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There’s no ‘failing’ in going zero waste

I spent two weeks trying out the zero waste lifestyle and what I have to show for are bags of garbage. It fills me with great shame, but as the speakers at the ECOlta Fair held on April 14 and 15 stressed for people just starting out: "Everyone is on a different level."

I additionally sought comfort in the words of Greenpeace campaigner Abigail Aguilar: "I think that one conclusion you'll find is that we do not have the options even if we want to practice zero waste (or at least less waste) living."



This seems disheartening, but armed with the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — we can actually aim for the moon and land in the stars.

Recycling is the hardest thing to do, which is why it's mentioned last. Reduce is the most nakakatamad and yet it's the simplest and most important. That leaves us with the best starting point: Reuse.

You’d be surprised at how many single-use items you can actually swap for reusable ones. But first, you have to look at where you’re at with garbage production and management.

How much garbage do you actually produce?

We throw away a lot; way too much, actually. Try the experiment for yourself: For a week or two, keep your trash. Don’t throw anything out.

Jia Rubio, who has been trying to live a zero waste life for a few years now — she's down to one sando bag a month! — shared this quote from Annie Leonard at the ECOlta fair: "There is no such thing as 'away.' When we throw something away it must go somewhere."

I use several cotton pads daily. I wear pantiliners daily. I use bathroom tissue to wipe my precious parts. Beyond that, my moisturizer comes in a plastic does my does my facial wash...and the hand wash...and the shampoo...and the toothpaste...

I clutch my canvas grocery bag for comfort as I realize that my effort to be green is nowhere near enough. There are people out there whose year's worth of garbage fit in one jar and here I am, producing garbage first thing in the morning. 

When you see how much garbage accumulates, think really hard about where this stuff goes. Maybe you think that it's not your problem anymore once it's out of your house, but it doesn't really work that way now, does it?

I don't really go around proclaiming pro-environment messages and I know that not everyone feels shame or guilt when they see starving polar bears or whales dying because they ate tons of plastic...but everyone wants some little extra savings, right?

I’ve only been on this “project” for a week and I was surprised to find that I had this misconception that going zero-waste is expensive. I don’t know where I got that notion, but I think many people have the same assumption.

Put a price tag on all the garbage you throw out

Like many, coffee is my vice and it’s something I have trouble cutting out of my life. I’m a proud owner of at least a dozen tumblers, which means that I save at least P5 when I order coffee from Starbucks. Those P5 coins actually add up real quick.

Program your mind to think of what the single-use items in your life actually costs. Write it down if you have to. It doesn’t seem obvious and it doesn’t feel like a lot — until you start thinking long term.

Exhibit A: If I have a water bottle that I can refill, my P20 bills stay in my wallet. Just think of 20 x 5. That’s P100 a per work week if you buy just one every day. That leads to P400 in a month and that’s P4,800 at the end of the year, from water bottles alone. 

Another example: I paid P290 for 10 pieces of washable cotton rounds that I will use for months or maybe even years. A pack of disposable cotton pads costs P50 to P100. I’m not really great at math, but I’m pretty sure I’ve saved myself a couple of thousands or millions in my lifetime! (Again, not great at math.)

Here are a few swaps I made in two weeks:

Being mindful of the price of what you’re throwing away really makes a difference. The best example is the canvas grocery bag, which I am still clutching. Switching to totes was easy, because nobody wants to pay an extra P2 for a plastic bag unless they really need it. Thanks to local ordinances, we all get to keep a few coins in our pockets.

If you’re willing to commit to this lifestyle, you have to make room in your bag for reusable containers and cutlery and you have to be brave. Because you have to talk to people and tell them, “Hey, sir, could you please put my fries in this tupperware?”.

It will be difficult at first, but with a little determination and help, you got this.

You can’t go zero alone

What you do at home matters, but remember that it’s not entirely up to the consumers to fix the problem. We actually have R.A. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 to help us make progress beyond refusing straws and using canvas grocery bags.

Down to the barangay level, the government is mandated to make sure that if we’re sorting our garbage at home, they’re doing their end of the segregation.

The law includes, among other things, stipulations on “appropriate solid waste facilities and conservation systems” and “recycling programs for the recyclable materials, such as but not limited to glass, paper, plastic and metal.”

I’m happy to report that Barangay Laging Handa in Quezon City was prepared to answer my questions about the schedule of collection, which is as follows:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Residual waste (solid waste materials that are non-compostable and non-recyclable e.g. napkins)
  • Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: Yard waste
  • Sunday: Bulky and Yard waste
  • Every day: Kitchen waste

The saddest part is you have to wake up early, as garbage is collected in the morning at around 6am to 9am. I feel you, mornings are difficult. But you gotta do it. It’s a teeny, tiny effort for Mama Earth.

In addition to this, it’s a huge help if local government units implement ordinances that will encourage establishments to reduce their use of plastic, too. Quezon City, Makati, Pasig, Pasay, and Las Piñas have taken a step towards this direction — cheers to them.

I highly recommend reading “Conscious consumerism is a lie. Here’s a better way to help save the world”, published by Quartz, and watch this wonderful video by Vox featuring Lauren Singer titled “Going green shouldn't be this hard.”

Lauren is the founder of Trash is for Tossers and her garbage of four years fits in one mason jar. But she ain’t smug about it and she’s actually advocating for private companies and the government to help people make greener decisions.

How can you recycle if there’s no recycling plant? And what’s a canvas grocery bag going to do to help reduce the carbon emissions of businesses? Cultural change matters, but so do legislative adjustments.

There’s no “failing” in zero waste

Going zero or close to zero requires commitment and it'll take a while for the shoe to fit, so to speak. The change doesn't happen overnight, but as long as you keep making greener choices, you'll get closer and closer your goal.

Don’t throw away (wink, wink) all your progress because you’re still using toilet paper or, like me, you have daily medication that you need to take that comes in blister packs. These are necessities and as you monitor your trash when you’re starting, identify which items are your true “must-haves.”

“Necessity” varies from person to person and it may change as you grow up and mature over time.

For me, one of my goals is to refrain from buying clothes for as long as I possibly can. We don’t really think of clothes as garbage, but...well, fast fashion is a thing and the clothes we let go of end up in landfills, the emissions from which are really harmful to the environment.

My other goal is to bite the bullet and spend more on products that are durable. Sometimes they’re not that much more expensive and sometimes, as I’ve found out with the washable cotton rounds, they’re even cheaper.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, because every bit garbage you don’t throw away helps. Stay in that mindset.

Lastly, going zero waste is a choice. You won’t find pictures of starving polar bears here. This is something you’ll have to want for yourself.

Going zero waste, in a sense, is all about choice. It’s a big yes in a world that’s desperately trying to keep the path to happiness very narrow.

Two-weeks into the zero waste journey, I noticed that shopping and this consumerist culture really helps ease stress and sadness. But I got a kick out of making my own toothpaste, too.

It’s empowering and I’m having fun opening so many doors that I didn’t even know existed. — LA, GMA News

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