Why the mason jar measuring-stick is crippling the zero waste movement

Why the mason jar measuring-stick is crippling the zero waste movement
3 Minute Read.

Let’s talk about zero waste. And I’m not talking about the zero waste you see glorified on your instagram feed. I’m talking about the conscious decision you make to reduce your impact on the planet.

First of all, it’s not about having a perfectly matching mason jar collection for your dried goods, or showing off your jar’s worth of trash you’ve accumulated over a few years. It’s about making conscious decisions about your footprint…everyday. Plain and simple.

When I first learned about the concept of zero waste, I thought if I produced any waste at all that I simply wouldn’t qualify as eco-conscious. And if I couldn’t do it, then that meant I was a failure…right? Nice try Shannon! You tried to save the planet, but guess what?!? You failed! So you may as well give up.

WTF? That logic doesn’t make any sense. Wasn’t the point of zero waste to reduce my impact? Whoever said it had to be perfect? I eventually realized that it’s not about the physical amount of trash I create. It’s about the awareness.

Take a look at the amount of trash I created (including recyclables) during my recent 1 month waste audit. The audit wasn’t to prove something to myself (even though I thought it was at the time). It was to create an awareness for myself, to establish where I was, and to make a game plan for how I could be better. It also made me realize that I’m doing a pretty good job, which gave me a huge sense of relief compared to the perpetual failure I felt when I first started my sustainable journey—thinking I had to do it perfectly, or not at all.


Image of a month's wortt of trash


The amount of trash I create will probably never fit into a tiny mason jar. But I’m also not aiming for that either. I’m not sure it’s realistic for me. And my guess is, you probably feel the same.

So I want you to know that wherever you are on your “sustainable”/”eco-conscious”/”low impact”/”zero waste” journey, you’re on the right track. And you’re doing it the “right” way. Why? Because you’re trying. You’re awake. And you’re making decisions with real intention, instead of blindly consuming like I certainly used to.

So don’t let the mason jar standard intimidate you. It’s just one way of approaching zero waste, but it’s not the only way. And it also doesn’t account for all the waste that happens before products even get to you. Our trash bins only account for 5% of the actual raw materials used in producing those items. Most of that product’s footprint occurs upstream during the sourcing, manufacturing and transportation process. So if you only look at the waste in your garbage bin, you’re only really looking at one piece of the equation. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: nothing exists in isolation. And everything is connected.

So do your best to lower your carbon footprint and reduce your waste in a way that’s manageable and sustainable for you. And do yourself a favor, “don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s…end” (quote by Tim Hiller).


How do you feel about the idea of zero waste? Does it inspire you? Or intimidate you? And is there another term that you think best describes the way you choose to live your life?


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