I’ll admit it. I do like a stylish, carefully curated zero waste image. I’m prone to double-tapping “like” when a snap of a beautiful pantry with whole foods stacked neatly in glass jars appears on my social media feed.
I think that pictures of products made of stainless steel and glass are much more visually appealing than the equivalents in plastic.
But I also know that for me, zero waste doesn’t really look like that most of the time.
Sure, I can take a cute snap of my pantry essentials once I’ve hauled them home from the Source Bulk Foods (which is my local bulk store, and lets me bring and fill my own jars – and jars can look lovely in a photograph)…
…But then they get shoved in my pantry, which is not some kind of oasis for groceries, but a ramshackle assortment of mis-matched jars with mis-matched lids.
The kind that won’t be gracing the front cover of magazines anywhere, ever.
The reality is, zero waste is a lot more jumbled and mis-matched and imperfect in real life. At least, it is for me.
That may seem obvious. But a scroll through any social media feed suggests that zero waste is all perfectly matched jars, beautiful white homes and stylish accessories.
This begins to set unrealistic expectations.
It plants the idea that we need different things – better things – in order to fit with the zero waste lifestyle.
Zero waste is a lifestyle choice. But that lifestyle, in my mind, is one of consuming less and making do with what we already have.
It’s easy to see how the curated images of social media could give a different impression – one that implies a need to purchase new things if they fit with the zero waste ideal.
But zero waste is not about consuming more.
The most important thing with living zero waste is the intention. The intention to reduce our footprint, reduce our waste, and make the best choice we can with the time, resources and options available to us.
Image is secondary to this.
Of course, we all share the best images we have. Good images help – they help attract attention, raise awareness, start a conversation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing the best, so long as we don’t only share the perfect bits. There are lots of imperfect bits to share, too.
Without sharing those, we are doing the zero waste movement a bit of a disservice.
Perfection is intimidating. No-one should feel that this lifestyle is unattainable because they don’t own the “right” things.
As someone who could never describe themselves as effortlessly stylish (or, let’s face it, even stylish when I do put in the effort), zero waste does not look perfect in my house.
Yet I’m definitely guilty of curating my images to share more of the perfect bits, and omit more of the less perfect bits.
Crazy really, when I believe that intention comes before image.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share some snaps from my zero waste life that fit firmly in this category. The embarrassing, cringe-worthy, no-way-near-perfect images that are the reality of what zero waste living looks like for me.
Intention over Image: What Zero Waste Really Looks Like for Me
The Zero Waste Pantry
I’ve already shared a couple of pictures of my groceries and pantry above, but groceries in glass jars are such an iconic image of the zero waste movement, I thought I’d share a couple more of my less-than-perfect moments, just to get my point across.
Sharing pictures of my grocery shopping in glass jars on social media is one of my guilty pleasures. I like the way groceries look in glass, and I also think it’s useful to share the kinds of foods that it’s possible to buy in bulk.
Whilst my groceries tend to look pretty stylish when laid flat, viewing from the top down reveals the truth about the containers I use: upcycled jars with mis-matched lids retrieved from the recycling bin over the years.
In fact, if I empty the entire contents of my pantry, it’s the same thing on a bigger scale.
For me, the intention is to reuse what I can. I’m happy with upcycled mismatched jars. Whilst I love the look of Weck and Le Parfait jars, I can’t justify buying new (and as they are German and French brands, they don’t often turn up second-hand in Australia).
My pantry might not look the most aesthetically pleasing, but it works for me.
Zero Waste Cleaning
My washing-up set-up looks pretty much like this: a wooden dishbrush with replaceable head, a natural pot brush, and dishwashing liquid purchased from the bulk store.
Oh, but there’s also my 2012 dish brush, which doesn’t often turn up in photos due to the fact it’s plastic, bright green, and really doesn’t suit the zero waste aesthetic.
In the spirit of zero waste, I said that I’d keep it and use it until it wears out, and then obviously not replace it. Well, it’s now 2018, and that damn brush is still going strong! Which, really is a good thing, considering how quickly plastic dish brushes degrade.
It might not look good in the photos, but the intention is to use things until they wear out, and choose better next time, and that brush continues to serve its purpose.
Zero Waste Bathroom
I make my bathroom products from scratch, with ingredients that I buy packaging-free, and I use repurposed containers. Ticking all the zero waste boxes there!
However, there’s plenty of other things in my bathroom that don’t fit the zero waste aesthetic at all.
When I first went plastic-free I used a bamboo toothbrush, and I hated it. The bristles would fall out in my mouth and then get washed down the sink (hello, microplastic). After more than a year of that, I had enough and purchased a toothbrush with replaceable heads.
Since then (we’re talking back in 2012), the number of bamboo toothbrush brands has exploded, and many of my readers have suggested bamboo alternatives that don’t lose bristles. The thing is, now I have this brush, the most zero waste thing is to keep using it. Plus it works, which is what I want from a toothbrush.
Yes, it’s ugly (and definitely not the zero waste aesthetic). But that’s how it sometimes is.
The intention is to create as little waste as possible whilst still feeling comfortable with the choice I’ve made. Bamboo toothbrushes just didn’t do it for me.
Whilst we are on the subject of ugly plastic, I still have my plastic razor from circa 2009. When I went plastic-free, I had the razor and a number of blades, and I declared that I would continue to use it until the heads wore out, and then I would replace it.
This picture is from 2014, when I still had three blades left.
I’ve been down to the last one for a while, and eventually it will wear out. But a good rinse, drying properly and polishing the blades with a piece of denim cloth has seen it last a lot longer than I expected.
Of course, a stainless steel razor would look much better in my bathroom, and in any pics I share. But actually, what I need is a razor that works, which is what I have. Right now the only reason to swap the ugly plastic one for a shiny stainless steel one is the aesthetic.
Which from a zero waste perspective, isn’t the intention. Replacing functional items solely for better looking ones makes no sense.
The point I want to make is this: zero waste isn’t picture perfect.
Don’t get disheartened by “perfect” images. We all share the best moments, but that is rarely the whole story. Behind every perfect image is plenty of imperfection. That’s just how life is.
Don’t be tempted to buy new stuff to “fit in”. If you want to fit into the zero waste lifestyle, use what you have, and make do.
Zero waste is about intention. It isn’t about buying the right things. It is about caring about the right things.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think is missing from the curated zero waste images shared in social media? Are you guilty of sharing the better bits and excluding the less good bits? Do you ever feel embarrassed about the appearance of your zero waste attempts? Are you happy to share things exactly as they are, whatever they look like? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!