We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” — Anne-Marie Bonneau

I admit it: The zero-waste lifestyle intimidates me. Especially when I scroll through Instagram photos of trendy influencers posing with a single small mason jar half-filled with tape, plastic straws and produce stickers to represent the only waste they have collected in the past five years.

Dedicated followers of the zero-waste movement take “reduce, reuse, recycle” to the next level. The idea is simple: Throw away as little as possible. Recycling, which takes energy and resources, is the last resort. Sending trash to the landfill is unthinkable. 

In my column over the past few weeks, I have been exploring the importance of diverting waste from our landfill, which saves Sheridan taxpayers money and supports the health of the land, the air and our fellow humans. My research has brought me back to the idea of going zero waste, which I have considered on and off for years. How hard it could it be? I mean, I already recycle and compost. Besides, most people naturally were “zero waste” before consumerism went crazy, long before it was trendy. 

All I would need to do is pre-plan all of my meals and bring cloth bags to the grocery store and be more vigilant about bringing my coffee thermos with me everywhere, right? But wait. Think about all of the single-use plastics that we accumulate everyday that cannot be recycled, such as straws, candy wrappers, bottle tops, bread bags, twist ties, toothpaste tubes — the list goes on. What happens if I order a pizza? Do I really have to stop using shampoo bottles? Is it time for me to bake my own bread, make my own soap?

Inevitably, I start to spiral, get overwhelmed and stop thinking about it until I read the next article on the ocean’s horrifying trash island or a whale killed by 50 pounds of plastic in its belly.

This all-or-nothing logic helps nobody but affects many of us. 

So, I was gratified when Cassie Mullins, an RN at Sheridan Memorial Hospital and mother of two young boys, reached out with Bonneau’s quote at the top of my column. None of us has to be perfect, but we all should try.

Mullins and her family “aren’t ‘zero waste,’” she explained, “but we have been committed to living a lower waste lifestyle since January and have been making small changes.”

These small changes add up. 

At home, Mullins and her husband have made an effort to eat “at the bottom of the food chain,” such as fruits and vegetables, which often come with less plastic wrap, styrofoam and waste. They have stopped using paper towels. They use bars of soap, instead of bottles.

Every day, Mullins heads to work with a cloth tote bag of a ceramic plate, a to-go coffee mug, metal straws, reusable cutlery and more. 

“It just comes down to being prepared when we leave the house,” Mullins told me, adding: “Part of my mantra is to buy less stuff. The less stuff you buy, the less stuff you waste….I also carry with me these things I like to use, like my water bottle and my to-go coffee cup, which makes me want to bring them around with me. Now I don’t even think about it: It’s my day-to-day routine, my little bag in the morning.”

Mullins and her family have not eliminated all of their waste, but they have found a happy medium. 

“It’s a balance,” she said. “I have more things I want to do, like bake my own bread and learn how to sew so I can fix things up, but I’ll get there one day. It’s all about little changes, one thing at a time.

“The more I do it, the more I want to do it.”

I can’t promise that I will lead a true zero-waste lifestyle yet, either, but I am committed to making small changes. I will go out of my way to buy in bulk. I will start setting out my own “little bag in the morning.” Who knows — I may even make my own soap! For added inspiration, I have started following a few Instagram influencers shared by Mullins and my green friends. But before I spiral, I will remember Bonneau’s wise words.

I don’t have to be perfect, but I have to do something.