The Struggle of “No Waste Living” in A Society Steeped in Consumerism

Let’s talk waste.


Our society is full of it and so good at generating tons and tons everyday. We all know the common issues with waste, littering and pollution and the like. Yet, do we know how harmful the production of waste, especially that of plastics and food, really is? A simplification of the consequences of these two waste products are:

Wasted food –> Landfill –> Creates Methane gas –> Rises in the atmosphere –> Contributes to the heating of our planet

Used plastics –> Landfill –> Most likely never deteriorates –> Possibly contaminates water sources with chemicals built in 

What are the solutions then? Recycling does help, but what is even better is not creating waste to begin with. Or, to be fair, greatly reducing the amount of waste we create. A way to implement this waste reduction is in our everyday lifestyle. One of my greatest inspirations to learning the changes I could make were from seeing NYU Environmental Studies alum, Lauren Singer‘s “How to Fit Two Years of Trash in a Mason Jar.”

Seeing someone also living in New York City, and implementing lifestyle choices that greatly reduces their own waste, was not only motivating but very helpful in trying to implement it myself. I found many tips and suggestions on her blog, Trash is For Tossers, that made the transition a little less intimidating.

Fortunately, it’s not just individuals that are taking action.  The New York Department of Sanitation has a “Zero Waste” initiative. Their hope is for New York City not to contribute any waste to landfills by 2030. Their website provides resources for recycling, waste collection, and proper disposal.

So with individuals changing their lifestyles and advocating for others to do the same, and with branches of local government setting up “Zero Waste” initiatives, what’s holding us back from saying bye to landfills for good? The easy answer is: it’s hard. Many people find that such drastic changes to their lifestyles are impossible and that they are either too busy or don’t care enough to make these changes.

I think the answer goes further, however. The American lifestyle is that of excess, influenced by our country’s deep ties to capitalism. We are insatiable consumers constantly buying much more than needed. How does this deter a zero waste lifestyle? For one, it’s a mindset that many Americans would need to constantly battle with. Could you forgo getting a pumpkin spice latte on a cold, autumn day just so the cup, hand grip, plastic lid, and stirrer didn’t end up in a landfill?

Maybe not this time…



Then there is the issue of packaging.

Everything we want or need is generally easily accesible for us. The issue is that to make these products profitable and readily available, packaging is a necessity. Worst, the majority of packaging is non-recyclable, making it even harder for it to avoid a landfill. So how can we make these big lifestyle changes when our very own culture fights against it?

Obviously, it differs for every person. Personally, I found that my entire outlook on consumption has changed. I don’t think of it as small little battles to be fought everyday, though they sometimes feel like that, but as a new understanding that I don’t need as much as I thought I did to survive and thrive. Yes, I have my bad days, but now I realize whatever I gain from a Starbuck’s latte, new Fovever 21 dresses, and AmazonPrime is at the earth’s expense, and if it’s at something else’s expense it’s not really gaining at all.

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