So I've taken a postgraduate paper at university, Psychology and Sustainability - and it's gotta be up there with top 5 most life-changing papers I've taken. I'll admit that after the first class, I tried not to cry while eating a noodle stir-fry alone at Sunflower Vegan Thai restaurant, wondering why I decided to go back to uni. It was an introvert's worst nightmare, speaking aloud to the class, not only about yourself, but about the person next to you. As the weeks continued on, so did the name games, in an attempt to "build a community"; I cringed with every new game introduction. My hatred for the class peaked in the third week, when despite all the name games, my lecturer called me Chantelle. Chanel is a misspelling that is easily forgiven, Chantelle, my friends, is not, it's a different name. I digress.
Our first assignment was to choose a week-long personal challenge that would have a positive impact on your life and most importantly, the environment. Some of the examples included living below the poverty line, going vegan, living waste-free or not driving your car. Considering I am already vegan, don't drive and can't cook sustaining meals living well above the poverty line, I felt my only option was to attempt zero waste. How hard could it be?
In the week before the challenge I looked at all the things I usually bought in single use plastics, including Leda cookies (the best pre-packaged vegan cookies available in Auckland). I went ahead and bought them while I still could - sorry environment but cookies win sometimes. I planned where I was going to eat and drink for the entire week, making sure it went as smoothly as possible. It didn't exactly go according to plan. It began with tiny blunders like forgetting to ask for no straw and culminating in catastrophic fuck ups like completely smashing my iPhone 7+ - can't get much more wasteful than that.
The first day I forgot my KeepCup and had my coffee onsite at eighthirty on High St, no drama, it's beautiful there, a serene way to start the morning. I overheard Rosie (staff member) telling another patron about the positive impact they could make by ditching the disposable cup for good. It was nice to know that others are for real living this lifestyle, for real educating others about making this earth more habitable for generations to come.
I discovered that while taking a KeepCup for coffee was relatively mainstream, taking your own containers for Hell Pizza and hot cross buns from Bakers Delight was not. Most staff were receptive and when I felt it was too awkward I would fall back on the old "it's a uni project" excuse. On the second day, I went to the fancy new GoodFor store, where there are the most delicious package free snacks you could imagine. Forget Ferrero Rochers, cinnamon covered cashew nuts are sent from the heavens. Like tiny, tiny, crunchy donuts. Despite it being beautiful, this is where I first started thinking about privilege.
Any lifestyle that you want to promote, you really have to recognise your privilege first. I can't imagine navigating this tiny space with children, or finding a suitable carpark. Don't even get me started on disability, I struggled to fill the containers with one hand and there's no way it was accessible by wheelchair. For many families in New Zealand, the reality is that $1 loaves of bread are a staple food source. Try and find a loaf of bread that isn't in plastic for less than quadruple the price. Sure, the organic oats were very reasonably priced, but they certainly weren't $2 for 500g like the HomeBrand bags. All reusable products from KeepCups to Moon Cups come with quite a hefty upfront cost, and if you're living pay check to pay check, it's just not going to be available to you. It's bullshit to say that everyone can and should be living zero waste/plastic free.
Basically, you're supposed to share what you learn, so this is what this post is for. What I learnt is that living 100% zero waste is bullshit, unattainable and makes you feel bad. However, I think we can all do better at recognising and reducing our consumption. It is the responsibility of those of us who do have the privilege to make choices around sustainability to make changes that will help protect our planet for future generations. I think this is true of veganism too, I have the privilege to make that choice, so I do. If you don't have the privilege, you just do you, do the best that you can and fuck the systems that are in place to marginalise you. I'm working on that too.