They typically hang out around the farmers market, carrying cloth bags, refusing plastic straws and channeling their inner hippie to an entirely new level. These are the people who live by the zero waste philosophy.
While they have good intentions to save the planet by eliminating any trash they might produce, their beliefs are entirely unrealistic. Individual efforts in environmentalism remain admirable, but idealistic lifestyles can’t replace substantial legislative action that yields widespread change to better the environment.
People who live zero waste lifestyles can’t undo their past actions or get rid of the abundance of trash currently floating in oceans or piling in landfills. The U.S. produced 258 million tons of trash in 2014, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. One person won’t make enough of a difference in a world of billions.
Adopting an entirely zero waste lifestyle is virtually impossible for people who don’t have the money or time. Millions of products come in packages that can’t be regularly recycled or reused: plastic bottle caps, paper towels, takeout boxes and price tags to name a few.
While personal and ethical choices can be made to limit waste for people who balance a career, school or family — completely avoiding trash is impossible. Instead of showcasing a tiny mason jar full of all their waste from the past three years, most people would probably pull out a gigantic trash can just from the last week.
It’s understandable that the need to care for the environment creates an overwhelming desire to boycott companies that produce exorbitant amounts of trash — but rather than making it an individual pursuit, people who are inspired by this lifestyle should put their efforts into making community changes instead.
Fond memories of unavoidable clothing tags and receipts may be few enough to fit inside a mason jar for members of the zero waste community, but these are everyday occurences for the rest of the world and most of it goes unnoticed. Even environmentally conscious people can’t always avoid these minute pieces of trash.
By showcasing these inescapable pieces of garbage, zero waste people are blind to the true nature of the issue: how much waste is produced by little things that could easily be avoided. Their great efforts in reducing waste are therefore wasted if legislative action isn’t taken to support their ideas.
In 2016, California passed Proposition 67 which forced people to start buying bags for 10 cents or bring their own because stores would no longer freely provide them.
This legislative action led to change within the entire community. While some individuals may have taken their own bags to the store long before the proposition passed, it didn’t have a powerful impact until after legislation was put into place.
Plastic bags totaled 7 percent of the trash collected in 2010 on California Coastal Cleanup Day, which is a day dedicated to volunteers who clean up trash along the coastline, according to information provided by the California Coastal Commission. This number dropped to 3 percent in 2017.
Even the greatest naysayers found that Proposition 67 affected their everyday Californian lifestyles, forcing them to be environmentally responsible.
Individuals who adopt the zero waste lifestyle can refuse plastic straws or avoid stores with price tags, but they would create a more significant impact by encouraging regulation. It could force restaurants to have glass straws and clothing stores to use recyclable price tags.
A zero waste lifestyle seems cute and trendy, but without action to backup their idealistic movement, their efforts will have been for nothing. They have good intentions and respectable ideals, but legislation is what truly makes the difference for people and the environment.