Caring about the environment is something I have always done, I have always tried to use more environmentally friendly products, disposed of CFL lightbulbs and batteries responsibly; limiting my electronics and battery use to a minimum, including asking our friends and family not to give my son toys that beeped or moved.
Reducing my plastic use was also something I tried to do, felt an awareness of, but in 2018 I saw a news item that made me extremely sad. It was the plastic islands floating in the Caribbean.
Right after graduation from UCSC, I went to visit my friend in Guatemala who was working for an NGO. From there I travelled down Central America ending up in the Island of Utila off the coast of Honduras, in the Caribbean. There I got my divemaster certification, and worked as one for a few months, taking people on dives and helping instructors teach classes. I treasure the memories of my daily interactions with warm water and aquatic life, along with the cast of international divers I met every day.
The plastic island by the Caribbean floats off the coast of Roatan, two islands away from Utila. Remembering that I would only pick up few pieces of plastic a week, I had a very strong and visceral reaction to the video: sadness, anger, despondency and panic.
I questioned how humans have allowed the destruction of the planet without any thought, reminded these events are not safely ensconced in the covers of the National Geographic, where I can close and put it away.
How could we stop this? I asked. I considered laws, but with a weak government there would be no possibility of implementation in that part of the world. Neither was the problem only existing there either.
Knowing that it was unlikely that society as a whole would change anytime soon, that companies would stop using non-biodegradable products, my next question was: What can I do about this?
As I went through my options, in my wildest imagination, I even considered packing my bags and moving back to the place I loved so much, and joining an environmental organization of some sort.
Of course that’s not practical, my son needed stability, I couldn’t move to a place with limited medical care and no viable school system.
I could feel the sadness come over me, as I realized there was nothing I could do for a problem that big, then sat back in my chair.
Yet, I knew doing nothing would simply weigh on me, I would feel irresponsible, and then I started thinking what I could do locally, which wouldn’t change the situation in the Caribbean, but would give me a sense of agency.
Zero waste, I realized was the answer. Eliminate plastic from my life, cut down on all rubbish. I couldn’t save the corals and fishes directly, but it was something I could do every day, and my money would shift from big corporations to smaller environmentally aware companies.
Since then, I’ve changed my habits bit by bit. I carry my own take out boxes or not take home the leftover food. I switched products, such as bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo bars. I bought straws, including specific Boba ones and try to remember to bring our own chopsticks. Between me and the woman that works at our favorite boba place, we convinced the owners to start stocking reusable straws at their business.
I already know I can’t go fully zero waste, as a mother I can’t deny my son completely of snacks and drinks, although we already keep that to a minimum. Sometimes, I just have to buy a product with plastic wrapping. But changing small aspects of my life, I have already cut down a lot of waste.
The most successful part of my life is buying of vegetables, moving to bulk buying and small household items. I readily admit these products are more expensive, but if I cut down on over all purchases of things we throw away, it should make up for it.
I look at the zero waste blogs for inspiration and help, but it feels like these people have devoted their whole lives to living zero waste. That I cannot do. So in this blog, I want to try and answer some questions. How much can a normal person do? What will change if I attempt zero waste if I already know I will not be devoting myself completely to the lifestyle? What are the products out there?
Hopefully, I can watch my household change and it can be a reminder we all can do a little bit at a time.