How Going Zero Waste Made Me a Better Person

One year ago, my husband and I sat down at the dinner table with coffee in hand to chat about the possibility of pursuing zero waste in our home. I had recently read an article on ’living your values’ by the lovely Lauren Singer, and felt extremely convicted to better manage my own environmental impact and carbon footprint.

My life has never been the same since.

If there is one thing that going zero waste over this past year has taught me, it is that most issues of sustainable living can be solved by pursuing a daily posture of mindfulness. What do I mean by that? To me, mindfulness, or living consciously, means recognizing that every action I take—large or small—has a direct impact on the health of the planet and our global community as a whole.

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In The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

Everything is related to everything else. Your well-being and the well-being of your family are essential elements in bringing about the well-being of your business or of any organization where you work. Finding ways to protect yourself and promote your own well-being is the most basic investment you can make. This will have an impact on your family and work environment, but first of all it will result in an improvement in the quality of your own life.

In other words, intentionally stepping out of my natural, autopilot-like way brings about goodness in both my own life and that of my community. This is the very root of mindful living.

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What Daily Mindfulness Looks Like for a Zero Waster

As every zero waster will tell you, going zero waste is not easy. Every day, I make the conscious choice to go against the grain, defy cultural norms and accept inconveniences for the sake of the greater good.

For example, today I:

  • Brought a (spotless) mason jar to our local juice bar and asked them to fill it in place of a much more convenient styrofoam cup.
  • Turned down the opportunity to enjoy free lunch at work because doing so would have meant tossing a pile of trash, when I had a perfectly suitable lunch already waiting for me at home.
  • Asked for dairy-free milk in my coffee because going vegan makes me feel good in more ways than one.

These small, daily decisions may seem inconsequential, but over a lifetime their impact adds up. Had I chosen to go through my day on autopilot, I likely would have tossed the styrofoam cup, taken every freebie thrown at me, at the expense of the planet and left Starbucks with a stomachache and a side of guilt. That’s no way to live!

So, I ask you this: What conveniences are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good? What changes can you make in your own life that will put you on the path toward contentment and happiness? What can you do to live a more mindful, conscious life?

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Putting it into Practice

Moving yourself toward a fuller state of mindfulness is not something that happens overnight. It will require a conscious effort that involves education, meditation and reflection. Ready to pursue more conscious living? These tips will help you get started!

1. Question everything.

The easiest way to step out of autopilot mode is to confront everything in your life with a critical eye. Do you really need that plastic straw to enjoy your drink? Would you be better off walking a few blocks to the grocery story, rather than driving your car? Question your choices and start making more intentional ones.

2. Educate yourself.

It’s hard to make a good decision when you aren’t yet equipped with the facts. These documentaries and books are a great place to start. Curious about transitioning to a plant-based diet? Do your research, then make the choice based on what you’ve learned. Want to experience a stronger reaction to issues of waste? Look into the detriments of using and throwing away plastics. You’ll never be the same!

3. Start meditating.

When you wake in the morning, meditate on powerful ideas like love, respect, empathy and interconnectedness. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes (or light a candle if you need a focal point to maintain focus) and consider how you fit into the big picture. To get the most out of your meditation, set clear, specific intentions or try one of these exercises.

4. Equip yourself.

It’s so much easier to make good, conscious decisions when you have a sustainable alternative in front of you. Carry a travel mug with you in your bag so that when the opportunity arises you can use it in place of a disposable cup. Equip yourself with the tools you need to be successful and you will be.

5. Practice empathy.

Cultivating your ability to understand (and subsequently feel) the feelings of another is an important step toward living your life more consciously. What do you think the people who live in the shadow of our landfills are experiencing? What about those who drink water contaminated by industrial runoff driven by human consumption? Asking questions like these will help you to greater identify with those outside your personal experience and help you form an emotional attachment to issues of sustainability.

How do you practice mindfulness and conscious living in your daily life? Do you have any tips for this community? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Related:
10 Tips for Creating a Zero Waste Home
How to Host a Zero Waste Dinner Party
10 Ways to Start Living Zero Waste

38 comments

Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole H4 days ago

TO : MANNA M. : I fully agree with you. In 1991 I went to Chile to adopt 2 children. I have seen poverty on the tele, and thought : how sad... and I pitied the children. Just for a while. When you see it with your own eyes, and look into the eyes of the children begging in the streets, YOU DO NOT FORGET THIS ANY MORE !! I have never wasted lots of food, but when I came home, I paid much more attention to what I bought. And I never threw food away, just because my children DID NOT LIKE IT... I remembered them of their time in their home country. At the orphanage, I have regularly seen they only had baked potatoes and a chunk of bread... After some insisting / pep talk, and when they finally understood that I would NOT change the menu, they started eating everything. Also things they had never heard of or seen before. A lot of vegetables were totally unknown to them (cauliflowers, broccoli, green beans, celery, etc...) Because I insisted that they should at least eat 1 spoonful of them, they gradually started to love our Belgian vegetables. Only 2 things remained untouched : witloof (chicory) and Brussels sprouts... Also my mother often said to us : you are so lucky that you have never been during a war. We were happy with just some cooked potatoes. In Chile, I understood what she had meant...

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Nicole H
Nicole H4 days ago

A true and interesting article. Although I started to fight the "throw away" society without meditation, but just because we had to pay a big amount of money to buy our plastic bags from the City to put our trash in (abt. $ 1,50 for 10, instead of $ 0,25 for 10 ordinary black bags in the warehouse) and being a family of 5 in total, with 2 dogs, 1 cat and 1 cavia, I was quickly convinced I had to change a lot of things. First I went to the City shop and got myself a compost box. As we had a garden, I put it at the very end, and put some high growing bushes around it. So all fresh veggies, fruits, etc.. were put in that box, as well as all the waste of the garden. We replaced the cat litter, and the litter for the cavia by "natural" products, which also went into that container. We sorted out a lot of things, viz. plastic bottles, plastic wrappers, etc.. as we could use cheaper waste bags for plastics that could be recycled... Paper and cardboard were put separately, as we could put them in a cardboard box, and they were collected for free. And gradually we started doing other things, such as using less electricity, shower instead of bath, etc... I commented on that in a previous article. But most certainly there are still other things I could do, just leave me the time to think it over... But ZERO WASTE : impossible !!!

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Kathryn I
Kathryn I4 days ago

Such an interesting article!! Thank you for sharing it with us!

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Henry M
Henry M5 days ago

Good for you.

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Winn Adams
Winn A6 days ago

Noted

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Leo C
Leo Custer6 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Janis K
Janis K6 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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One Heart i
One Heart inc7 days ago

Thanks!!!

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Mona M
Mona M7 days ago

Thanks for this article. I wonder if people would waste anything if they were conscious about the state of the planet and of countries where a child dies because of malnutrition each and every minute?

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Lisa M
Lisa M7 days ago

Noted.

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