The complicated gender politics of going zero waste
May 16, 2019 8:23 AM   Subscribe

The zero-waste movement is about cutting down on packaging, but is it creating more pressure on women? Look at #zerowaste and #zerowasteliving on Instagram and you’ll see mason jars filled with chocolate smoothies and rows of rose-gold straws. You’ll see perfectly organized refrigerators with piles of fresh produce and brown glass spray bottles with homemade lavender-steeped cleaning products. You’ll see perfect kitchens with white subway tiles and bamboo countertops, lined with rows of more mason jars filled with legumes...Zero waste helps us reexamine our relationship with stuff in a way that can seem progressive and anti-consumerist. But the way this movement is promoted and practiced seems to drag us right back into traditional gender roles.

It is a known phenomenon that a lot of men reject green behavior and environmentalism as "un-manly". Many of these zero-waste influencers know, even if they are partnered- they're the ones doing the work.
The trope of enthusiastic zero-waste gal and her long-suffering male partner is something you’ll hear often from zero-waste influencers, once you know to ask.

“It was my decision to try living a zero-waste lifestyle. I tried to tag him along, but I soon realized it wasn’t going to happen,” says Hofmann, who at the time was living in a small apartment with her boyfriend in Aarhus, Denmark. “I definitely felt like I had to shop for the both of us in order to keep our home zero waste.”

Researchers have been studying the existence of the “second shift,” when women come home after a full-time job to do the majority of cleaning and childcare, for almost 30 years. The question of whether pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle simplifies women’s lives or constitutes yet another (green) shift hangs heavy over the zero-waste movement.
The experts say all this extra effort, on top of regular green practices probably isn't helping, and is more performative than environmental.
“The reason why people started buying things premade is because they were working longer hours,” Susan Dobscha, a professor of marketing at Bentley University who studies gender and sustainability, says. When I tell her about zero waste and describe the Instagram images of perfect pantries of glass and beans, she compares it to “the 1950s housewife’s ideal of perfection. Back then the pantry was perfect when they put all these fancy brands in like Nabisco crackers. But now the narrative has shifted to make having the perfect house more labor intensive.”
And yet, Dobscha herself is plastic-free, not for zero-waste reasons, but as a reaction to a health scare.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (91 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't worry. Like minimalism, the Pinterest/shelter magazine #zerowaste standard will eventually trickle to some enlightened white men with a platform who will turn it into a culture warrior lifestyle and a TED talk on how they had 8 children on a boat but managed never to produce an ounce of garbage, barely mentioning the wife who helped them do this (and yet, you know, once bought a package of Goldfish) and then a woman of colour will write a reasonably useful book on how to actually accomplish it and be reviled for perceiving paper wraps on hardbook covers as waste.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:29 AM on May 16 [80 favorites]


The experts say all this extra effort, on top of regular green practices probably isn't helping, and is more performative than environmental.

A-FUCKING-MEN. If you're spending all your time showing off how you've invested in artisinal containers for your home-made smoothies, but you're not making a huge-ass stink against all the major corporations slamming them for making wasteful packaging in the first place, you're handling the wrong end of the problem.

(Speaking of which - does anyone know of a movement targeting the OTC drug companies for always putting their things in super-wasteful packaging? I can't begin to tell you how many times I've gone in search of some kind of pill or vitamin or something, and I pick up a bulky box - only to open it up when I get home and find that the box is only 1/3 filled up with a smaller bottle, and the other 2/3 is straight-up empty.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on May 16 [39 favorites]


So... just to play devils advocate - how to the beans get transferred from the farm, to the distributor, to the store, then to the consumers' home? They certainly don't show up in pristine mason jars - unless you are taking those jars to your local bulk food store to fill them.

I am all about reducing packaging waste - but our system is very broken - the onus should not be on the consumer - distribution packaging decisions are not made by consumers, they are made for logistics purposes to; increase purchasing by making products appear pristine, ship more product with less spoilage (theoretically). Did people actually "ask for" shrink-wrapped individual bananas? Or was the decision made for them?

The fact that we apparently have not done our own plastics recycling within North America for decades and outsourced that dirty work elsewhere, is not the fault of the consumer.

But, this is now even an old tactic (late 70's/early 80's) - shift the blame and guilt onto the consumer.
posted by jkaczor at 8:41 AM on May 16 [44 favorites]


It's all just a matter of capitalizing on what's trendy. My brown napkins are just regular napkins with brown food coloring. Asshole humans are gonna asshole human.

And sure, zero waste trends create more work, from women or not. I sew my own clothes and make my own soap, because I like having things that fit and I like choosing my own scents and glycerine levels. But it takes a crapload of time, and that's ok. Mass production was created for a reason.
posted by Melismata at 8:43 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


"...#zerowaste standard will eventually trickle to some enlightened white men with a platform who will turn it into a culture warrior lifestyle and a TED talk on how they had 8 children on a boat but managed never to produce an ounce of garbage, barely mentioning the wife who helped them do this..."

This already happened. It was called No Impact Man. I'm not on blood pressure meds, yet, but when I start, years earlier than I would've started in a world without an Internet, I will credit No Impact Man.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:47 AM on May 16 [19 favorites]


Oh - and therefore - YES, this is placing more work on the traditional female partner role - IF this is not something that partner enjoys as a personal lifestyle choice. I mean, if you have a partner who doesn't support you, and jointly do these type of things together, "#zerowaste" is going to be the least of your long-term problems. It truly takes the entire household, working together, supporting each other to make a real difference.
posted by jkaczor at 8:50 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I heard a lady on NPR talking about the year that she vowed to avoid single-use plastics, and it just seemed awful. Not for her, necessarily--she seemed to be older and never mentioned work/childcare/husband responsibilities--but for the people around her. Like, she took her own glass containers to the store to buy in bulk. Fine.

But she would also lecture servers at restaurants who put straws in her drinks?? Like they don't have enough trouble???! Then she'd go and visit kids in classrooms and tell them all about her no-single-use plastics journey. Like these children need more stuff to worry about, that's 99% out of their control.

It seemed like a whole lot of fuss for not a ton of impact. And it's asking us to spend valuable time and energy on the wrong issue.

However...I did, begrudgingly, stop buying Cesar trays for our dogs' regular consumption (it's still on the shelf for special occasions) and switch to a brand that uses metal containers.
posted by witchen at 8:52 AM on May 16 [18 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos I think the bulky packaging for small drugstore items is to discourage shoplifting.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:53 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


"Easier" (for loose definitions of easy) solution to our packaging nightmares:

...require that the manufacturer of any product must also accept back the used packaging for that product (in any condition, so the customer needn't wash out the conditioner before returning the bottle) for their product, and that packaging must be recycled (verified by periodic audit from SCS/IAS or the like).

