While there may be no ethical consumption possible in a capitalist society, there is much we can do as individuals to mitigate environmental destruction that also reduces economic transactions, helps us more easily feed our families, and strengthens communities to boot.
I grew up championing recycling and conserving resources like energy and water as taught in my public schools. Although I continue to be aware of these avenues, I have more recently learned how the supply of recyclable materials far exceeds the demand for recycled products, and virtually all plastic is downcycled, or recycled for the one and only time before its final destination in a landfill. I also abhor the role of advertising and marketing in our manipulative culture and seek to detach myself from branded products as much as possible. Now that I have a child, that desire has only intensified. Then there is the matter of being overwhelmed in a high-speed, ever-busy society, and those feelings led me to minimalism. All this is to say that there is a menu of choices available to you at no cost – literally or figuratively – which might better your existence while sustaining the planet’s.
“Zero-waste” has been trending and is sometimes attached to the well-to-do who allegedly have the luxury to do so. Most adherents, however, support the notion of a goal or direction rather than actual perfection. As someone struggling financially to support a family of three humans (and two cats), I can attest to the growing economic ease I find for every new behavioral change I make toward zero-waste. So, I decided that sharing some of these insights might assist comrades and their communities.
Avoiding single-use disposables for the sake of the planet has definitely helped stretch the family budget. Sometimes up-front supply purchases can be helpful, but realistically, these are added gradually and can often be acquired organically via standard grocery purchases. We are talking about containers, here! I have one set of purchased canisters but otherwise utilize a stash of saved jars from jam, salsa, etc. I also have a single set of muslin bags (lighter and more durable for hauling groceries on the light rail) but also make use of an old pillowcase on occasion. Most totes I have acquired for free over the years. This “kit” for shopping has honed my grocery budgeting skills and developed new habits that are better for us – financially and health-wise – and for the earth. Buying almost exclusively from the bulk bins and produce department has my family eating well and allowed us to slash our budget – for food, at least.
At home, even as a working mother, I prioritize and prepare all our food, batch-cooking for efficiency. We clean with baking soda and vinegar, and we seek out secondhand clothing and baby gear. I do not wish to brag but rather offer a humble example of making it work.
It is worthwhile to make an honest assessment of our waste-stream and consider the destination of things we throw “away.” There are many no-cost ways to adjust a household’s output by setting up new systems. Buying bulk food eliminates most packaging waste. Buying or “freecycling” other items second-hand eliminates not only packaging but the resources for new production. Getting to the source and minimizing how much “stuff” enters the home is the first line of environmental (and potentially mental health) defense. Make use of your local government’s recycling program, which may range from single-stream pick-up to self-sorting at the town dump. Terracycle has myriad programs for common empty packaging that is not normally recyclable; everything from granola bar wrappers to toothpaste tubes can be mailed in for free or dropped in a participating location’s drop-box.
Where would we be without community? While we live in diverse places, it is worth seeking out what local resources are available to us that are environmentally and personally beneficial. Virtual second-hand product listings from your neighbors exist across a variety of platforms, from Facebook to Craigslist to NextDoor. Your public library champions the sharing economy with not only books but music and movies (physical and digital), databases and in-person gatherings to help with anything from test-prep to car maintenance to crafting, and community space for solitude or collaboration – even your SPUSA chapter’s next meeting! There are tool
libraries and seed libraries. Get connected with your city’s offerings or build the needed “bank” to share.
Food is one of the most basic resources, and food re-distribution programs, sometimes termed “food rescue,” can be amazing. When up to 40% of food in our country goes to waste, folks who organize with stores and serve food deserts or simply help socialize a broken food system are a godsend. Look for community composting as well; since I cannot compost my own food scraps in my apartment situation, I found an urban farm with bins accepting “donations” from its neighbors.
As with our quest for a socialist society, ecological changes in our households and communities can happen with progress, not immediate perfection. If we champion one change at a time, habits will solidify, our well-being and satisfaction with improving the planet will increase, and we’ll be raring for more. There is opportunity to better the environment if we start with self-evaluation, make improvements, and then increase the only good kind of capital: social capital!
Lauren A. R. Koslow joined SPUSA over a decade ago. She appreciates the intersection of socialism with the other facets of her life: animal rights, public libraries, and The Episcopal Church. She holds a BA from Boston University and a MLIS from Rutgers University. She works at Enoch Pratt Free Library and is an organizer with Direct Action Everywhere. She is married with two cats, Patience and Fortitude (named for the lions of the NYPL), and one human daughter.
Article original from the Ecosocialist Issue of The Socialist. Check out the full issue here!