Where Zero Waste Meets Mindfulness

Published: March 02, 2020

by Jessica Bou Nassar Science and Policy Exchange

When we talk about minimizing our waste, we often focus on the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. We try to search for more environment-friendly products, items that can be sustainably disposed of, or second-hand products, among other strategies that work for us. Some of us even try to offset our carbon footprints when we travel, for example.

As mindful humans, we should definitely be doing what we can, even the littlest of things, to better the environment. I believe it’s also important to be aware of burden-shifting and the implications of our actions. For example, what are the implications of investing in a carbon offset scheme that aims to provide family planning services for women in the third-world? From my perspective, this implies a shift in responsibility (or blame for environmental degradation) from me, a privileged air traveler, to a woman in a developing country with a carbon footprint of about 0.8 tons.

I tried to take a step back and assess the core of the waste problem. Thinking deeply about strategies of the zero-waste movement, I felt that we might just be remediating symptoms of a more profound issue: our urge, as humans, to consume. Sometimes, I find myself asking questions such as why do we have that urge? How can we contain it? If we were not to have it, would the environmental crisis have been as urgent? Sometimes, I am almost certain that it is the center of the environmental problem. Of course, that is nothing but my opinion!

The current landscape of economic and technological developments has been driving increases in consumption trends. Corporations and advertisers are mastering the art of capitalizing on our psychological processes to maximize profit. I personally expect it to get much worse. Artificial intelligence is aligning with capitalist endeavors to persuade each and every one of us like never before. As we continue to feed the algorithm our data, it is knowing us better and driving us to make more purchases (mostly impulsive ones). A lot of these purchases might be ‘green products’ too! The only problem is, they are green products that you never really needed but were rather persuaded into buying. After all, what’s green about purchasing a green product to replace a perfectly reusable one that you already own?

I sometimes ask myself this question: In an age where surveillance capitalism and artificial intelligence are creating a market-serving superpower, how can we avoid the temptation and fight the urge for consumerism?

In a TED Talk, one of my favorite authors, Yuval Harari, mentioned how knowing ourselves and engaging in spiritual activities (such as meditation) help us navigate through the algorithm’s persuasion. Also, I have recently come across some schools of thought that have correlated mindfulness, self-reflection, and slow-living to sustainable consumerism.

In my opinion, we should try to combine traditional approaches with less conventional ones for a well-sustained zero-waste journey. Therefore, I’ve been trying to incorporate 3 new habits into my minimal-waste lifestyle.

1. Routines from the Slow-living Movement

The slow living movement began in Italy, with protests against the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome. The movement first started as a slow-food movement, advocating cooking from scratch, eating seasonal, and purchasing locally-cultivated goods. Today, it covers many aspects of life, such as work, fashion, and relationships. It mainly advocates a shift in culture, from a fast-paced life to a slower one. Personally, I found that slowing down in the morning, for example, helps me prepare for a zero-waste day at work: from taking my morning coffee to meal prepping and ensuring that I won’t have to purchase anything throughout the day. This has been the main shift to my daily hurried-up routine and my relationship with consumption.

The old me would’ve purchased readymade pesto sauce, but slow-living-influenced me starts from scratch.

Also, I realized that reading about the movement had a major impact on the way I cook, eat, and purchase food. I am handling my meals so much more sustainably and it feels effortless!

2. Self-reflection practices

Whether it is journal writing or just a couple of minutes of deep thought, in my opinion, self-reflection is important in order to assess your commitment to the zero-waste journey. I personally used to write journal entries every morning last summer, to keep track of my consumption habits.

This is my reflection journal, given to me by fishermen who embrace scarcity and inspired me to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle. Here I list the items I buy and those I dispose of to see where improvement is needed.

Recently, I have stopped journal writing and started dedicating 10 minutes of silence for self-reflection, before I go to bed. My reflection routine became less about listing items and more about tying my consumption habits to my share of climate responsibility. This gives me purpose, renews my motivation, and reminds me of why I started. Another method I recently learned of (but haven’t incorporated in my routine yet) is reflecting on personal possessions. If you have already tried it, you can share your experience in the comments section!

3. Meditation

Achieving a mindful state through meditation might improve our awareness of the cognitive-behavioral processes that drive impulsive or nonconscious consumption. Mostly, I felt that meditation gives me the power of clarity — the power to see what I really need and distinguish it from what advertisers tell me I need. This has helped me decrease my consumption dramatically, especially when it comes to fashion and electronics.

There are multiple ways to meditate. Some of us use apps, others go on getaways every once in a while. I personally prefer to be surrounded by nature and zero electronics. I have never gotten the chance to go for a meditation getaway, but it’s on my list! Of course, I will consider a sustainable and ethical one since I try to avoid the trap of spiritual consumerism and its adverse effects on different cultures.

My favorite place to meditate is in nature, especially when the sun is setting.

I believe that these habits will help me maintain a minimal-waste lifestyle that aligns with my personal values, in a future of AI-driven markets. I hope they can boost your zero-waste journey too!