Also require that any retail establishment must accept used packaging for any product they sell, with the proviso that said packaging must be verifiably shipped back to the manufacturer for handling (part of the SCS audit). Set manufacturer noncompliance penalties at the retail cost of the product in question, so if a manufacturer fails to correctly process ten shampoo bottles that retailed for $7.25 each, then they are fined $72.50. For ten thousand, $72,500. Whistleblowers receive a portion of all penalties (so if a dude at the dump spots your bottle of shampoo, he just made a few bucks).

...hey presto, packaging is completely overhauled practically overnight (at huge expense, but still).
posted by aramaic at 8:54 AM on May 16 [19 favorites]


The experts say all this extra effort, on top of regular green practices probably isn't helping, and is more performative than environmental.

You know who tends to be generally incredibly environmentally responsible? Poor people. They might not have green roofs or buy organic, but they tend to have small houses, so require less utilities. They use things until they wear our or buy used stuff. They often take public transportation. They don't fly much. They don't do home renovations. So much of "living light" means not doing stuff or not consuming stuff.

On the other hand, it's often a lot more pleasant to do stuff and live nicely and travel.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:54 AM on May 16 [57 favorites]


This is one of those times my heart aches at agreeing with Dick Cheney that these kinds of conservation and recycling efforts are merely signals of personal virtue, not an effective approach to the actual problems.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:56 AM on May 16 [7 favorites]


she took her own glass containers to the store to buy in bulk

Kudo's to her - but, I wonder - the last thing a busy checkout counter employee is going to want to do while there is a line of people, is weigh empty containers first... How does that even work? You weigh them when you arrive, when they are empty, then fill them, weigh again on checkout? (Well, at least you will get a nice workout schlepping glass around)

Ahhh ... smart cookies... our bulk food chain (don't want to advertise, but is the only one I know of in Canada) seems to have their own re-usable containers for sale - I would hope/assume they know how much they weigh then.
posted by jkaczor at 9:01 AM on May 16


Green That Life takes a very non-judgemental approach to living a more sustainable lifestyle. It also has great tips for amplifying your actions by working with others in your community.
posted by TDGoddard at 9:09 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Pretty much any store that lets you buy in bulk will let you bring in your own containers. You just figure out the tare (empty) weight and that gets subtracted from the total.

As far as I know, it's been that way since the hippy-ass days of the health food stores' bulk bins, and for all I know, since the dawn of self-service shopping.

Unprocessed dry goods, at least, usually show up at the store in heavy-duty kraft paper bags (grains, pulses, sugar, salt) and then get decanted into the bulk bins. Plastic is more for the processed goods (breakfast cereals, candy, pasta).
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:11 AM on May 16 [11 favorites]


I find the whole zero waste movement extremely ableist in addition to the sexism discussed in the article - is there any study on LGBT households approaching the zero waste movement? Nah, of course not. Still, for me the ableism is always what stands out. Need a straw to avoid aspirating whatever you're drinking? Can't bike to the grocery store because of your disability? Getting frozen prepack because you don't always have the capacity to cook fresh food before it goes bad? Don't have time to make yogurt, so you get it in regular yogurt tubs? Clearly you're personally responsible for the destruction of the planet, never mind that pollution and waste are heavily corporate rather than individual.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:21 AM on May 16 [43 favorites]


This is one of those times my heart aches at agreeing with Dick Cheney that these kinds of conservation and recycling efforts are merely signals of personal virtue, not an effective approach to the actual problems.
Cheney was arguing that, while conservation is a personal virtue, it should not be the focus of public policy.
posted by LarsC at 9:21 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


> Pretty much any store that lets you buy in bulk will let you bring in your own containers. You just figure out the tare (empty) weight and that gets subtracted from the total.

In my experience it depends on the store, or whichever clerk is on duty at the time. Some will trust whatever tare you mark on the container. Some require weighing your container in the store before you fill it. Some stores only allow you to use their containers.
posted by ardgedee at 9:26 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


How does that even work?

At my hippy-ass co-op, it's very normal to take containers. When you go in, you can stop at a register and they'll write the empty weight on a piece of tape or whatever and stick it to the jar. Plus, the next time you use it, the sticker is already there. It's really not a lot of work, you just do it once per container.

We have some jars that always contain the same bulk item, so they also have the 4-digit code for that item already written on them, so we just carry it in and fill it up and go to the checkout.
posted by fritley at 9:30 AM on May 16 [11 favorites]


I'm here to tell you that you can cut down considerably on the amount of plastic you use and still be kind of grubby and have a kitchen that, some days, verges on subhuman.

Maybe I should start an Instagram account.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:31 AM on May 16 [25 favorites]


So... just to play devils advocate - how to the beans get transferred from the farm, to the distributor, to the store, then to the consumers' home? They certainly don't show up in pristine mason jars - unless you are taking those jars to your local bulk food store to fill them.

Of course lots of people take reusable containers to the bulk store, but you're right that it's for nought. The goods come in the same packaging you would have bought at the supermarket. Store employees open the packages and dump them in the bin.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:31 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Still, for me the ableism is always what stands out.

on the most basic level many many people cannot carry a dozen large empty glass jars to a bulk purchase store to stock up on whatever, much less tote them home full. on the subway? on the bus? walking? you need a car for that. so then what, you go every day with a new jar? are you fucking shitting me? "oh it's not that hard to bike with a trailer" i will hunt you through the streets.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:37 AM on May 16 [34 favorites]


Man there’s nothing that can’t be used to shame and attack women huh?

Waste is a problem at the point of production, not consumption, full stop. The pivot away from legislation and regulation into personal responsibility was a direct campaign by major industries in response to the ecological movement of the 70s. They wanted and succeeded in putting the onus on the consumer, not on them.
posted by The Whelk at 9:39 AM on May 16 [41 favorites]


Yup. Women get shamed and attacked for #zerowaste - don’t do it well enough? Ding. Do it too well? Ding. Your partner feels coerced into it? Ding. You’re willing to do all the work and let your partner be idle? Ding. You decide to quit? Ding. Never start? Silent ding.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. People laugh that I run the takeout containers at my partner’s place through the dishwasher until they break. Then we recycle them or if they’re broken in the right way he uses them to start more zz plants.

