The Cost of Zero Waste

I saw this video on Facebook and I feel it so intensely, but it also just… frustrates the heck out of me. Though, to be honest, this is a pretty standard reaction for me to have to any Greenpeace sponsored videos. I started typing this whole thing as a comment, but it has now turned into a multiple paragraph bit, if you are wondering how it found it’s way into this space.

Also damn straight this is going to get long. I’m on steroids and muscle relaxers and pain killers at the moment because I tore my rotator cuff two weeks ago, so this is probably going to get ranty too! And not in the “I’m looking for life style advice” kind of way. With that warning out of the way, allons-y! (Watch the video first though, because context is a thing.)

We are a family that has reusable almost everything, and in a lot of ways, it is still not enough.

To make a short list of things we have that quickly come to mind (and I am doubtlessly forgetting many.) We have replaced plastic wrap with beeswax cotton wraps. We have grocery fabric bags, reusable produce bags, glass jars with the tare weight written on them (because I never remember the weight at the store,) silicon zipper bags instead of disposable plastic ones, reusable menstrual products for me (and I have a Paragard IUD to spare the monthly package throwout of the pill,) refillable water bottles and thermos, washable cleaning and personal care products, stainless steel safety razors instead of plastic disposable razors, silicon and steel straws in our bags and purses as well as reusuable snack and takeout containers. We even get milk in a glass jar over plastic jug.

The thing is, well actually, it is two, maybe three fold.

ONE. There is always more plastic.

Toothpaste tubes for instance – I have yet to find reasonably priced dry toothpaste tablets *with* fluoride and until then I won’t switch (because science is a thing.) Dietary-wise we are flexitarians and eat a heck of a lot of bulk dried items (tvp, beans, rice, etc) that I store in food safe (ahem, plastic) buckets under our RV’s dinette. Only dried bulk food is not only boring but not very balanced though… So fresh stuff? That shouldn’t be too hard considering my reusable bags?

Meat from the butcher comes wrapped in waxed non-recyclable paper. Vegan meat substitute, have you seen the trash to food ratio that actually comes in the Gardein, Beyond Beef, Boca, etc bags in the freezer section? (If not refer to photo at the top of the post when I made burgers awhile back.) Often the items in them are also further individually plastic wrapped, like each burger patty. How about produce? Berries in their plastic clamshells, potatoes, onions, garlic in their plastic bags. Aside from those all the plastic lids on all the glass bottles that are not recyclable where I am at.

I don’t live in a big city with a waste free grocery stores, nor do I live somewhere with a year around farmers market. We are currently parked near Spokane, WA and I mainly shop for bulk goods at Winco, but otherwise I have access to Main Market Co-op, Huckleberry’s Natural Market, and the Rocket Market as far as less-waste stores. But that leads to…

TWO… also kind of THREE. Cost.

Environmentally conscious choices cost money. Money that until I sold my house, got out of debt, and moved into an RV, I did not have to make the initial investment in “eco-friendly” alternatives (or the headspace to create them myself because debt is emotionally crippling, that’s why.) To break this down super briefly, I make approximately $2000 a month which must provide for my family of 4 plus 2 cats.

Excluding food and spontaneous expenses (going to the touristy stuff, movies, etc) if we don’t travel, my bills are approximately $900 a month.

Breaking that down quickly and dirtily for the curious.

  • $400 of that goes towards RV and insurance as well as the spot we are parked in (my mortgage payment was over $900 before I sold my house for comparison, also my spot right now is CHEAP because it is on my bff’s front acre and we can walk in an use her bathroom, so no black water tank dumping fees.)
  • $300 for cell phones and internet (yeah I could cut here but I’m not, this isn’t about where I can cut. We all have cell phones on a 4G family plan.)
  • $100 a month for my eldest and I to do yoga.
  • $100 every 6 weeks for my youngest to do aerial silks.
  • $50 a month on cats because they poop and I buy dust free litter, also, fancy food because they are my babies. My poop machine fluffy asshole babies.

