I didn’t even realize how much the problem of wast shaming truly bothered me until it happened to me. My roommate and I were sitting and eating food at the campus restaurant. Due to COVID-19, the food we order comes in paper boats and extra condiments are either in tiny plastic cups or in the single-serve packets. I have accepted that due to public health, the waste created by COVID-19 is necessary in order to keep people, though I still wish there was another alternative than single-use plastics.
As a midwestern girl, I love ranch, so I usually get a serving of ranch with my meal for my french fries and everything else. That night, I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I wasn’t using as much of my ranch as I normally would. It was getting towards the end of our meal when my roommate looked at me and said, “Why do you get the ranch if you aren’t even going to use it all? Isn’t that just super wasteful for you to get that plastic just to throw it away”
I was honestly shocked and a little angry at first. I wasn’t bothered so much by her comment itself, since I was wasting that ranch by not using it and therefore the cup that it came in, but I was bothered by the negative connotation that came with her mindset.
I talked in a previous rant about how being perfect isn’t the goal of being zero waste but being a more conscious and ethical consumer. But it never fails that someone who decides to become more sustainable is ultimately ridiculed more for a wasteful habit than those who are not. It was a valid point brought up from my roommate, but the thought process behind it is why I think so many people stop their zero waste journey from so my discouragement.
I’ve heard countless of the influencers of the zero waste movement that I look up to talk about people who point out their every flaw and every product that they use that isn’t actually sustainable, and I’ve read the comments and seen how terrible the problem is. Waste shaming for the zero waste movement is just like body shaming for the body positivity movement. It’s wrong to do and it is just bullying.
The problem is when you preach about sustainability and being a more conscious and ethical consumer, then it is almost automatically implied by the people who listen to you that you are perfect and know everything and can do absolutely no wrong, but that isn’t true. I myself am no expert in this movement and I’m learning along with you as new things enter the zero waste space. People forget that everyone is human and every one makes mistakes. There is no one in this whole world who is perfect and can be the perfect person.
Another huge problem that I have with waste shaming is the fact that not everyone has access to everything needed to be the perfect zero waster. How much money you have and where you live play huge roles in how sustainable you really can be in today’s world. For instance, there is no real way for me to grocery shop completely zero waste since there are no bulk shops or plastic free markets around me. I’m also a poor college student, so as much as I would like to go and invest in some of those more expensive swaps that could last me a lifetime, I really can’t.
I’d just like to end this rant with this. You shouldn’t waste shame because you never know a person’s circumstances or their accessibility to the things that they need. Zero waste is a journey, one that requires us to make mistakes and to learn from them. Do not hinder or even destroy someone’s progress because you think that they aren’t doing something right. There are so many other ways that you can be helpful to them without outright attacking them and making them feel like less of a person. Be kind to each other.