Ultimately ya, corporations are going to have to take the lead on reducing because the water and plastic consumption happens at the top. We could be getting all our medicine in paper packets with optional reusable childproof bottles and a fresh sticker with dosing information. But remember that Tylenol tampering thing? Have you ever seen a child suffering from improperly stored medication? It’s cheaper for companies to ‘sell’ is the plastic than it is for them to get sued for the death of even one child. So they keep doing it.
posted by bilabial at 9:48 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


If I only had a penguin

OMG So, then Bulk Barn is technically worse than retail, as when the product is taken out of it's packaging, it is going to go stale sooner - AND, the majority of people purchasing are going to be using the disposable plastic baggies... It can't be everything - man, I would like for a media outlet to do some investigative journalism and expose on this, because it negates the entire existence of that chain.
posted by jkaczor at 9:51 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


That's exactly how it works, jkaczor. Some places ask you to use one of their standard containers, others have weigh stations. Confectioners also often do this for chocolates if you bring in your own box.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 9:51 AM on May 16


This is one of those times my heart aches at agreeing with Dick Cheney that these kinds of conservation and recycling efforts are merely signals of personal virtue, not an effective approach to the actual problems.

Personal-scale solutions are necessarily marginal, that's true. Thoughtful systemic reform is better.

But like your vote -- which is also by itself marginal -- I don't think it's quite right to write off the marginal as mere.

The practice of personal values often reinforces them. Someone who has decided to not shop at Walmart is not making any other *apparent* difference than avoiding a certain shopping experience and maybe paying extra for some goods, which you could write off as a lifestyle/status signal but on the other hand they are disinvested in any policy that may come up which would cost Walmart and its customers in the marketplace, and in the meanwhile may well further internalize commitment to a less totalizing economic system both for the saie of labor and for independent small enterprise.

If someone is working on reducing their own waste footprint, yeah, that's an infinitesimal contribution, but this is a person who isn't going to whine/balk when law banning plastic straws comes up. The person who might really try to sort their recycling and get it to the endpoint where it's mostlikely to be recycled rather than going in the waste stream is going to be most supportive and relieved when more of the burden is back on the manufacturer even if it costs them a bit more as a consumer.

Personal values *can* be a social signal, but that's not all they are. Personal values can be practiced and they are also how collective decisions are driven.

(Side note: observers may notice the same adjective-as-equivalence action we've talked about with the terms "radical Islam", "obstructionist Democrats", and "toxic masculinity" (or at least how conservatives often parse it) is arguably present in the term "virtue signalling.")
posted by wildblueyonder at 9:52 AM on May 16 [18 favorites]


Yeah, well, this is just the beginning. the USA is building more plastics plants on top of its black residents, and comparatively there's little to no coverage, analysis, concern. Black women and children will be cleaning our air of their plastic with their lungs.

Women like Diane Wilson in Texas are also cleaning up your plastic out of our bays. Please Support her, as she does the job of the USEPA, a reporter, a lawyer, and an environmental scientist.

then we could talk about the gender politics of the oil and gas industry, but I'm already sad enough. But yes, Dick Cheney doesn't want you to think that this is political.

You can also help by supporting groups like Louisiana Environmental Action Network, who don't get a lot of funding, or national groups like center for biological diversity, who are some of the few national environmental groups willing to work in the Gulf Coast, USA--which, sad to say, is becoming more and more uninhabitable.
posted by eustatic at 9:56 AM on May 16 [18 favorites]


I would like for a media outlet to do some investigative journalism and expose on this, because it negates the entire existence of that chain.

Well there's also the "pinch to a pound" convenience. You only have to buy a half cup of flour if that's all you need.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:04 AM on May 16


Well there's also the "pinch to a pound" convenience. You only have to buy a half cup of flour if that's all you need.

... I guess... however, if I have to travel to the store for half a cup of something every time I need another half a cup, that is wasteful in it's own way... (if there is no bulk food store within walking distance). There are efficiencies by buying larger amounts of common staples. Take a mason jar full of pasta in one of the linked article photo's for example - in my household, that might cover a single meal for everyone. So, I need to shop for dry goods every day?

They are selling an experience (kids are always excited to go to the bulk store on a spur-of-the-moment decision), a virtue and a convenience, but they are certainly (based on your experience) not a "#zerowaste" shopping option.
posted by jkaczor at 10:15 AM on May 16


At my food co-op if you bring your own container you just weigh it and write the tare weight down on a sticker before filling (I actually used a label-maker to out the empty tare weights of all my spice jar labels along with the PLU# and name of the spice). I buy a ton of stuff in bulk (it is often significantly cheaper especially for herbs and spices, boy howdy).

When you buy a lot in bulk, it's (usually) not like you're refilling every single glass jar in your kitchen all at once. It's just a couple at a time usually. You can take that on the subway.

I find these conversations often tip over from a valid "this is a very difficult thing when dialed up to max and we should consider the burden placed on the individual consumer vs. the structural problems inherent in the larger system" to "EVEN DOING THIS A LITTLE BIT IS UNPOSSIBLE FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS!!!" It's not unpossible to buy a lot of food in bulk. Lots of people do it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:16 AM on May 16 [12 favorites]


Like one of the top contributors to ocean plastic pollution is artificial fibers, and that’s not something you or I can do by changing habits but it is something we could do by leveraging the huge purchasing power of the US consumer market at the legislative level to prohibit fast fashion practices.
posted by The Whelk at 10:20 AM on May 16 [9 favorites]


It's just a couple at a time usually. You can take that on the subway.

actually no i physically cannot.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:22 AM on May 16 [13 favorites]


My wife is starting to go down this road. She knows I'm ok with it as long as she's handling telling employees to put our bobas in mason jars, etc. I guess I'm supportive but non participating.

I do see it as virtue signaling and an exercise of privilege. That's still not a reason to not do it as long as you're not twisting your life into a pretzel to accomplish it, since the problem does rest solely on the producer side.

Where it does make a bit more sense for us is that smaller local producers tend to package things more sustainably and I'm much happier supporting the local economy than funneling money to huge corporations somewhere. We've both completely cut fast fashion out of our lives and we have a seamstress who we use for most of our clothing. If I ran the numbers I'm sure we'd actually be saving money over buying items of clothing that last a couple of months at most, and we also get to choose where our fabrics come from.

It's all fine as long as you don't judge others for their choices, everyone has a life nobody else knows anything about. Recognize your privilege as privilege and don't push it on others.

Any time something you say can be prefaced by "why don't you just...", it's a sign that you haven't fully thought things through.
posted by mikesch at 10:33 AM on May 16 [6 favorites]


It’s fine for people to do whatever they want so long as it does not replace organizing , supporting and agitating for systemic change - I don’t have to worry I carry a reusable bottle so I’m Done Thinking About Waste is what we have to confront.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on May 16 [11 favorites]


So - I grew-up in hippy-households, I love bulk food, I love organizing things in nice containers.

My main concern are really that the consumer is only the tip-of-the-iceberg when it comes to packaging waste - and consumers are not the root cause. Buy in bulk, but advocate for systemic change. Taking pictures of your virtue and posting them as lifestyle is about the same level of impact as "raising awareness" - it's the least effort thing one can do.

