Are You Taking ‘Zero Waste’ Too Far?

Like, literally.

How far do you drive to get products at zero waste? Or, are you getting all your zero waste products delivered?

I polled my Instagram followers for their opinion on what might have the lower environmental impact:

Driving nearly 15 minutes (one way) to a grocery story where I could purchase some food from the bulk bins, to use reusable bags and have no packaging waste

OR

Driving to the closer grocery which is 2 minutes away from me, and purchase those same items in their regular packaging.

37% of people figured it’d be better to drive farther to get the low waste products, than to buy the packaging.

Is zero waste always the best decision?

Even though I practice low waste living, and I’m disgusted that the environment is quickly becoming covered in plastic trash, I found supporting information that says it is a better environmental decision to not drive so far, and purchase goods as they are packaged instead.

An article from BBC, which quotes a report by the American Chemistry Council, investigated something similar. They found that if manufacturers of packaged goods were to use plastic alternatives, the pollution generated from those products would be five times higher than if they were sold in plastic!

This is because the cost of shipping goods packaged with alternative materials will cost more to transport, usually due to weight. Plastic, which is very lightweight, is not only cheaper to manufacture, but will generate fewer from transporting the goods. This is why plastic was created as a replacement for paper products in the first place. Although we are polluting the Earth with plastic, on the flip side, it helps to reduce the number of trees we use for paper or cardboard packaged goods. Trees are necessary to help combat the climate crisis. More plastic means fewer paper products, and fewer trees cut down.

While this is not the same scenario, the same thinking can apply. It doesn’t make sense for me to drive 5-6 times farther just to purchase food with my reusable bags. The emissions from my car have a worse impact than the packaging I’m buying. 

This is a conflicting message we are sending in the low waste community.

So as an environmentally-concerned consumer, what can I do? 

It starts with making the right decision for you, which aligns with your environmental concerns and financial confinements. Maybe that means finding alternatives for the products you’re looking to purchase. See if there are any bulk grocery stores close to you that sells something similar, or the alternative you can use.

For example, I’d like to buy cereal in bulk for my kids. But driving 15 minutes one way to purchase this is a poor environmental decision. I can’t purchase bulk cereal from a grocery store close to me, but I can purchase bulk quick oats or baking ingredients. My kids like oatmeal and baked goods just as much as cereal. That’s an easy low waste swap for me to make, that doesn’t further negatively impact the environment. BUT, I will make sure I am not going out of my way to make these purchases.

The other item I wanted to buy in bulk? Chocolate chips and pretzels. I can’t find those nearby…but I don’t really need them either. At least, not right now. The responsible thing for me to do, both financially and environmentally, is to just not buy them at all.

This brings us back to the idea of less.

Not all decisions we make to be environmentally conscious are easy. But sometimes they can be simple, like just buying less. With a little more intentionality, you might be surprised at how enlightening it is to find alternatives, both mentally and financially. And in turn—be helping the environment.

What are you buying right now that you could do without? Are you willing to make that change?

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