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January 05, 2022

More and more people are jumping on the zero waste bandwagon. While I can't say for sure why or what inspires them all, I do know that many of the most popular articles about waste-free lifestyles are about things you can buy, which is not the point at all. However, I am sure that striving for a waste free lifestyle can lead to being excited about making a change on a larger scale. I know I've been excited to live more consciously, and there are many people who are eager to get started quickly.


You can't buy your way to accident-free living, so here are 4 actionable lifestyle changes to become waste-free, right now:


1. TURN DOWN THE HEAT.

Get up and change your thermostat.


Heating and cooling our homes accounts for about half of our energy use. Turning your thermostat down 7°-10°F from the normal setting for 8 hours a day can save 10% on your electric bill and reduce your electricity consumption, most of which is generated from fossil fuels in the U.S. (x). And to clear up any confusion: Letting your house cool down a bit for a while doesn't mean you'll use more energy when the temperature rises again, because the closer your house is to the outside temperature, the slower the heat loss, which saves energy and money (x).


2. STOP SHOPPING

It's 2020, and I hope you've heard by now that buying fast fashion is terrible. Fast fashion is bad for the environment and employs mostly women in exploitative labor conditions. Although these women work, they are severely underpaid and can't always afford to eat, and many of them have been separated from their children because they lacked the money to care for them (x). We can do a brief case study with H&M:


H&M misleads consumers about where they produce and makes it look like they produce in countries with more ethical conditions than is actually the case.


When ethical production is not guaranteed, a great many people are exposed to exploitation and face systematic violations of their workers' rights, denial of the right to strike, brutality by the authorities in peaceful protests, unjustified arrests, imprisonment, mass arrests, threats of violence, assault and even murder.


Companies like H&M have the power to demand change, but they don't. In countries where they produce a lot, like Bangladesh, they have enormous economic power. There, the garment trade accounts for $30 billion in the Bangladeshi economy. Together with microfinance and computing, it accounts for 53% of the country's GDP, and yet they have not made or enforced any significant changes.


Those who shop for fun are giving money to companies that actively exploit people for no reason. Of course, there is nothing wrong with not being able to afford an ethical good and buying something that is unethically made, but supporting this industry without need is a sign of gross rudeness. Stop shopping, start zero waste.


3. STOP MAKING SINGLE TRIPS BY CAR.

No more single destination trips, except maybe to work.Transportation accounted for more than a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, and 41% of U.S. transportation emissions were from passenger vehicles (x) in 2017. If you drive less, you can make a difference, because it's people who are causing those emissions. When you do drive, plan for more than one stop, meaning don't drive to the store for just one thing. Try to bundle your errands in the car and either do them when you are already on the road, or try to do several tasks at once when you park the car.


4. CHOOSE.

What attracts so many people to waste reduction is that you can do something yourself. It's easy to feel powerless when it comes to making systematic changes; we have more control over our homes and our personal actions. Change has to start somewhere, and we need a huge cultural shift in the next few years to both reduce the damage of climate change and create a world with less exploitative consumption.


That said, we need to participate in the systems, and not just by boycotting companies we disagree with. If you are not registered, get registered to vote. If you have never voted, find out when the next elections are and where to vote. Vote for issues that matter, and remember that it's not just up to us to solve the problem; our institutions must legislate the changes we need, because acting ethically or responsibly is not a priority for people who profit from exploiting the Earth, whether it's mining, refining and selling fossil fuels or exploiting people, whether it's exploiting workers for cheap fast fashion or children digging for minerals in mines to keep our phones charged and our eyelids sparkling.


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