It's actually WORSE though, if certain bulk food stores are actually just dumping pre-packaged goods into bulk containers - I really *hope* that this isn't the norm for that retail sector - because there will be more wastage due to products going stale, spillage and possibly cross-contamination between bins.

And - myself, every time I have been participating in the bulk food retail experience, I have NEVER seen someone bring in a re-usable container - I always see heaps of the cheap plastic roll-bags being used. And yes - me too, because I wasn't aware that one could bring containers until just now - sure, it makes complete logical sense (but my hippy-dippy parental units never brought any...) - culturally I never have seen anyone doing so for my entire life. And, some Googling found at least one person at "Bulk Barn" being told that they MUST use the plastic roll-bags for food safety purposes, and bringing your own bags was not allowed.
posted by jkaczor at 10:36 AM on May 16


Zero waste is as impossible and unnatural as perpetual motion. There is no natural process that produces zero waste, so it's hubris to think we'll do it now. The goal should be to have a purpose and path for the packaging after it is used. The simple ideal would be compostable packaging, but that obviously doesn't work for everything. Glass and aluminum also have lots of potential for re-use. Getting food (and other goods) from the field to the plate is a problem we humans have worked on for millenia. There are solutions.

Beyond that, everything being said about this issue being systemic and not personal are spot on. We need to make manufacturers, mail order companies and retailers responsible for handling the containers they deliver their products in.
posted by meinvt at 10:38 AM on May 16 [8 favorites]


I have no children and no car, which I'm told means my impact on climate change is basically negligible compared to children-having and car-driving people. If I choose to bring my groceries home in plastic bags, because not having a car makes it inconvenient for me to carry around re-usable bags all the time in case I have time to go to the grocery store that day, I figure that's still a net win for the planet.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:39 AM on May 16 [17 favorites]


It's actually WORSE though, if certain bulk food stores are actually just dumping pre-packaged goods into bulk containers

Every grocery store I ever worked at got bulk items in big bulk bags or plastic containers -it was not the equivalent of dumping pre-packaged goods into bulk bins.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:52 AM on May 16 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the bulk stuff your buying is coming in some packaging, but the hope is that its less than what it would be if packed for individual sale (even counting the fact that most people will use disposable bags to bring home their bulk purchases).

The only place ive ever seen employees emptying single-sale packages into bulk/piles is at my local NYC street corner produce stand, where they are clearly getting rejects from the primary grocery market and i have to believe on net that its more efficient that what would happen to those groceries in most other parts of the US (even though i do find it somewhat dismaying).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:58 AM on May 16


I think the bulky packaging for small drugstore items is to discourage shoplifting.

No doubt it is. But there are other ways to put a small-ish number of pills into a package that is itself too big to fit into a pocket. Like putting the pills into a couple blister sheets and putting that into a box, instead of putting a pill bottle into a much-bigger box.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:04 AM on May 16


My wife decided that she didn't want to keep plastic wrap in the house anymore. I think the plan is to make some kind of replacement wrap with fabric and beeswax which'll be a fun project for the family to make, and hopefully a successful one as well, but we haven't done that yet. It hasn't been terrible but it makes dealing with leftover rice a bit more annoying: before I'd just wrap them into portions and stick them in the freezer, now I put them in reusable take-out containers, which is bulkier, and stick them in the fridge because freezer space is at a premium.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:05 AM on May 16


I've taken to, whenever I go shopping, sit on a bench somewhere and remove all of the superfluous packaging, (and discard it in the public "recycling" cans). Truly impressive how much smaller my bag gets, and how much goes in the can. Half the time, without the packages, I can just pocket my wares and skip the shopping bag.

Not just the quantity discarded, but the manufacturing effort that gets discarded -- custom vacuum-formed shells, seals, tapes, etc -- if that amount of material and effort went to something else, that other thing could be a valuable product.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:09 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


It's just a couple at a time usually. You can take that on the subway.

It's not just a couple at a time, and to describe it that way neglects the rest of the stuff I have to get and carry. If I did this on the bus (the light rail doesn't run near my apartment), I'd still have to walk a couple of blocks there and back, and even just doing that without carrying anything means more pain when I'm trying to sleep, which means less sleep. Plus I'd have to stand up to wait for the bus on the way there and on the way back, and that bus runs infrequently enough that this would be a substantial burden and again, cause more pain. Short version: I have a car significantly because of my disability. I don't drive to work, but I need the car for everything else. The car is full of reusable cloth bags so I can have fewer shopping bags, but I still use plastic bags at the bulk section because I need the plastic bags for scooping litterboxes.

It's great if you can do all of your shopping without a car. Really. I wish I could still ride my bike. But assuming that other people have that option and are just choosing not to exercise it is ableist.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:22 AM on May 16 [19 favorites]


people who blithely insist that doing seemingly mundane physical things are "super easy, for everyone!" have obviously never broken down in helpless angry fucking tears because it was wholly beyond their physical capacity to pull a tight pillowcase off of a large fluffy pillow. and i bet that's nice for them. it's exhausting for the rest of us.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:29 AM on May 16 [29 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos I think the bulky packaging for small drugstore items is to discourage shoplifting.

Before Piggly-Wiggly was founded in 1916, no grocery store was considered self-service. You went to your general store and said "I'd like two pounds of flour, please." We keep re-inventing the wheel, over and over and over and over again.
posted by Melismata at 11:41 AM on May 16 [10 favorites]


Every grocery store I ever worked at got bulk items in big bulk bags or plastic containers -it was not the equivalent of dumping pre-packaged goods into bulk bins.

In grocery stores with bulk bins there are limited number of things in the bulk bins and most foods are sold in packaging. So it makes sense that the only thing they would put in the bulk bins is the stuff that they buy in big bulk bags/containers. Bulk Barn is not a grocery store with bulk bins, it's a store full of aisles and aisles of bulk bins with some impulse-buy candy at the front. A lot of stuff they sell probably just isn't available in big bulk bags or plastic containers.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:43 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Aldie is trying to end single-use plastics and plastic packaging. I don't like aldie but I'm super excited!
posted by rebent at 11:51 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah this reeks of assuaging consumerist guilt while not really getting at the crux of the problem. Because the crux of the problem is hard, and not something you can do individually, it's a massive collective-action issue. Comparatively, putting your shit in glass jars and not buying Ziploc bags is easy... but meaningless.

Maybe I'm just getting cynical but I saw this happen throughout the 70s into the 90s. Anyone who was interested in environmental issues basically got a pat on the head and told “protecting the environment begins at home” or some similar platitude. Which is nice, and people should be encouraged not to buy environmentally terrible stuff when they have a choice, but we shouldn't pretend like that's ever going to be the path to solutions to Big Problems, of which we have many.

