Now we’ve reached the finale in the How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste series. This final part will focus on finding that one (or two or three) reasons to keep going in spite of the negativity you sometimes face. After deciding to start making small changes, setting goals, learning to handle pessimism, and finding your “why”, you can head into the world fully equipped to reduce your footprint today, tomorrow, and for as long as you can.
Part 5 – Finding Your “Why”
One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes “to be more sustainable” isn’t enough to stay motivated. You have to look deeper. Why is sustainability important to you? What motivates you to keep going? Why are you really doing this?
There’s plenty of ways to answer those questions, and it all depends on what matters to you. In this final post of the series, I’ll dive in to a handful of reasons you might decide to keep as your “why” to living a low impact lifestyle.
This one is first because it is my personal reason why. I think about it whenever I am presented with a choice. I think about it whenever I use a single use item. It hurts to know that what we are doing to innocent wildlife around the globe is because of our greed or our carelessness.
Finding my “why” wasn’t really intentional. It became clear while watching some documentaries.
Two documentaries hit me hard when it came to our impact on wildlife. They both are part of my List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries. The first is Garbage Island, a documentary produced by Vice about the Giant Pacific Garbage Path.
It angered me that hundreds of miles away from any civilization there were bits of plastic floating around like a soup. It made me so sad seeing fish swimming it in and learning what harm those little bits can cause. While some of the litter is caused by average people, most is due to the fishing industry. In one scene, they pulled out this giant ball of knotted up nets. Clearly we need to hold others accountable too (and eat less seafood!).
Blue Planet 2
The second is Blue Planet 2 (available on Netflix). David Attenborough and the team did a remarkable job on showing our effects below the water’s surface. The episode on coral reefs brought me to tears. They showed a reef transition from thriving and colorful to bleached and abandoned. The real problem? It occurred within the time they were filming, not years or decades but months.
In another episode, a scientist discussed her research with birds eating plastic and feeding it to their young. How could we not care about what we are doing to this planet?
Thousands of animals are killed each year due to the effects of plastic waste, thousands more due to habitat loss and pollution. An estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year while 80% of plant and animal species reside in forests. There are hundreds of dead zones around the globe where life literally can’t exist anymore. We can’t keep doing this.
Combating pollution and climate change on their own can also be your why. You can actively work toward protecting the planet and preserving its wild, natural landscapes.
Every year 18 billion tons of plastic flows into the ocean from our waterways. Our trash washes up on untouched islands thousands of miles away. Transportation and industry pollute our air. Oil spills contaminate entire ecosystems and are very hard to clean up. You can’t even take a walk around your neighborhood without seeing dozens of scraps of litter.
Deforestation is a major problem the environment is facing. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates 18 million acres of forest are cleared each year to make way for human development, whether grazing for animals, fields for crops (like palm oil), or urban sprawl.
Tropical rainforests are targeted more so than any other biome. This is particularly unsettling since rainforests account for just 2% of total area on earth but contain so many species not found elsewhere.
There are multiple ways living sustainably helps the environment. You can eat local foods and buy local products to cut out transportation pollution. Reducing your own transportation pollution and saving energy will also help the planet. Eating organic foods eliminates herbicides and pesticides from harming the surrounding region.
By reducing your waste, you reduce the amount left behind after you die. You can also get politically active by running for office or joining or starting an environmental group in your area to fight climate change.
I’ve split human rights into two categories in hopes it’ll make finding your “why” a bit easier by making it something more specific.
Mass production not only harms the environment, but it directly harms us humans as well by relying on cheap labor in unsafe facilities. The most famous incident occurred in 2013, where Rana Plaza collapsed and killed over 1,000 people. These workers often make pennies despite working long hours, and most are restricted to a life of extreme poverty.
Areas surrounding the factories are often subject to pollution from the production process placing even more stress on those who live and work there. In addition to low pay and poor conditions, workers are often not paid for overtime and subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
I encourage you to watch “The True Cost“, a documentary about fast fashion and its impact on workers’ lives. This documentary was one of the main reasons I have turned to thrift stores for most of my clothing needs. I couldn’t justify the “great” deals when I know someone was paid just a tiny fraction of that low cost. Besides, secondhand clothing is usually cheaper than or at least comparable to new clothing.
Pollution and climate change disproportionately affects the poor and those who have contributed the least to the problem. Natural disasters brought on by climate change are harder on those who cannot afford to rebuild or move. Aid disproportionately goes to homeowners and wealthier neighborhoods instead of the communities who need it more.
Health conditions caused by pollution are more serious for those who have little to no access to healthcare. Trash from developed countries clogs up waterways in poorer countries. Factories pollute the areas in which their cheap labor live.
Our disposable lifestyle is killing our own species both directly through labor and pollution and indirectly through climate change. If that isn’t a reason to change, I don’t know what is.
Still having trouble finding your “why”? Perhaps you need still something that hits a little closer to home: your own health. Plastics contain toxins and endocrine inhibitors that can leech into our food and bodies. Cutting plastic out of your life not only reduces waste that will remain on the planet for thousands of years, but it will also lead to a healthier life.
Choosing natural products (cleaners, beauty products, etc.) also prevents breathing in or absorbing chemicals. Plants can purify the air and provide natural foods.
A whole foods, plant-based diet is healthier than the average diet. Without sugary processed foods and meats filled with saturated fats, you can lose weight and reduce your risk for many health issues. Exercise from driving less is another health benefit.
Besides reducing toxins and being physically healthier, a sustainable lifestyle can lead to increased mental health. Living simplistically reduces clutter which can cause stress and requires more of your time to clean, organize, and manage.
Without all those items, you’ll have less to worry about and more time to focus on you. Studies show exercise and diet reduce depression and increase confidence. Reducing your footprint will not only improve your life but those around you as well (see all the previous reasons above).
Finding your “why” is the final step in starting to go zero waste. No matter what your reason, you must hold onto it and look to it in times of frustration. Let it give you the determination to better yourself and the planet, and let it drive you forward when you stumble and feel like it isn’t worth it. Although you are just one person, your choices do matter.
Do you have a reason why I didn’t cover? Share it below!