i am not a zero waster and other misconceptions about zero waste

misconception # 1: i am a zero waster
while i do like my food without disposable ware, always carry a reusable bottle, and deliberately request drinks without the straw, i wouldn’t call myself a zero waster and that is because of the elitism that comes with that label. the online zero waste community is very white, especially when i first started blogging about zero waste in 2014. i felt that there wasn't space for both my blackness and my deep relationship with the earth online, and instead of choosing between the two i opted out, and for a long time i felt alienated from the space. i can now identify that zero waste is just a souped-up title for habits black women, melanated peoples, indigenous communities, and poor folks, have been doing since the dawn of time. like literally yall! let me point out that their is nothing original about the zero waste movement. these 'zero waste' habit were used by our foremothers for the survival of our livelihood and culture.

misconception #2: there are no black people in the zero waste movement
the zero waste movement has mostly co-opted resourceful habits of marginalized people, i am often annoyed by conversations about the lack of diversity in the environmental movement, because that's a misconception. these conversations only identify a particular type of poc such as me (carries a reusable bottle, fits trash in a jar, always talking about earth) as someone in the environmentalism movement. but what about the melanated people that just like to sit outside on their porch, enjoy nurturing houseplants, complain about their children suffering from chronic asthma, or use home remedies in lieu of western medicine? are they not environmentalists as well?!? scholars say black people don’t hike, but that's a misconception because last time i checked my neighborhood in atlanta, my melanated neighbors walk everywhere! melanated people’s zero waste looks more like buying ‘managers special’ items instead of shopping in the bulk section of a natural food store.

misconception #3: zero waste means you don't buy things in packaging
things in packaging can be zero waste when you are recovering food that would have gone to the landfill. you don’t have to fit your trash in a jar to be zero waste, you could upcycle plastic grocery bags. someone's purchase of reduced vegetables is an approach to zero waste, where they are diverting food from the landfill and making use of the water and talent it took to grow that food.

misconception #4: you must fit all your trash in a mason jar
while i am guilty of having used this model of zero waste in the past. it is extremely alienating for people that may be trying to figure out the best approaches they can take to minimize waste. historically the online zero waste movement set a standard that could only be up kept by privileged, financially stable, white people. no need to keep a jar if it is unsustainable for your life.

misconception #5: everything you own must be made of natural material while i will always say that when it's time to make a purchase, try to buy the most sustainable option which would be made form natural material, recycled material, or have an awesome closed-loop program. but if you already own a ton of plastic home goods, don't throw them out and buy new natural materials for the sake of it. If those plastic items are still functional continue to use them.

my ability to continuously show up in this space is to remind people of the misconceptions around race, zero waste, and saving the planet. i'm also holding each of my kinfolks accountable to do their best each day to conserve the planet. i will continue to add to this list of zero waste misconceptions as they come to me. 


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  • Annie on

    Thank you so much for writing this! I am completely guilty of thinking so many of these Myths are true. This is a real eye opener and so well written.


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