I mean, we are looking down the barrel of multiple existential threats, if not actually as a species than at least as a high-tech, high-standard-of-living civilization. Nobody is going to know or care in a century how many Ziplocs you used, or whether you chose "paper or plastic?" at the grocery-store till. Do what makes you feel good and is consistent with your values, because being a hypocrite sucks and is ultimately corrosive to your soul, IMO. But don't believe you're doing it for anyone else's benefit. It's pissing in a hurricane.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:53 AM on May 16 [14 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos I think the bulky packaging for small drugstore items is to discourage shoplifting.

Before Piggly-Wiggly was founded in 1916, no grocery store was considered self-service. You went to your general store and said "I'd like two pounds of flour, please." We keep re-inventing the wheel, over and over and over and over again.
posted by Melismata at 2:41 PM on May 16 [1 favorite +] [!]


Another way to say it is that there are a few basic strategies that work in different situations. When the situation changes, the strategy is no longer effective. And, yesterday's strategy can become today's situation.

Another example is computing power. A friend in my IT department was just telling me that some web tools are starting to package data analysis processes into applications that can be loaded onto users' devices, to eliminate the delay of waiting for the centralized server to process the information. AKA.... a computer program.

Centralized - decentralized. Vertical alignment - horizontal alignment. Made to order - made for stock. Customer centric - process alignment. Around and around and around.

All these different strategies get to the same end - "How can we make as much money as possible while wasting as few resources as we can?"

Sadly, using plastics and creating extra trash is such a SMALL part of the equation. Minuscule cost for producer and consumer..... never ending cost for community and environment.

I think it would be really cool if trash was significantly more expensive, and the more you threw away, the more pricey it got.
posted by rebent at 12:00 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


That’s why an economic model that doesn’t factor environmental costs (or human dignity) is a model that will doom the human race.

Anyone who was interested in environmental issues basically got a pat on the head and told “protecting the environment begins at home” or some similar platitude.

Again this was a deliberate action by large companies to flood the dialogue with this worldview, whole think tanks were created to combat the rise of environmentalism - that crying Indian ad came out of one of them.
posted by The Whelk at 12:05 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


It's pissing in a hurricane.

I guess I just see it as part of preparing for what comes next - we've cut down car travel by ~3/4, rarely use heat or AC, compost, are working to greatly reduce the amount of trash we generate - in large part because we're convinced that, if not us, our kids are going to have to know how to live comfortably in a world w/a vastly lower and more constrained standard of living for average people. If we're lucky enough to still be able to breathe and think clearly in a century, we'll look back on the profligacy of this era with disbelief, I suspect.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:09 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


I think it would be really cool if trash was significantly more expensive, and the more you threw away, the more pricey it got.

When recycling first started in my uber-liberal neighborhood in the early 90s, we had small blue bins. You had to absolutely wash all food off all items. You could only put in certain numbered plastics, and keep paper separate with no window envelopes.

I remember walking by a neighbor's bin and there was a plastic bottle remaining after a pickup. There was a big bright orange sticker on it. "This item was not picked up because (check one): there is still a ring on the bottle."

I thought at the time, that is the most inefficient recycling system I can think of, and it won't last very long. I was right.

Gradually, things got easier. Any plastic is fine. Dirty items are fine. Window envelopes are fine. Oh heck, just toss everything together, we won't even enforce it if your real trash goes in with the recycling.

Oh, wait, the recycling company in China where we've been sending everything just raised their prices enormously. Maybe we should rethink this whole strategy of dumping all of our waste on the rest of the world.
posted by Melismata at 12:12 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


With recycling the problem is that there’s money in it, if someone is trying to make a profit off recycling they’re not going to create the best recycling system - they’re going to create a system that generates the most profit. What we should be doing is create state or municipal recycling systems run like public utilities and staff them well enough to handle the problem (in addition to changing the situation at the point of production, circular economy is the palatable to business speak for some of this)
posted by The Whelk at 12:16 PM on May 16 [14 favorites]


Like, I don’t want a single scrap of organic matter to end up in the city landfills, not from houses, not from schools, not from food producers. It should be dummy easy for everyone to drop food waste off to be collected and then used to build nutritious soil that can then be routed to parks or farms or gardens to reduce dependence on artificial fertilizer and capture the carbon of rotting organic (and prevent them from producing greenhouse gasses) NYC does this a little but it’s not nearly enough and some of the biggest waste producers aren’t on it.

Recycling/composting services need to be thought of as a public utility and source of good jobs.
posted by The Whelk at 12:24 PM on May 16 [9 favorites]


I was facing this dilemma last night. I had a jar of pesto. My options were:

1. wash the jar, putting the oil down the drain (bad for my pipes), and the paper/glass/metal combo in the recycling bin, hoping that the recycling center would be able to pry the metal ring off from the cap.
2. throw the whole thing in the trash.

I'm certain that new systems of recycling will require new product standards. And in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the new product standards come first.
posted by rebent at 12:36 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


I'm glad bile and syntax brought up the ableism. I follow a lot of spoonies on social media and they are furious about the idiotic straw ban.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 12:59 PM on May 16 [14 favorites]


It's interesting though deplorable that the far right is now going after Greta Thunberg and denying Global Warming, because it exemplifies the strange paradox at the rotted core of contemporary conservatism: conservatism is anti-environmental and male not for economic reasons, but because the environment and the Earth itself are identified with the feminine.

The taproot of conservatism is fear and hatred of women, coupled with a determination to control them at any cost.
posted by jamjam at 1:26 PM on May 16 [16 favorites]


Totally agree jamjam (and similar sentiment ^), in my own work - ecology and lasc - I constantly see the male hatred of Earth, of nature; theirs is a fragile stance, but at heart they have no other belief.
posted by unearthed at 1:55 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I think it would be really cool if trash was significantly more expensive, and the more you threw away, the more pricey it got.

this is how it works where my parents live in rural northern michigan. you pay for trash service. then you also have to buy special garbage bags from designated places (they are a certain color and size). if you do not use those bags, trash does not get picked up. the more trash you have, the more bags you have to buy, the more expensive it is.

you have to bring your own recycling to designated centers, there is no pickup.

sadly, since this is rural, what ultimately happens is a lot of people burn a lot of garbage instead of putting it out for pickup or bringing it to a recycling drop off.

my parents are good about recycling the few things they can (no single stream, not a lot of plastics taken), but i have had to shame them a few times about burning paper and a few other things.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:39 PM on May 16


Our family resolution for 2019 was "waste less." My husband wanted to reduce food waste, my daughter wanted to live up to her Girl Scout law ("use resources wisely" is one of the tenets) and I wanted to find and eliminate mindless excess and needless convenience.

