In my most recent post, I had said at some point I would come back to review my progress on the resolutions I had made last year in February. I had also said that I would be following more of the actions on the list from Polly Barks on 52 Zero Waste Resolutions.
I will use another post to go more in depth on my own resolutions, but I’m proud to finally be able to share the guide I was able to make on zero waste/low waste living in Utrecht. I couldn’t have made this guide without the many contributions from the members of the Zero waste/low waste Utrecht Facebook group, so thank you to all of you who made direct contributions to the document & those that continue to share valuable information online in that group!
Below you can find a downloadable PDF version of the guide. The guide is written in both English and Dutch, to be as accessible as possible to all the various people that live in Utrecht. You can also access the guide via this Google doc– I will periodically make updates to this guide, so the most updated version can always be found there. Make sure to bookmark the guide to stay up to date on any changes and additions!
I wanted to make a point with this guide to also introduce the context of zero waste/low waste living, as I think it is important for people to understand that there are layers to this “lifestyle.” This guide is obviously targeted towards those that live in Utrecht, but also towards those who should (based on affluence) and with the means to live a life intentionally with less waste and also for the benefit of others.
It’s often white, high-income influencers and activists who are glorified for their aesthetic, low-waste lifestyles. They show the kind of “zero waste living” that is often depicted as this beautiful, Instagram-worthy, minimalistic lifestyle filled with matching mason jars, neatly organized & sticker-labelled pantries, and soft pastel colors throughout one’s home. Or being able to fit all of one’s packaging waste from a year into a mason jar.
The reality is that low-income and BIPOC communities have championed “zero-waste” lifestyles for centuries, often out of necessity. It is higher income groups (and higher income countries) that are the most wasteful, stemming at least in part from the wealth disparities and rise of consumerism and convenience in a linear, throw-away economy that have grown with force, especially since WWII.
Zero waste/low waste living shouldn’t need to be “pretty” or aesthetically pleasing; it should focus on using about what you already have, and purchasing what you really need. And beyond your personal living aspirations, there are larger societal challenges associated with waste (also beyond just packaging waste, i.e. food waste) that need to be challenged, like the plastic industry’s disproportional impact on communities of color. Zero waste, just as all other aspects of sustainability, should take an intersectional approach.
That’s not saying that aiming to reduce your personal waste isn’t important. Zero waste/low waste living in a largely linear economy is hard, and that is why I mentioned above that means are also essential to be able to live this way. Our economy has been increasingly designed to encourage consumerism (the constant purchasing/re-purchasing of things) and convenience. The cheapest products (and those therefore most accessible to the most people) are most often the ones most heavily packaged/ not made with sustainable materials, and are most often not built to last.
Also because of this design, finding things that you need that don’t produce a lot of excess waste can be incredibly time consuming, as what you need you can maybe only find online or is spread across multiple locations. Take, for example, grocery shopping. Maybe you’ve made the goal to do all of your shopping without packaging. Bringing all of your own containers to go grocery shopping is really time consuming. It requires advanced planning, clear ideas of what you are going to eat that week, and enough prepared, clean containers to buy what you need. The locations where you can find things without packaging may not be the most central either, or what you need may be split over multiple stores (requiring then even more time to do shopping).
So, if you have children, and/or are working full-time, factoring in that much extra time to buy food without packaging can be exhausting and not especially feasible. And if you want to do something about packaging/materials you inadvertently will acquire, options to recycle or somehow otherwise “close the loop” can often also be time-consuming, unclear, legally not possible, not available, or not even valuably recycled.
And at least in the Netherlands, “packaging free” or bulk goods grocery shopping in cities is also mostly linked with biological/organic products, which are mostly marketed as a more “luxury” option. This can often translate to price markups, making packaging free shopping inaccessible to large groups of people. And secondhand goods, for example clothing and home goods from thrift stores, are being increasingly gentrified and made inaccessible for the people who need access to them most.
I won’t attempt to cover all nuances in this post, as many other writers, activists, colleagues, and educators have done much more in depth work on this subject than I have. It’s also important to recognize that zero waste is only one small piece of the whole sustainability puzzle. So, below are some resources I can recommend to learn more on the zero waste/low waste movement.
- Polly Barks: Environmental racism and the zero waste movement
- Lindsay Miles: How I changed my mind about living zero waste and plastic-free (a story in 5 stages)
- Post Landfill Action Network: Zero waste challenge
- Zero Waste Europe: Principles of Zero Waste
- Melissa Pandika: The zero waste movement reeks of privilege. Here’s how BIPOC want to change that
- Surfrider Foundation: A Reality Check on Environmental Racism & Plastics
- Challenges and Opportunities in Transforming a City into a “Zero Waste City”
- Jhànneu Roberts: Zero Waste Movement isn’t Inclusive
- Emma Bryce: What really happens to the plastic you throw away
- Andreas Bartl: Moving from recycling to waste prevention: a review of barriers and enables
- Book list from Polly Barks
And if you’re living in Utrecht, I hope you find the guide useful! Feel free to share it with friends, family, or someone else you know living in the region. If you have additions/comments, feel free to place a comment here or send me an email.
As always, cheers to making the world (at least a little bit) better everyday.
All views presented on this site are entirely my own and do not represent/reflect the opinions of any other person or entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.