falls than actual glasses, but they can't be recycled and possibly leach toxins over time.
- Finding simple entertainment offline, with people, instead of online. I choose to play frisbee with my nephew, for instance, instead of playing Call of Duty with him. It helps that he only has CoD on X-Box, and I am a PC purist and can't move quickly enough with one of those hand-held controllers..
- Turning off lights when not needed, especially wise considering that in the summer, incandescent bulbs not only waste 90% of the energy put into them, but that waste comes in the form of heat that fans and air-conditioning have to combat.
- Doing errands on foot or by bike instead of by car; I intend on putting a rack on my bicycle so that I can transport items like groceries with it. I also plan on moving closer to my work so that biking is more practical. I currently live three miles from work, but the first part of that is on a busy highway that is somewhat perilous on weekdays.
- Growing my own food in a garden; unfortunately, this is where some of my ideas conflict. I can live in the city and walk to work, or live outside it and have a garden, but doing both isn't possible until I can afford a small home with a backyard, or an apartment with green space that the landlord allowed gardening on. I have an uncle who gardens, and am thinking of 'apprenticing' myself to him to learn the lore.
- Refusing to buy goods that are shabbily made, or are made of materials (plastic) that can't be repaired. This means investing in a few high-quality items that retain their value.
- Making my own household goods, like shampoo or jam. Not only would I avoid using a plastic bottle, but I'm sure I could find a recipe that's environmentally friendly. The jam, and other food-preserving ideas, would depend on having a garden.
- Composting organic scraps that qualify: right now I just take biodegradable scraps out into the woods and scatter them. Composting them would help in gardening instead of scattering the nutrients willy-nilly.
- Using a clothesline instead of a dryer to dry clothes. This would also be less doable were I living in a city apartment, considering that moderns see a clothesline as an unsightly indicator of poverty. I'm also concerned about the everpresent humidity in Alabama preventing clothes from actually driving in the summers: if the air is saturated with moisture, it seems to me water would have a hard time evaporating from the clothes.
All these pertain to resources. I've yet to start running red lights, though these days I have to stop myself from treating them like stop signs, which is how I think they ought to be treated. I've been extraordinarily lucky in finding work in a field that is not only spiritually fulfilling (public service means helping people), but gives me enough hours to make a living but also allows for more leisure time than most people get. I work thirty hours a week on average, which is plenty for me considering my simple tastes. I decided years ago that working for money was not the life for me: I'd rather be poor and happy than wealthy and stressed. Money is only valuable inasmuch as it enhances our quality of lie.
Zero waste is an exacting goal, a high standard; I doubt that I will ever achieve it. But I intend to come as close as I can, so that my life brims over with value.