Why Bother?

fresh produce in homemade zero waste and plastic free cloth produce bags

A follower on Instagram last week asked me to write a post to address a situation to which many of you may relate: You change your lifestyle, doing your best to keep the plastic out of your home, making your own deodorant, using up every last scrap of food and so on. But those around you? They just don’t seem to care.

You may wonder, what’s the point? One person in your home bringing in a shrink-wrapped case of bottled water can easily cancel out all of your gains for the entire month!

Why should you resist throwing in the paper towel?

Because you can control only your own behavior

If you know how to convince others to behave exactly as you want them to, please fill me in on your secret. You either have superpowers or have never raised a toddler and are simply in denial.

However, if you do possess these powers and yet your plastic-free and zero-waste charms still fail to rub off on those around you, stick with the program. You can feel good about the fact that you have reduced the amount of trash you contribute to the waste stream.

Because you benefit

Even if no one else around you seems to care one bit, by reminding yourself of the benefits you reap from this lifestyle, you’ll stay motivated.

After I kicked the plastic in 2011, my health improved and since that time, I have rarely been sick (I eat at least one fermented food every day and have a super gut). Using up every scrap of food saves me a small fortune and I can make dinner out of basically nothing. I don’t spend time maintaining a bunch of stuff that I don’t need. (Go here for more benefits of zero-waste living.)

fresh produce in homemade zero waste and plastic free cloth produce bags
No wonder I’m healthier!

Because you learn new skills

One of the many, many aspects that I love about a zero-waste lifestyle is the rediscovery of hands-on, life skills. Some of these skills are gardening, carpentry, cooking and sewing. Along with the makers movement, the zero-waste movement has begun to transform us back to active makers from passive consumers. (Read more about making here.)

Homemade bento bags for plastic-free, zero-waste shopping
Homemade bento bags for plastic-free, zero-waste shopping

Because change starts from the bottom

Change trickles from the bottom up—from the grassroots. Plastic pollution awareness has led people around the world to reject excessively packaged products, to design better products and to demand change from industry and government. All of this has begun to lead to change, slowly at first but lately, the movement has picked up steam.

In March of 2019, French supermarket Carrefour announced that, in order to fight plastic pollution, it would allow shoppers to use their own containers to fill up with produce, fish and meat at its 1,000 plus grocery stores in Spain. Earlier in 2019, several major food producers announced they would join a pilot refill scheme called Loop. Customers in test areas will buy products in refillable containers and return them to be reused.

On December 31, 2018, Trader Joe’s announced it would remove 1,000,000 pounds of plastic packaging from its stores and improve its existing plastic packaging. Not coincidentally, Greenpeace had garnered 100,000 signatures earlier in 2018 asking the retailer to “ditch plastic packaging.” No, these solutions aren’t perfect but they are a start and they wouldn’t have happened without pressure from us.

Grassroots activism works. Keep this in mind when you think your changes don’t matter. They do. They add up. Our collective change adds up.


Because you will influence others to change (eventually)

You may not see anyone else at your supermarket putting produce in reusable cloth produce bags today but lots of seemingly radical ideas eventually go mainstream. You’re simply ahead of the curve, you hip and cool trendsetter you. When I helped my dad build a solar-thermal heater for our pool in the 80s, our neighbors laughed at us and said we were nuts (which we may have been but not due to our solar-thermal heater). Today, in my neck of the woods at least, many homeowners have installed solar panels on their roofs.

And your actions will influence some of those around you. I offered a friend a few cloth produce bags in 2012 or so, soon after I first started making them. She didn’t want any. Then this year, she asked me for some. Repeatedly! A mere seven years later. Hey, better now than never! I finally gave her three a couple of weeks ago.

You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo

Because the zero-waste rabbit hole is a one-way trip

When the indifference of others leaves you feeling despondent and wondering what’s the use of even trying, be honest. You know you can’t stop! Once the zero-waste bug bites you, you can’t go back. It becomes a game and you want to see just how far you can take it. It may start with banishing plastic wrap from your home, but down the road (or tunnel), you might find yourself naming your fermentation starters and sewing them wardrobes.

zero waste and plastic free sourdough starter in a jar and wearing a skirt, scarf and cape
Eleanor, my sourdough starter, modeling the capsule wardrobe I made for her 5th birthday party

Because you retain your sanity

Despite the fact that I read lots and lots of environmental news, I have managed to retain my sanity. (I am sane, right?) I credit this sanity to having taken action. I waste nothing; I ride my bike as much as possible; I’ve started a produce bag sewing and sharing project to get the word out in my community; and through this blog and social media, I do my best to spread awareness and inspire others.

Have I turned off the firehouse of plastic gushing into our oceans? Nope. But I will keep at this because my activism allows me to live by my values and it gives me a sense of purpose.

Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.” — Wendell Berry

21 Replies to “Why Bother?”

  1. I used to feel strange for our shopping etc choices, but its wonderful to so many people on social media doing so much, we sometimes have to compromise. I still have to master sourdough!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Yup, just one search of #zerowaste or #plasticfree on social media, and you find thousands and thousands of people fighting the same good fight! I love sourdough…you can probably tell 😉
      ~ Anne Marie

  2. I love the quote.
    I am not doing as much as you are – but am definitely working on it. And I feel joy in trying to do what I feel is right. And every once in while, I will have a friend lift my spirits by telling me they about some plastic product they didn’t use because of me. Thank you for your encouraging words.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you, Betty Anne. Isn’t that a great quote?! I also love it. I think we have more of an effect on people around us than we realize (and sometimes more than they will admit!). We are creating ripples and together, waves of change!
      ~ Anne Marie

  3. Agreed! I attempt to love my life by the Ghandi quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I figure if I can’t make changes to my lifestyle, how can I expect others to do it. Change has to start somewhere.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      So true Emily. We have to walk the walk!
      ~ Anne Marie

  4. Aaagh Wendell Berry! The wisest man of the wasteland of post-modernity. Everything he says is Just. Right.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Karis,
      His writing just blows me away. I completely agree–everything he says is just brilliant and spot on.
      ~ Anne Marie

      1. Because of you I took leftover restaurant pad Thai home in a mason jar the other day, instead of a styrofoam container. It felt a little crazy but nobody stopped me!

  5. My husband and I had been interested in making changes for years, but they were always put on the back-burner. I started reading your blog this past year and I’ve/we’ve been inspired to just make a few small changes. Little things that we could remember, and the progress has definitely grown as time went on! Thanks for all of the informative posts, I really enjoy them.

  6. I cant save the world but I can change it. Even one person who alters a path has changed it in a small way. It’s not enough to save it or make a difference, but the deltas of change add up towards solving the difficult problem. I sincerely believe that. Its helped me not slip into a state of despair. I grieve, but that’s alright. In India, when the campaign to educate girls started in the 80s, they would say “every women influences 3 generations of her family. She needs to be educated.” I think it applies to zero waste too. Micro pockets of influence add up.

  7. Thank you for this timely post. I’ve been feeling pretty darn low the last few days (the fact it has snowed or rained for the last four days/nights straight has not helped) but you speak truth about persistence. Change may not come as fast as we want, but it is coming. The more we model the change we want, we will influence others. We will get there. A co-worker gave me a great quote recently: “Find a way, or make one.”

  8. I get it- it can be frustrating going to lengths to create positive change while watching those around us behave thoughtlessly. I love your points about living in line with our own values and also about this lifestyle benefitting our wallets and health. Less plastic, less screen time, more health food, and more working with our hands all benefit our physical health, but I bet there’s something to be said for the mental health of people who take joy and pride in living their values as well. I can appreciate a good zero waste rage, but there’s definitely more influence in the zen of happily leading by example.

  9. I read recently that metro stores in Quebec, Canada are going to allow shoppers to bring their own reusable containers. I’m hoping it expands to Ontario soon. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/metro-reusable-containers-grocery-store-1.5098655

  10. One thing I’ve been struggling to understand recently is why folks in my community and neighborhood who otherwise are very progressive and environmentally aware continue to use lots of single use plastics and create lots of waste. I know many environmentalists (educators, land managers, conservationists) whose habits in terms of trash, recycling, plastic, etc. seem out of sync with their own work and with the reality of the environmental problems we’re facing. One example would be going to a nature center where bottled water is sold in the gift shop. In other words, I almost find it easier to deal with folks who aren’t necessarily environmentally tuned in. Any thoughts for working with people who (it would seem) should know better?

  11. Sharon Kanaris says: Reply

    You are inspirational and hilarious 😂. I thought you were sane, that was until Elanor’s capsule wardrobe! I’m still 😁. But yes the message is; you make a difference, I make a difference, we all make a difference.

  12. I notice many many people using cloth bags these days – indeed it is commonplace … change happens

  13. thatfoodguy62 says: Reply

    This is a well written reminder of why each one of us can make a difference, even if we don’t see the results immediately. And it speaks to our values as individuals and how our examples can positively affect others… and that is the opportunity each of us have. Thank you. MikeThatFoodGuy.com

  14. I have introduced my middle school students to the “tragedy of the commons” concept. I’ve read they are more likely to take up activism if introduced about this age. Maybe we will see a difference in the upcoming generation. They are also more likely to cause change in their parents than we are. We can only hope!!

  15. […] 5. Why change if no-one else will? […]

  16. This was a needed read. I’ve been recently reading about zero waste and making baby steps. The topic on this post has been on my mind recently. My family moved in with my parents a year ago and I’ve been struggling with the waste produced. Not only that but the attitude of my parents over some of my lifestyle choices. It makes it difficult to speak up or even defend my choices. I’ve been asking myself why even bother? This has been an encouraging read.
    I also think what bother is because of my daughters. They are my motivation. It becomes overwhelming thinking of others choices and the impact on the world. When I think of what will be best for girls in the long term it makes everything worth it. And these are skills that can be and should be passed down to them.

Leave a Reply