It's been successful-ish. We've gotten utility audits (everyone shrugged and said, "You're already consuming less gas/electricity/water than 99% of our customers, there's not much left to cut"); our meal planning has become a whole-family activity and we now cheer when the fridge contents near zero before the CSA delivery day; cutting cable has given us back hours of our life and cut back on mindless snacking.

But running up against the limits of all our good habits, both old and acquired, has only made me so much more conscious of how much waste is outside my control and remains so.

If we're going to shame anything or anyone for zero waste, start with industries and move on to politicians who won't work to implement policies that put the burdens of reduced-waste supply chains, packaging and disposal on the companies making the crap in the first place and -- this is key -- make it so 100% of the costs aren't passed on to consumers.
posted by sobell at 2:40 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


What’s wrong with the idea that if you’re currently physically able to limit your waste it’s an option you should consider and if you’re not, that’s ok?
posted by Selena777 at 2:47 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


I have been thinking for long time about these kinds of issues--from the 80s when I lived in co-ops in colleges, with the flour in jars and the tare weights written on the empty containers and all that.

One anecdote that often occurs to me is a conversation I had with a woman from my Quaker meeting more than a decade ago. She and her husband lived alone in a big split-level house, 3-4 bedrooms, a big rec room, several bathrooms, separate living and dining rooms. She was telling me about how they were looking into installing solar power, which for some tens of thousands of dollars might reduce their grid electricity usage by as much as 40%, if all went well.

I thought, but did not say, that my partner and I had reduced our home gas and electric usage by more than that a few years earlier, by moving to a much smaller home. Almost 17 years later, our utility costs are still lower than they were in the old house.

We didn't do it for environmental reasons, and we have ended up raising four children in a house that has been inconveniently small for the purpose (One bathroom! One bathroom, people!). If we had been in a financial position to do so, we'd have been mightily tempted to upsize during the era I call Peak Toy, but we've got one out of the house, one about to turn 18, and our youngest is 11, and we've sort of shrunk back down to fit it again.

I really believe more people in my Quaker meeting don't live in small homes because it's not performative enough. We just look like we have much less money than we actually have--one of my kids actually asked me a few months ago if it was ethical, if we weren't somehow misrepresenting ourselves by living in this house and driving old cars and wearing our clothes for a long time. These things are a combination of values and preferences like "not liking to shop for clothes," and having had a serious financial setback some years ago that we have only recently dug ourselves out from under--so I had a talk with my kid about the distinction between how much income we have, and how much we actually have to spend on stuff.

It's more visible and performative to put the solar panels on the big house than to live in the smaller house. More positively, people who did get into solar ten and fifteen years ago helped an emerging market develop, whatever their reasons for doing it, something my partner and I have not done. We have not even yet moved to a hybrid or electric vehicle, because so far those technologies haven't trickled down to our current level of very-used-car affordability. So I don't think the answers are easy.

The genderedness of this stuff, though. Yep.
posted by Orlop at 3:45 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


Single-stream recycling is probably a separate discussion; I think there have been previous threads on it, but basically there is a tradeoff between recycling stream contamination, and the percentage of recyclable materials that actually make it into recycling.

The early "small bin" systems were generally good at getting low contamination. Where I lived at the time that it became popular (early 90s?), it was optional—you actually had to request a bin specifically from the town. (Naturally it was sort of A Thing to have a little blue bin; if you didn't recycle and only had a trash can out in front of your house, well, everyone knew what kind of person you were.) But if you were going to recycle, you probably knew the rules and cleaned stuff out and didn't put stuff that doesn't belong—you know, actual garbage—in there.

But the collection rates were pretty low. Only a small amount of the recyclable materials were getting caught; there was a perceived problem that the rules were "too complex" (i.e. people are too stupid to follow simple instructions, so we'd better make this easier...). And the places taking in the recycling were pretty liberal about what they'd accept. It turned out you could do "single stream" and just ship the stuff to China and everything worked out fine.

I think it's incorrect to look at it as a case of profit optimization. There are a lot of problems where that is the issue, but not all of them are, and in the case of single-stream, it was a reasonably valid tradeoff at the time that it was made. What I fault city planners for, is not realizing the obvious un-sustainability of the "send it all to China!" solution.

But it's not that it was ever hugely profitable; most of the recycling systems I've ever read about were break-even at best. The actually valuable recyclables (steel, aluminum) subsidized the less-valuable stuff (literally everything else), such that single-stream worked economically.

As soon as China said they didn't want to be the world's trash-pickers, that was the end of that. And it's really the end of "big blue wheelie bin" single-stream recycling, but people seem reluctant to admit it, and keep looking around for some way to keep the charade going a bit longer. I don't believe it's really feasible to have automated sorting systems that will take the highly-contaminated trash that people put in big wheelie bins and sort it to the point where it's breakeven. What we should be doing is going back to small bins, or bins with multiple compartments, and only giving them out to people who are actually going to follow the rules and do it right, and then slowly work via education and social pressure to get recycling rates up. (Which is what much of Europe and Japan did, and it works well. It turns out actually people are capable of sorting their trash, if given suitable motivation and enough time to learn the rules. At this point most people in Japan have grown up always sorting their trash into like 5 bins—anything else would seem weird and wrong!)

The US's failure to adapt is a pretty good metaphor for our entire culture. We were doing something that was reasonable at a certain time, ignored the fact that it was unsustainable, acted surprised when it stopped working, but rather than go back to the drawing board and admit that things need to radically change, everyone keeps coasting along, apparently hoping if they just wait long enough somebody will "figure it out".

We're pretty bad at this stuff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:05 PM on May 16 [12 favorites]


Anything that puts the weight of change and responsibility onto households is smoke and mirrors anyway, regardless of which partner is being burnt out by the extra work.

Business and industry are the major consumers. I could live to 100 and not generate the amount of packaging waste created by any random mid-sized enterprize doing a PC hardware refresh. A single industrial plant is likely to use more water in a single day than my current house will use for the entire time I live in it, but I'll probably pay a rate a thousand times higher than them.

I love your recycled bamboo counter tops and your stainless steel straws, but you're a drop in the ocean.
posted by krisjohn at 4:06 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Of course lots of people take reusable containers to the bulk store, but you're right that it's for nought. The goods come in the same packaging you would have bought at the supermarket. Store employees open the packages and dump them in the bin.

A side note: This is by no means universally true. I have worked in two different co-ops and stocked the bulk section, and bulk foods came in varyingly large bags - pillowcase-sized for rice, flour and things that you tend to go through in, well, bulk, and smaller sized bags for things like nutritional yeast or walnuts where people were buying smaller quantities. Buying in bulk from the co-op is one way to render organic foods slightly more affordable - I can't realistically afford co-op vegetables but I get things like lentils there.