My bff and I share her car and it is an electric, otherwise we have bikes. (I am currently in the market for a 3/4 ton truck to tow our rig but haven’t purchased anything yet.) That leaves me about $1100 a month for everything else from the food and clothes, through activities, down to… whatever, the bag of sand I bought the other day so I don’t fall on the ice outside the rig again and fuck up some other part of my body! I am also currently trying to dump as much of this into my savings account as possible to have an even better cushion for when we buy land and build our yurt. But, back to plastic.

TWO is the first part of cost. Physical cost.

The milk I buy in a glass container costs $6 a half gallon, I receive a $2 in store credit for returning the glass jar to Yokes, so $4 per half gallon. That is still $4 for milk, more that the homogenized stuff in the plastic jug. More than almond milk in the non-recyclable waxed box.

I don’t care that my milk is unhomogenized organic grassfed buzz word etc. If I could save and get homogenized conventional milk in a glass jar I’d buy that. If I could get milk-alternative in a glass jar that I could return for a store credit towards my next I would definitely get that. I can’t. So I pay extra for the buzz wordy glass jar milk. (Before someone says it, yeah I could make my own almond milk, I have in the past, but I live in an RV, space is at an absolute premium. We pick out battles.)

Goods that are packaged in an eco-conscious way are usually organic, and even though I think organic leans a little too heavily into pseudoscience with it’s claims at times, I am paying extra for that organic label. Organic strawberries I bag myself this time of year, $8 a pound. A conventionally farmed plastic clamshell of them, $3 a pound. It is actually more expensive for me to buy my potatoes individually and bag them in my reusable produce bag then it is for me to by a five pound plastic bag of them. Same with onions. Same with garlic. You get the point. Not to mention travel cost to shop around. My bff and I share an electric car, but still, that power comes from somewhere. We are luck in the northwest that a ton of our energy is from renewable sources, that is not the case everywhere.

“What about eating with the seasons?” I can hear some people say. I am parked in freaking Eastern Washington State right now and it is early March with a foot of snow still on the ground, so localvore eating with the seasons is… what? Cold storage potatoes, apples, carrots… and bread? (While I joke that I can survive off these things, sometimes you just want some freaking berries with your yogurt, so what’s it going to be, the frozen ones in the plastic bag from the freezer section of Winco, or the plastic clamshell from the produce department at Yokes, or the $8 ones in my own bag at the food co-op?)

THREE is the second part of cost. Emotional cost.

Yeah, this is getting into that touchy feeling shit that people love riding us millennials about as if we created these massive plastic and consumption problems in the first place. But y’all, emotional labour is a thing. A fricking huge thing. The time it takes to research where to get what. The work of planning out meals, sticking to the plan and shopping. Having the spoons to not just be like I was last night and say “fuck it I’m going to pick up two extra large pizzas from Pizza Hut and a chocolate cherry cake from Safeway because I’m tired af and I can’t chop shit with my dominate arm in a sling.” (Nor do I like sharing the kitchen or asking for help admittedly.) All while homeschooling, running a business, living in a small space, keeping an eye on my and my family’s mental health, while looking for land… Now imagine you are a single parent with a full time minimum wage job and even less emotional energy living paycheck to paycheck? You get the point.

What I am trying to say is something that 80% of the people who are reading this probably already know. Environmentalism costs beaucoup dollars. To think otherwise means you need to check your privileged.

Do we need alternatives to plastic. Fuck Yes. I do not want this planet to be a wasteland for future generations. Do we need to cut the marketing and upselling and unscientific bullshit out of the equation? Also yes. We need affordable solutions for not just those in positions of privilege.

We also need to get off people’s asses when they buy and onion that has been cut for them. Who knows what is going on in their life. We need to stop shaming people for not being as “conscious” as we are.

Most importantly we need to stop acting like we, the individual, are the biggest cog in this system and it is somehow all on us. We need to look to the biggest polluters, which isn’t your family with it’s ramen wrappers in the rubbish bag, it is the huge corporations that want you to think that so that you don’t notice the environmental atrocities they are committing while hoping you don’t have the emotional energy to fight them.

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