Zero Waste in Times of Chaos 

Zero Waste in Times of Chaos

As I stand in my kitchen washing the piles and piles of reusables that my 3 children create, it’s easy to let my mind wander.  Usually, I listen to music, because these days allowing my mind to drift becomes a dangerous thing.  I start to think about all of the horrible events going on in our country: the shootings, the taking away of rights, rejection of the U.S.’s true history, the refusal to regulate guns.  

Then my mind drifts out a little farther. I think of the protections oil companies receive worldwide, the mass destruction from big corporations, and thousands of governments refusing to make the changes needed to stop climate change and help indigenous and Black citizens.  As my head spins, it’s easy to conclude that we’re doomed. It’s easy to think my efforts are completely useless when up against all of this.  

So how does one do it? How do you talk about swapping products, planting gardens, and choosing sustainable options during all of this? For me it’s been a mixed bag of highs and lows. There are days where I’m incredibly active and days where I feel like I can barely function.  None of us live in a vacuum, and we can’t expect ourselves to act as if we do. 

The first issue is that society has us work like machines. Society wants us to continue as if the world isn’t falling apart around us. It’s capitalism at its finest.  It has taken me years to unlearn this mentality and behavior. Little by little, as I shift my mindset, I’m able to face harsh truths, while simultaneously building the world I dream of.   

Rest is Not Earned 

I have a sticker on my Klean Kanteen that says “Rest is not Earned.” It’s from the small, zero waste beauty shop Blue Print Botanicals.  I cannot tell you how many times people have questions about this sticker.  The idea that taking time to rest, and taking time for yourself is not a prize to be won is outrageous in our society.  I have actively chosen to lean into the idea of rest as a human right. 

When I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I take a break.  It doesn’t matter if the house is dirty, if I have papers to grade, if I’ve accomplished nothing that day, I TAKE A BREAK.  I may take a 2-hour nap, go sit in my garden to enjoy the pollinators, or read a book.  The old me would have felt guilty about this. I would have apologized to my husband for resting while everything is in such disarray. However, I’ve realized that it is just as important as water and food for my body. 

As simple as this sounds, rest, rest often, and enjoy it.  Admittedly, this task does happen because of my privilege.  I only work one job outside of the home. I parent with my husband. My family and friends take the kids when I need them to.  I know many do not have these options. But if there is any way you can swap a babysitting day, let the house get messy so that you can rest, or whatever else you need when you can no longer think straight make yourself a priority as much as you make others.  

Be a Mental Health Advocate 

This next suggestion comes with more privilege, but is also worth fighting for no matter what situation you are in. First, we should all be writing to our government officials so that we can have free and equal access to healthcare for all in the U.S.  As you work through the dumpster fire that is our world right now, I highly recommend therapy. 

I have lived with anxiety and depression my whole life.  It took me a very long time to seek professional help. Waiting so long is one of the biggest regrets of my life.  I now regularly see a psychiatrist, and in the past have seen a therapist.  With the tools I have learned and the fact that I am on medication being monitored by a psychiatrist is what works best for me.  Beyond talking to friends and loved ones, seeking professional help when this world just seems like too much to handle has been lifesaving for me (literally). 

Phone Down, Act 

It’s so easy to get stuck doomscrolling, re-posting horrible news, and getting caught up in the very dark side of social media. When I feel stuck in this trap, I make myself put my phone away. Instead of scrolling and commenting on social media, I do something productive. 

I usually call or write to my representatives, Vice President, and President once a week.  I voice my concerns and my wishes.  To be honest, I have lost a lot of faith in our government but doing this takes 5 minutes, so why not?

I involve myself in community organizations that make a difference.  There are so many out there, but most people don’t take the time to look. You can volunteer to clean up your city, help find food and clothing for those who need it, set up a buy nothing or food pantry. The list goes on and on. 

Building these projects in my community helps me to not feel so hopeless. It also begins to spread the kindness I hope becomes contagious.  It has helped me connect to likeminded people too. We support and lean on each other in time of hardship, and band together to fight for what is right in the face of injustice.

Growing up in a Mexican household community was everything. We did nothing without the help and support of those around us.  Individualism has been put above all else for far too long and has come at a high price for all. If we begin to build those communities once again, not only do we improve the lives of all involved, but we also begin to build momentum for a restructuring of our world. A world where we put the well-being of others before profit, and the health of our entire planet is a priority. 

Small Inspirations 

My final and most impactful action (according to research) is to TALK about what you are doing.  Growing up, I was taught not to talk about my accomplishments. That was bragging, and that was rude (this is very much a Latine perspective).  According to the Podcast “How to Save a Planet’s” episode “Is Your Carbon Footprint BS?” research has shown that one of the ways in which individual action makes the biggest difference is by sharing what we are doing. 

I am only one person. The fact that I no longer use paper napkins or disposable water bottles doesn’t make much of a difference in the system but sharing it all on my social media and talking about it to all of my friends and family creates a snowball effect.  I know at least 200 people that have changed the way they interact with our world because of my influence.  If those same 200 people start to share their journey, then the possibilities really do become endless.

Even if the only thing you’ve changed in your life is to start using reusable water bottles, start sharing it! Imagine if every person on this Earth who could “only” make that change, think of the difference that would make. No matter how big or small your changes are, start sharing your journey. You can inspire others as much as influencers do, maybe even more. 

As you continue to wrestle with the headlines, and your place in this world, I hope that these events “Do not lead you to despair, but instead radicalize you” -Mariame Kaba. We hold so much power, we just need to learn how to collectively wield it.

I still have days where all seems lost, but those feelings usually last a day and then I jump into action. Although this world is hard to bear, I find so much comfort in my ability to enact change. I’ve seen the power of individuals and entire communities. If more of us woke up to that power we really could lead a revolution that transforms this world.  

About the Author  

Luana Barajas is @solittletodo on Instagram. She’s an intersectional environmentalist and 8th grade teacher that lives in Southern California with her 3 kids, husband, 2 dogs, cat, 5 chickens, fish, and leopard gecko. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and her Mexican upbringing has been a huge part of her zero waste journey.

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