It would in theory be perfectly possible to arrange society so that everyone could buy in bulk with relatively little effort - better distribution of grocery stores, subsidized delivery which could be totally free to those with medical needs, bottle deposits, better public transit...and I bet that nylon resealable bags would fix a lot of the problems with glass bottles.

I'm thinking of the bags I've gotten from baggu, but sized appropriately for food and with clips or zips to close. They're light, they're packable, I've put mine through the washing machine multiple times, they'd be easy to carry to the store itself, you could carry a few in your bag any day in case you wanted to stop, etc etc.

These aren't insoluble problems but they'd require social solutions because you'd need to have state planning for grocery store distribution and delivery services plus subsidies rather than just relying on individual moral suasion.
posted by Frowner at 4:14 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


I had no idea napkins didn't count as paper for recyling until Philadelphia put out solar recyling bins with signs about what should be put in or not.

I've seen claims that recycling should be dry, but the blue bins here don't have lids and rain is pretty frequent.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:10 PM on May 16


With recycling the problem is that there’s money in it, if someone is trying to make a profit off recycling they’re not going to create the best recycling system - they’re going to create a system that generates the most profit. What we should be doing is create state or municipal recycling systems run like public utilities and staff them well enough to handle the problem

This can't be serious.

If there's no money in it, there's no point in recycling. It needs to go in the landfill. I mean, c'mon, you're going to recycle material that will end up more expensive than buying new? How does this lower consumption, if that's your goal? Do you propose selling recycled material for less than market value? How does this make any sense whatsoever? That it'll create jobs? This is even worse than paying people to dig holes and fill them up again. Hell, if you wanted to destroy faith in good governance, this would be a great way to do it.

That there's money in recycling is the only thing that makes recycling worthwhile at all. That is the best recycling system.

As far as going zero waste, if it makes you happy, go for it. Just don't be a dick over the practice.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:57 PM on May 16


You can do what you want here, but I’m personally recycling and trying to reduce waste for reasons other than the furtherance of capitalism.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:58 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


Buried in the U.N Climate Report, capitalism is incompatible with surviving climate change
posted by The Whelk at 7:29 PM on May 16 [10 favorites]


I think it would be really cool if trash was significantly more expensive, and the more you threw away, the more pricey it got.

I've lived in places where you had to put a sticker on any trash bag - this was a sticker you had to buy. They were maybe a dollar apiece but at least motivated people to throw away less and recycle more.

I've also lived in communities where trash and recycling - again, trash with required stickers - had to be taken to a transfer station. This included things like construction materials, furniture, discarded tools or small appliances and the like. People like my uncle(s) will go to the transfer station to drop off their waste and recycling and often come back with more "useful" stuff than they discarded. Dismissing the fact that they still didn't need most of what they brought home, they were frugal and against buying new things.

In many cases, there's a trade-off between what lengths you're willing to go to to avoid buying new things and the effort you're willing to take to get rid of your trash and recycling. It works better for some than it does for others.

That said, I agree 100% with the idea that manufacturers need to become more responsible. Batteries for "energy-saving" electric cars are ridiculously expensive to transport and dispose of. Desalination - which could solve a myriad of the worlds' clean water shortage - is also prohibitively expensive. In that sense, improving the efficiency and lowering the cost of processes like these would make a huge difference in our environmental impact and wealth equity worldwide.

Sustainable energy - water and wind - is another industry that would serve us all well if we could reduce or eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

Changes like these wouldn't be gender-specific and would make way more impact on the concept of "zero waste" in that the burden on individual consumers would not be as necessary or as ineffective.
posted by bendy at 8:12 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]



I think it would be really cool if trash was significantly more expensive, and the more you threw away, the more pricey it got.


Some of the places I've lived where this is true just have a lot of illegal dumping, rarely caught.
posted by clew at 8:47 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Just to clarify
She knows I'm ok with it as long as she's handling telling employees to put our bobas in mason jars, etc. I guess I'm supportive but non participating.


Is not at all supportive. Maybe tolerant? But not supportive. If you’d appreciate an explanation of why, feel free to memail me because the details are off topic, but it’s important to acknowledge that the gendered expectations here about what work in this arena even looks like are strong.
posted by bilabial at 9:26 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


People appear to be receiving the take home message from this that we should forget all about waste reduction. This is a fallacy, as the clear solution is obviously that we should be thinking about reducing the society-wide dependence on men.
posted by chiquitita at 10:19 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


People appear to be receiving the take home message from this that we should forget all about waste reduction. This is a fallacy, as the clear solution is obviously that we should be thinking about reducing the society-wide dependence on men.

Well first, yes to your last point of course- I think my take-away from this was, waste-reduction good, taking it to a completely untenable extreme bad. Whelk makes a very good point about the true problem being waste at the point of production, and meinvt makes a good point that: "there is no natural process that produces zero waste, so it's hubris to think we'll do it now.". I am a fervent user of my green bin- I am a good little composter, but the performative nature of some people in this sphere has always put me right off. It reminds me of an eating disorder like orthorexia- "healthy" living taken to an extreme. The fact that it's all but expected of women in some lefty circles and some men have an almost performative bent in the other direction of wanton wastefulness... well. It doesn't surprise me that's all.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:30 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


The problem with terms like orthorexia is that, while there may be a group of people who have a clinical disordered eating to whom it may be applied, they are often used to shame women about their choices instead of describing their afflictions.

Similarly, instead of talking about the gendered burden of environmentalism, most commenters here are just having a pile-on about individuals making those choices instead.
posted by chiquitita at 10:44 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Seriously you let people on instagram put you off composting when you know it's an otherwise good idea? And you think they're the problem?
posted by chiquitita at 10:46 PM on May 16


I haven't stopped composting- What are you talking about?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:47 PM on May 16


Also orthorexia is a real phenomenon as evidenced by the way people of all genders tend to glom onto a fad diet that promises health and follow it to a completely crazy extreme. Orthorexia is not gendered- not to mention considering the amount of male body-builder types, it might be more weighted towards cis-males.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:49 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Yes, which is why I used a sentence structure acknowledging the phenomenon before my subjective opinion about non-appropriate usage of the term.
posted by chiquitita at 10:51 PM on May 16


You seem to have not interacted with my comment about the good points raised in this thread, you have personally attacked me, and accused other people in this thread of an imaginary pile-on I frankly cannot see. I will not interact with you further, it seems to have no point.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:55 PM on May 16


Re: composting, we have a green bin program in Toronto. People are shit at taking mouldy food out of their plastic and it has issues. But next week is still community day where the city councilor has trucks pull up and make a mound of dirt and we all can bring our containers and fill them.

