6 Self-Centered Reasons to Reduce Your Waste

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.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_The_Penitent_-_WGA7169
Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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 homemade 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.

apple squeeze
To-go processed apples at $1 per pouch
not so pretties
Organic wonky farmer’s market apples at $1 per pound (whole apples are also “to-go”…)

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.

Winter produce at the farmer's market
Winter produce at the farmer’s market

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?

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.

rescue soup
Rescue soup: bone broth, leftover whey, onion, carrots, celery, turnips, kale, chicken, salt and pepper to taste

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.

The Kiss
The Kiss, Auguste Rodin; photo by Dada, own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2997421

23 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Fundstücke aus dem Internet and commented:
    Man kann auch aus sehr egoistischen Gründen Müll reduzieren. Wer noch nicht genug Gründe dafür hat, kann sich hier einen Motivations-Kick holen.

    1. Thanks for the reblog 🙂

  2. Great post, full of truths! You are right, too; if individuals don’t care too much about the “Save the world” message that’s intertwined in our journey-sharing, then maybe they will respond better to “Save yourselves”! That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I think because the media blasts us so much with body image, health, and losing weight, this may just be a healthier way to receive that message.

  3. Great post! Although I’m not completely zero waste, I do aim towards it. For myself it has been the goal of eating local and what I can grow myself. As I started down that road it led to cooking almost everything from scratch, preserving, and now fermenting as I just can’t bear to waste any of those veggies that I put so much work into growing. Your blog has given me so much inspiration along this path:). I’m also reaping health benefits, having lots of fun figuring out new and interesting recipes for the things that I have available to me locally and seasonally and it has saved me much money!!! We live in one of the most expensive parts of Canada and we had completely given up on the possibilities of ever owning a home, plus we were in so much debt just from trying to make ends meet. Once I got free of believing the ‘BIG FOOD’ system was the only option I was empowered! Three years ago we still had to utilize our local food bank. There was nothing wrong with this but I think that it just put us in a mentality of ‘we are less, we cannot do’. About that time we were able to rent a basement apartment that had a patio that we could grow veggies in containers. We did not grow much but I can pinpoint my shift in thinking to that moment. Since then we got better employment, were able to rent a better place , started growing our own food…this led to saving so much money that our massive debt of. $14000 is almost paid off! Our next step is saving for our own little patch of land to build a little shack on and keep growing veggies, being self-sustainable and slowing down !

    1. Wow, your story is so inspiring! I am guessing you live in Vancouver or thereabouts. I’m from near Toronto originally–also very expensive. I used to think I had to eat the “Big Food” way too. That’s how I was brought up and that was how all my friends ate. I feel like I was asleep for a few decades and have just started to wake up! I don’t grow my own vegetables where I live now though 🙁 I have tried. I have no sun. But I may be able to grow kale and lettuce out there. Good luck with getting your little patch of land. That’s very exciting. What a great goal 🙂

      1. Thanks 🙂 We lived in Vancouver until 3 yrs ago. Unfortunately finding safe, affordable housing became too difficult and we had no choice but to move out to the Fraser Valley (about 100km from Vancouver). In hindsight it was a good move for us but I still think it’s horrible that the housing situation is still escalating ( I’m not even talking buying, but renting). I totally can relate to how you feel about just waking up to not having to follow the big food conventions! Hope you have a great day. My husband also grew up in Toronto, East York to be exact.

  4. The BPA/BPS thing is one that really disturbs me, particularly since it’s in thermal receipts so low-wage workers (often young women) are the ones disproportionately exposed to it there. A lot of “BPA-free” stuff just replaced the BPA with BPS, which studies suggest might be more potent/harmful than BPA. Recent article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/bpa-alternative-disrupts-normal-brain-cell-growth-is-tied-to-hyperactivity-study-says/2015/01/12/a9ecc37e-9a7e-11e4-a7ee-526210d665b4_story.html

    I’m someone who usually is pretty neutral on food. I enjoy eating and cooking/baking on occasion, but multiple times a day?!? I’d choose the snake-life of a giant tasty meal every few days/weeks. For a while granola bars solved my constant indecision, but they were all way too sweet for me, plus the waste really bothered me. I’ve taken to making a batch of oatmeal cookies to my own specifications (less sugar, more nuts, oat flour instead of wheat, whatever dried fruits or other grains I feel like throwing in) and it’s already a significant improvement for me. And like you mentioned, there’s a pleasure to choosing a far-less-packaged option (I buy most of the ingredients in bulk), of knowing I made them, of seeing my little pile on the table at the beginning of the week, of being able to double the recipe and share with friends & family.

