Zero Waste by Diana Oppenheim

December 10, 2018

Diana Oppenheim, San Francisco based yoga teacher and environmentalist, spends time volunteering for conservation efforts along the Pacific Ocean. She’s here to share with us some tips on how to shift your lifestyle to be more environmentally conscious. Simple everyday efforts are actions we can take to make an impact on the future of our planet. Check out her insight as to how and why we can be “zero waste” citizens.

Zero Waste

I have always considered myself a minimalist and environmentalist. Maybe that’s partly why I pushed back against the idea of zero waste when I first heard of people having a year’s worth of trash fit inside a mason jar.
“That’s pretty extreme— I prefer to live in the real world.”
“I have other things to worry about than making sure I produce no trash— I need to keep things realistic for myself.”

I already do a good job at being minimal. I recycle, I plant flowers and trees, I don’t eat meat or dairy, I buy mostly second hand items, I donate to environmental causes. I do plenty, so the fact that I kept accumulating and throwing out so much trash is just a byproduct of living in modern times, right? It’s inevitable, right? And, it’s certainly too much a hassle to change.

What I realize now, is that zero waste is not extreme. Climate change is extreme. A capitalistic and industrial growth economy is extreme. The very real possibility that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish is extreme. What I realize now, is that “keeping things realistic for myself” was a way that I was giving power away to a convenience lifestyle that was contributing to a reality I didn’t want to be a part of. What I realize now, is that it’s not too much a hassle to change— it’s completely necessary and actually quite simple.

Consider this:

  • The earth and all its biodiversity is in trouble due to human intervention. In the past 50 years, almost 60% of the world’s biodiversity has become extinct. Extinction is forever.
  • 99% of all products that are produced are not in use six months later.
  • Mass production of plastics (one of the fastest growing sectors of the oil and gas companies) has only began in the past 60 years. In that time it has created over 8 billion tons of plastic. Only an estimated 9% of that has been recycled.
  • Every piece of plastic that has been created is still in existence. Somewhere. Though research is still studying the effects of this, over 700 species of marine life eat plastic.
  • Plastic manufacturing plants and the oil refineries associated with plastics are typically located in poor communities with fewer resources to advocate for their health and wellness. These communities are at a higher risk of the health impacts around the toxic environment around making plastics. This is environmental racism.

Becoming zero waste required me to ask a few questions:

What do I really need? (Because any time I take something more than I need, it is at someone else’s expense.)
What is really enough? (Because capitalism and industrial growth depend on me thinking I’m not enough and I don’t have enough, I think I always need more.)
Does this purchase/action increase my independence? (Because if I’ve never learned how to do something on my own, I depend on products or services to do things for me.)

Zero Waste is truly a lifestyle change. I get to define what it means for me. It’s a practice just like anything else. The point isn’t to be perfect about it. It may seem difficult to make some switches, but we can’t wait for things to be easy. Easy is actually very costly. Get creative. Figure out ways to make zero waste work for you. Reclaim your capabilities. Slow down. Share resources. Stop buying plastic. Below are a few things that were the easiest for me to switch that have significantly reduced my waste:

Food & Shopping:
Food shopping has actually become EASIER! When shopping zero waste, I don’t bother with 90% of the grocery store. I am limited to the fresh fruit and produce section and the bulk section! My shopping is simpler, less costly, and I wind up eating a lot better too!

I use organic cotton bags to shop in bulk and transfer them into jars when I get home.

Diana May Yoga

If I bring my jars in (for things like bulk peanut butter or tahini) I make sure to weigh the jar first so I’m not charged for the weight of the jar.

Going out to eat? Make sure you bring your own container to take food home to go!

Diana May Yoga

Am I sad that I can’t just buy a tub of hummus and a box of crackers to snack on? Sometimes, I do miss it. However, I’ve learned to snack on fruits and veggies. I’ve learned to make my own hummus with bulk chickpeas and tahini. I have to have more time, I have to get creative, and it feels good. When I am really upset about not having a bag of chips, I just remember I’m not doing all of this for me— even though I’ve gotten a lot of personal benefit. I’m doing this for the sake of the planet and all the animals who are choking on plastic. Do I really need that bag of chips? Nope.

Cleaning products:
Now I realize how ridiculous it is to clean my countertops with chemicals— even the “green brands” are filled with chemicals. And, why do I need multiple kinds of cleaning products? One is enough.

Diana May Yoga

Simple recipe:
1 3/4 c water
1/3 c white vinegar
essential oil

Put it into an old spray bottle and clean EVERYTHING with it. countertops, cupboards, sinks, wood, floors, bathtubs, the stove, all of it. Seriously. If you want something “heavier duty” for the tub, add a tablespoon of baking soda.

Beauty Products:
This is where everyone has to experiment with what works for them. We all have different hair types and skin types. I switched from bottles of shampoo and conditioner to a shampoo bar that comes in a cardboard package. I don’t wash my hair as often and found I don’t really need conditioner (although I’ve heard a little apple cider vinegar goes a long way.)

For my skin I use pure sesame oil and almond oil that I get in bulk and put into glass jars.

For my teeth, I make my own toothpaste and of course use a bamboo toothbrush. The recipe I use:

Diana May Yoga

2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon baking soda
essential oil

Resources & Information

The New Plastics Economy, Rethinking The Future of Plastic. World Economic Forum 2016.

Living Planet Report 2018

The Story of Stuff, online video.

Here’s How Much Plastic Trash is Littering the Earth. National Geographic, 2017

Ocean Life Eats Tons of Plastic— Here’s Why That Matters. National Geographic, 2017

Chemical Exposure and Plastic Production: Issues on Women’s Health. National Network on Environments and Women’s Health, 2011

by Diana Oppenheim

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