Becoming zero-waste is all about making a change, right? I’ve seen statistics claiming that the average North American makes four pounds of trash a day. That’s pretty bad, but what’s worse is the rest of that statistic.
For every pound of trash that the consumer creates, seven pounds of trash are created in the manufacturing of the product.
Now, 84.1947% of statistics are made up on the spot, so I don’t entirely believe that, but even creating half that much trash is staggering.
Thus, creating no waste yourself can make a bigger difference than just you not throwing anything away. Since you aren’t buying products that create waste, those products are (theoretically) never manufactured upstream. Of course, the companies keep making just as much product, but what might have been bought by you isn’t.
There’s still an issue here, though. By not buying a company’s (waste-creating) products, we feel like we’re sending that company a message to be more environmentally friendly . And it’s true, we do send some small message, but let’s think about this.
How much power does “a-dollar-that-we-don’t-know-we-missed-out-on” have over a company? How upset do you get over missing out on something that you don’t know you missed out on?
(It’s not a trick question. The answer is that you don’t get upset at all.)
The logical conclusion is that we have virtually no leverage by refusing to buy a company’s products. Yes, maybe their sales drop slightly, but what would tell them that that’s related to how much plastic they use in their packaging?
On the other hand, how much power does “a-dollar-that-we-just-found-out-we-missed-out-on” have over a company? How upset do you get over missing out on something when you’re told explicitly that you missed out on it?
(Again, not a trick question. Imagine this: Someone tells you they won’t give you a hundred dollars because you littered. But they never told you they would have given you a hundred dollars if you hadn’t litter. I’d be pretty ticked off.)
If a company knows exactly why they won’t be getting your business anymore, they are a lot more likely to do something about it. Because for every person that writes in and complains, there are probably a hundred more who think the same thing, but don’t bother to write.
Now I’ll tell you a little story.
I hate those flimsy little plastic bags that you’re supposed to use for fresh produce at grocery stores and for just about everything at Bulk Barn. They’re so… useless! They fall apart at the most inconvenient times and there’s nothing else you can use them for!
Zero-wasters have a generic response for anything that’s disposable. Get reusable ones! So I decided to invest in some cloth reusable produce bags. Of course, I want to find them locally, but some Googling didn’t turn up anywhere I could get them, so I went online.
Shopping online is convenient, but it’s also wasteful. In addition to the packaging of the products that you’re buying, there is often a lot of shipping packaging as well. So I wanted to avoid that as much as possible.
After shopping around for a while, I found a site called iHerb.com, that seemed to be environmentally friendly. Most of their products were green, and they seemed to be the kind of company that would think about their shipping practices. So I ordered from them.
I was wrong. The produce bags were shipped in a box about four times as large as required, and all the extra space was filled with those plastic filler bags. Not what I was hoping for.
At that point, I had a choice. I could accept that the product wasn’t shipped responsibly, and get on with my life. Or I could try to make a difference. Being new to this whole, I went for the second. Below is the email I wrote to iHerb.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I’ve recently become more aware of my plastic consumption and waste creation. I’ve been making different changes to my life to reduce the amount of garbage I produce, and plastic I use. One of the changes I wanted to make was to switch to reusable produce bags, instead of the flimsy, plastic bags that you find at grocery stores. I couldn’t find any locally, so I went online to look for a website that seemed environmentally friendly without being exorbitantly expensive.
I came across iHerb, and liked the atmosphere you were generating. You seemed to care about the environment, and to actually want to make a different with what you were selling. The produce bags that I found didn’t even have any plastic in the packaging, it was all cardboard. I decided to order from you.
Imagine my disappointment when they arrived and I saw the packaging! A cardboard box approximately four times as large as was needed, and PLASTIC filler. Ridiculous!
Plastic bags cannot be recycled at all in my area, and so they will have to go in the garbage. And even if they could be recycled, they are still very harmful to the planet!
I have the bags now, and I will use them to reduce the plastic I consume as I buy groceries, but I will not be buying any more products from you in the future, unless you change your packaging practices.
I sent it off, wondering what exactly I was doing. I don’t make a big deal about many things, and I don’t think I’ve ever written to a company to complain before. But hey, I’ve never bought reusable produce bags before, so there’s a first time for everything! I wasn’t sure if they’d send a response, but the next evening, I received this from iHerb.
Dear Mason Burton,
Thank you for choosing iHerb for your natural product needs. Thank you for your feedback and we so much appreciate your concern specially for our environment. Rest assured that we will be forwarding this to the appropriate department to check what measure we can do to regarding your concern.
Again, we thank you for the feedback and concern.
If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact us again. We’ll be glad to assist you.
Thank you and have a great day!
A few days later and I’m still not sure if this was a good response, or not. I’m not exactly “resting assured” that anything will change, but, then again, maybe I was some kind of tipping point. I’ll probably never find out, because I won’t be ordering from them again for just this reason, but at least I acted. It’s up to iHerb to make a change now.