Why We Should Rethink Zero Waste

Originally published at: https://ethical.net/our-changing-climate/why-we-should-rethink-zero-waste/

I eat a lot of tofu. And I buy the bulk of it from a Chicago company called Phoenix Bean. They make this amazing smoked five-spice tofu, which when you lay it down on a skillet of piping hot oil, crisps up perfectly and makes for some delicious sandwich meat. But there’s a problem with…

1 Like

This post touches on some of the concerns I have had with the idea of Zero Waste. In general the label Zero Waste seems like a kind of virtue signaling that due to issues like those stated in the pear example has little to do with actual virtue. I think these holes in the Zero Waste philosophy open up to a larger issue that intersects with issues around locality. Another issue that opens on to this larger issue is organic agriculture. There are many others.

I think the solution to these issues and more isn’t systemic (i.e. implementable by legislation) but personal (a change in our habits). It requires a commitment to supporting our communities in every way possible when the local option is pitted against the global option. Food is only a portion of this issue, albeit a significant portion. When we buy from certified farmer’s markets or similar in lieu of industrial “organic” markets, we enable those farmers to become more conscientious about their own production. We also open up the possibility of conversation, something not possible with distant corporations, however nominally committed to “organic” agriculture as they may be.

The most local producer of course is yourself. I think if we see the ideal (by definition not real) goal of this process as growing all our own soybeans and producing it at home, we can draw a sort of road map toward that point that begins with buying organic tofu, then buying organic soybeans, or buying local tofu, or even local, organic soybeans (depending on opportunities in our area). None of these steps are the end of the path, but they are all valuable.


That’s a good point herrshuster. I agree with you that the commitment should come from us consumers, at least initially. However, I feel like this is especially hard for people in big cities as maintaining a hectic schedule while trying to remain conscious and to be as zero waste as possible can become draining very quickly. So we definitely need both systemic change and personal change. Luckily, we have farmers’ markets in big cities too and companies like Riverford (in London) who have established strong relationships with farmers and deliver organic produce to people’s homes, but this won’t be an option for everyone because some people can only afford more of the packaged foods.

1 Like

I agree that most people in large (or even small) cities find it hard (or impossible) to keep abreast of the effect their consumption has on the world. This is a point for another time, but I think that says something fundamental about the way we structure our cities.

More to the point about systemic change it’s not that I don’t think we need systemic change, but I don’t think it works out in practice. Let me qualify that a bit. Most legislature ends up being so pork-barrelled that it’s questionable if it actually helps or just muddles the waters further. For instance, the USDA Organic had good intentions behind them but the fact that industrial agriculture can be labeled “Organic” functionally chops the project off at the knees. It give the appearance of ethical behavior without really being an indicator for it. It may improve our environmental condition but it takes a significant amount of individual and collective energy to do so. I argue it’s not worth the cost. On the other hand, taking away the need for global corporations which package and ship food around the world eliminates the need to legislate those corporations.

To return to your point about city life and give an example from my own: I live in a small city/large town about 4 hours from San Francisco. I know people there older than me who are paid more than me who are terminally stressed and trying to afford housing. They care about the environment but like the people you mentioned feel like they have no time. I work remotely with these people who are in the same position to work remotely, and I just purchased a house on a quarter acre of land. In many practical respects, people are addicted to the City. They may claim to value one thing, but their actions demonstrate another.