Despite my quip at the top we do work on our packaging. We mostly drink tap water and bring our own water bottles and coffee mugs. We use fabric bags at stores. Most years we do a CSA for spring/winter/fall veggies and they arrive, dirty, in a big bin that gets returned weekly. I did a meat buy direct from farmers one year that is still half sitting in my freezer. We have combined households with my mother in law in a 1500 square foot house. We use dried beans, a process our instant pot has improved immensely. Although my spouse does his share of stuff, most of the planning and doing (zucchini bread instead of packaged sweets, bread maker bread) falls to me.

But our environmental footprint is still shit. I dunno man.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:21 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I think it would be really cool if trash was significantly more expensive, and the more you threw away, the more pricey it got.

I used to live in Portland, Maine, and they have a program like this. Trash has to go in particular blue city bags that have the right printing on them. You get them at the grocery stores and some convenience stores. The theory was, that it would encourage people to recycle.

It doesn't work as expected, in some significant part because it's functionally a regressive tax, one of those "oh everyone has to pay around the same thing" kinds of taxes that hits poorer people harder. Everyone hates it.

What it does is encourage people to burn trash, dump it illegally, and put inappropriate things in their recycling.

Maine also has a bottle deposit where glass bottles have a cash value if you turn them in, also designed to encourage people to do that rather than trash the bottles. I never turned bottles in for deposit, but I did run into a lot of people who were experiencing homelessness or who were marginally housed who were paying for something essential by picking up and turning in bottles.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:58 AM on May 17 [5 favorites]


I think it would be really cool if trash was significantly more expensive, and the more you threw away, the more pricey it got.
...
What it does is encourage people to burn trash, dump it illegally, and put inappropriate things in their recycling.


I work in a city that does this, and I live in a city that does the "standard" thing of just picking up whatever's on the curb for no (direct) price. The "pay per bag" city is notably more trash-ridden, to my eye.

Maine also has a bottle deposit where glass bottles have a cash value if you turn them in, also designed to encourage people to do that rather than trash the bottles.

Michigan has a dime deposit on carbonated-drink cans and bottles, and seeing them on the side of the road is so rare that I remember each time it happens.
posted by Etrigan at 6:07 AM on May 17


Maine's deposit is also about a dime. Picking up bottles is essentially a full-time gig for the folks who do it. I met a guy who was doing it because he was recently out of prison, had an apartment, had disability benefits and was able to feed himself, but he didn't have money left over from that to feed his cat so he picked up bottles to get cat food. Most people picking up bottles will also grab cans, because while there's not a deposit on cans folks can just sell them for the aluminum.

Maine has a lot of terrible and regressive policies especially with LePage in power, and I'm glad I live in a blue state now with policies that are less terrible and a governor who cares about our infrastructure.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:00 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


My wife is big into the zero-waste idea. I've always been with her on that, but it's something that has to be approached with a lot of thought and planning and cooperation to work. My wife is a 'practical' hoarder, so those things are sometimes lacking around here. It's one thing to take control of your own consumption patterns, but it's another to try and save every discarded item in the neighborhood. Under those conditions everything just becomes a huge mess. I've spent so much time and energy trying to manage this stuff that it has just beaten me down. It's sometimes hard not to become anti-environmental in reaction to it, but I understand that it's just our own particular set of circumstances and so I keep plugging along so that we can have a reasonable home to live in. Thirty-four years on at this point.

Notions of manliness don't factor into it in our case. That crap is just dumb. How well I can help to keep things in decent shape depends on my energy levels. I quit drinking and smoking last year and am being a lot more careful with diet, etc. but this stuff has often been a source of real despair for me and has kept me from being able to do the things I used to want to do. It just eats everything up. I have mixed feelings about it to say the least. It's like watching virtues turned into vices, and I'm not even sure how much good any of it does.

But enough whining. Good post.
posted by metagnathous at 11:14 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


> Maine also has a bottle deposit where glass bottles have a cash value if you turn them in, also designed to encourage people to do that rather than trash the bottles.

Michigan has a dime deposit on carbonated-drink cans and bottles, and seeing them on the side of the road is so rare that I remember each time it happens.


I've been saying for years that the way to convince people to be more green is to monetize it. An old roommate and I were watching the "Live Earth" concert broadcast when that happened (in....2006, I think?), and were actually making note of the little PSA-type spots they ran in between each act with "Things You Can Do To Help The Planet!". But after the third such PSA, we quickly realized that we already were doing all of the things that they were suggesting....because they were also saving us money.

For years I've been wondering why the green movement tries to use "it will save the planet" as their primary talking points, when "you'll save [x amount] on your utility bill" not only will be just as accurate, but also will be probably much more convincing from a practical standpoint for many people.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


People who need to save money on their utility bills already do the things. It's the people who view conservation as optional because they can afford to that they need to reach.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:46 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


For years I've been wondering why the green movement tries to use "it will save the planet" as their primary talking points, when "you'll save [x amount] on your utility bill" not only will be just as accurate, but also will be probably much more convincing from a practical standpoint for many people.

Exactly. The problem is that promoting a "save the planet" angle makes the whole thing appear to be an exercise in quasi-religiosity, a kind of self-sacrificial penance, often promoted by people who can well afford to do so, and/or have no trouble patting themselves on the back for their virtue.

The complimentary question is why people on the green side are so averse to accepting the matter of fact issue that money may be the most practical reason to recycle and reduce. As if the issue is devaued without a selfless, communal motivation rather than the crass bottom line.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:20 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


Probably because it's not always going to or even usually result in savings for individuals, especially when the cost of time is factored in.
posted by Selena777 at 9:31 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


Oregon has a can and bottle deposit that you pay at point of sale, and a redemption of $0.10 per can/bottle, and strangely, the only cans and bottles you see by the side of the road are the ones too flattened to redeem. According to a source I had at OBRC, even after the Chinapocalypse, they were still operating at a profit while recycling their redeemable plastics, because their source materials were so uniform and clean.

(Of course, unlike some other recyclables, liquids inherently don't really contaminate glass, plastics, and aluminum I'M LOOKING AT YOU, FRAGILE, FRAGILE PAPER)

Seems like a pretty straightforward model to use for a lot of "disposable" items, though. Set a deposit at point of sale/distribution, that makes it valuable to SOMEONE to dispose of it properly.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:53 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


Question,

I often see the claim that household garbage is a tiny percentage of garbage, and most garbage comes from industry.

Is there data to back this up? Or more precisely, do we have data to help us understand the biggest areas to advocate?

Here are some data points that I might find interesting or useful, if they were true...

big box stores use x amount of energy per person-hour of occupancy, compared to y for residential housing and z for apartment housing.

Office buildings are likely to throw away X pounds of waste per person per year, while residential households throw away Y.

Restaurant meals average X pounds of waste, while home-cooked meals average Y pounds of waste
posted by rebent at 2:24 PM on May 18


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