A zero-waste lifestyle may conjure up images like the Albrecht Dürer woodcut below, The Penitent, with plenty of self-flagellation, a diet consisting of mere bread and water (when not fasting), hair shirts, medieval dregs—basically a wretched life of perpetual self-denial.
When I decided to go plastic-free, I merely wanted to avoid contributing to the colossal plastic pollution problem in our oceans. I had no idea I would improve my life as a result! I think we green types need to stealthily plug the a-sustainable-lifestyle-brings-much-joy message more, maybe something along the lines of:
If for no other reason, live more sustainably for self-centered, self-indulgent reasons.
Because if you reduce your waste, you might just:
1. Lose weight
(My daughter’s going to kill me…) MK had always been a little chunky as a kid. When we went plastic-free, we stopped eating (among other things) snack food—virtually all of which is packaged in single-use plastic. If we want cookies, we have to bake cookies and so eat more apples and oranges (and some cookies, but not as many…). Perhaps MK merely coincidentally slimmed down at the same point we cut out the plastic but more likely, perhaps not.
Not only can the food in plastic packaging cause us to pack on the pounds, the packaging itself can contribute. Many plastics contain BPA, a synthetic estrogen. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, the UCSF pediatric endocrinologist made famous by his viral YouTube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” chemicals like BPA “make the estrogen receptor go wild and lose all it inhibitions, promoting breast development and inducing fat cell differentiation, which means weight gain as well.” BPA “is leached out every time an acid touches a polycarbonate plastic bottle. In other words, every consumable liquid in America.” (Robert Lustig, Fat Chance, Penguin, 2013, p. 161.)
2. Save money
You generally pay more for packaged food. Take an apple for example. In order for a food company to justify charging more money for that apple, it has to add perceived value to it somehow. Food manufacturers do this by processing that apple, perhaps transforming it into apple sauce packaged in an obscenely wasteful plastic pouch with a giant plastic lid.
3. Have more fun
Before I started on the zero-waste path, I had no idea this lifestyle could be so much fun. I love the (not-too-difficult) challenge, my life has more purpose and I enjoy day-to day activities more, such as food shopping. I go to the farmer’s market weekly for local, organic and unpackaged produce and the sight (and smell) of all of that delicious food just puts me in a good mood. I plan what we’ll eat and I cook it with care. By living more consciously, I simply have more joy in my life.
4. Eat more delicious food
If you cut the packaging waste, a funny thing happens. You cut out processed food and eat more real food that you cook yourself. Even if you don’t care about waste, which would you prefer to eat?
- Corn Flakes vs steel-cut oats
- Campbell’s soup versus homemade rescue soup (I’m happy Campbell’s supports GMO labeling but that stuff isn’t food)
- canned beans vs cooked dry beans
- Wonder Bread vs sourdough bread
- microwave popcorn vs stove-top popcorn
- Canada Dry vs ginger beer
And if you don’t enjoy cooking, I’m willing to bet you enjoy eating. You can keep your meals simple or cook large batches of dishes to eat throughout the week or freeze for later. This past Sunday I cooked chicken noodle soup, puréed squash-potato soup and lentil dal—all simple dishes but very tasty if I say so myself. I also made bone broth, a double batch of sourdough cracker dough and a large jar of balsamic vinegar salad dressing. All of this work has made my week so much easier. Yes, I did spend many hours in the kitchen Sunday (while I caught up on Downton Abbey) but I haven’t cooked much since then.
5. Improve your health
I inadvertently improved my diet when I stopped buying food packaged in plastic. Have you noticed all the stuff that’s bad for you comes in a shiny wrapper? Cutting the packaged foods improved my health, no question. I rarely get sick. When I started cooking more, I also started to prepare and eat more fermented foods, which help maintain a healthy gut. Almost daily, studies appear that show a correlation between a healthy gut and not only better physical health but also reduced anxiety and depression. I had chalked up my calmer state of mind to age and wisdom but I think it’s actually the yogurt.
6. Improve your sex life
Okay, this one may seem like a stretch but I can make it work…
By reducing your waste, you reduce your consumption. Reducing your consumption means you spend less time buying and taking care of stuff. And if you consume less stuff, you need less money to buy and less space to store all that stuff, so you can work less. In other words, you simplify your life. You free up time for other activities, like spending time with the people you love and improving your relationships, including the one with your partner. So, yes, reducing your waste can indeed improve your sex life.