    I totally agree about all the side benefits of more sustainable living! Agree with you on the grocery shopping all the way around–so much more fulfilling to do it regularly and refilling bulk/getting fruits/veggies. I love how my jars of bulk items look all stacked up! Another one for me is not driving. It means that I’m walking every day, which means that I don’t get cold even on really cold days (my body knows how to keep me warm when I’m moving + doing it daily means I’ve gotten proficient at not under/over dressing for it). I also get way more of a sense of community as I walk through my city and run into others on foot and bike. While I also enjoy working out and sports, I do those because I want to, not because I haven’t moved my body yet. Never worry about parking or moving a car when it snow or tickets or price of gas or insurance. No guilt from burning fossil fuels. No risk of killing someone when I get lost in thought or call a friend while en route.

    1. Thanks for all those great points and the link, Julia. BPA/BPS is nasty stuff. We’re basically guinea pigs! It makes me shudder a bit to think of how many receipts the cashiers handle every day when they try to give me mine but I hadn’t thought about how most of them are female 🙁 Sigh. I usually ride my bike to the farmer’s market and grocery store and it’s just much more pleasant. I hate fighting the horrendous traffic here and trying to park. I think riding is actually faster (I live close). Enjoy your happy sustainability side effects 😉

  5. I think you’re absolutely right about the losing weight part of the equation. I mean, when you go plastic-free, you tend to eat whole foods only. There’s very little processed multi-ingredient food that comes without packaging or plastic, thank goodness. Our lives are healthier and happier for opting out. Thank you!

    1. Yup, that’s what I found with my diet. I didn’t set out to clean it up but that was a happy consequence of going plastic-free. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. I like your reasoning. I feel the same way to some extent about foraging. One good practice leads to several others – it pretty much boils down to avoid processed stuff, but your argument makes it palatable to everyone.

    1. Thanks Hilda 🙂 I love the way you forage. You come up with such amazing recipes. I think most sensible diets come down to “don’t eat processed food.”

  7. Time to update that quote from “The Graduate”: Two words– no plastics!

    1. I think about that movie often 🙁 I wish we could go back to pre-graduate times. Undergraduate, I guess…

      1. Could we build a time machine and go back to pre-industrial America but keep the good stuff like anesthesia and antibiotics? 🙂

  8. Thank you! Very inspiring website indeed. I’ve been wating to move to a zerowaste lifestyle and your work definetly helps me to move towards it. Great job! Thanks again 🙂

    1. Thanks for that and for checking it out Gen 🙂

  9. Anne Marie, I love this post–the fun tone mixed with reality kept me reading. I am working on a piece about trash for my own blog with the same message about food packaging. I’ve also just taken up the no plastic challenge–boy, I thought I minimized its use before, but eliminating it has been eye-opening and refreshing.

    Thanks for writing. I love your blog! Neva Knott

    ecotoneexchange.com
    https://nk9121962.wordpress.com
    https://thediaryofbeautifulenchiladas.wordpress.com

    1. Thanks Neva. I will check out your post. Cutting the plastic is incredibly eye opening. It’s in/on/around everything! But we’ve grown so accustomed to its ubiquity, we don’t usually give it much thought!

  10. I love your positive thinking! I also don’t buy packaged food and I am trying to reduce my waste as much as I can. It is really interesting to see the things from your point of view. It is trough that since I decided to go plastic-free I eat no junk food and concentrate on eating more fruits and vegetables. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Thanks for checking out the post, Bridget. The improved diet is such a great side effect of all of this! Happy reducing 🙂

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