Sustainable Missoula: Joining the zero waste movement

Carrie Schreiber and her furry companion, Cal, operate the Missoula Body Basics shop – a zero waste resource located on Higgins Avenue. (Jenny Rokosch).

The modern world is plagued with many unsettling realities. Among and intertwined with many economic, social and environmental problems is the wastefulness of our society.

Facing such statistics, such as the average American disposes 4.51 pounds of waste per day, is overwhelming. Further exacerbating this anxiety is the revelation that the “away” referenced in the phrase, “throw it away,” does not truly exist. There is no away, there is only elsewhere.

Our waste does not disappear, it only accumulates. And when we continue traveling down the rabbit hole, discovering the wonderland of where elsewhere is, we eventually realize that the seemingly obsolete location where our waste accumulates is often in communities of color and impoverished areas.

Our rapid consumption, quick-disposal society is perpetuated by the linear economy. We have created a global salvation religion of consumption, practiced as a subconscious sacrament in our everyday lives. Manufacturers utilize planned obsolescence, designing products to break or go out-of-style in a short time span in order to increase consumption and encourage wastefulness.

We also have leaders like former President George Bush advising Americans to use shopping as a healing mechanism after the devastation caused by 9/11. Leaders, politicians, and the media have glorified consumption as a source of personal fulfillment, a moral imperative, and even a fundamental act of patriotism. Yet our take-make-waste model is leaving the environment in ruins, sacrificing many communities along the way.

With these dismal facts and the magnitude of this issue, it’s easy to feel helpless. But despite these disparaging realities, the modern Zero Waste Movement has risen, like that of a phoenix, from the ashes of environmental degradation caused by unfettered capitalism. This movement provides keys to unlock a new way of living – one centered on existing within the limits of nature, mindful consumption, and shifting our relationship with materials.

The Zero Waste Movement is sometimes painted as exclusionary, overemphasizing personal responsibility and perfection, and promoting expensive “zero waste goods” like fancy produce bags, bamboo ware, and sets of matching glass containers. But the authentic Zero Waste Movement  does not require perfection, a bloated bank account, or extravagant possessions. Instead, the goal is to meet people where they’re at, empowering us all to take whatever steps are available and feasible (heavily influenced by race, class, and gender) to limit our consumption, reduce waste, and build an equitable, just, regenerative system.

Although it can seem daunting to transition from a consumption-based lifestyle to a post-consumer culture, there are many tangible ways for Missoulians to implement zero waste changes in their lives.

The first step is understanding that zero waste is not about recycling more – it’s about consuming less. That being said, the best first step we can take is asking ourselves an important line of questions before we purchase a product: Do I need the product that I’m seeking? Or can it be borrowed? If I need it, is it high-quality? Will it be useful a year from now? Was it ethically sourced? Do I have to buy it new or can I find it locally and used? And lastly, where will this product end up after I am finished with it?

Deciphering wants from needs allows us to consider the ethical and environmental implications of our purchases. However, it goes without saying that finding necessities – personal care, dental hygiene, cleaning supplies, food, etc. – that are “zero waste” or available in fully recyclable packaging can be a challenge. This clues us in to the fact that consumer responsibility will only take us so far – at some point, designers and producers also must be held accountable to create products and use materials that fit with a circular economy.

In the meantime, there are many resources, businesses, and organizations which empower individuals to reduce personal waste and support zero waste efforts. Missoulians have access to many of these right in our own backyard! To spread the word about these opportunities, I have listed just some of my favorite zero waste businesses below.

Clothing

Secret Seconds: Has two locations and benefits the YWCA.

Underground Thrift: Directly supports the senior center.

Sports Exchange: Athletic and sporting goods, locally owned and operated.

Personal Care/Hygiene

Body Basics: Locally owned and woman operated personal care store offering bulk bath and hair products, bug spray, lotions, cleaning supplies, local art, etc.

Meadowsweet Herbs: Allows reusable containers, carrying everything from hair bath products, sunscreen, bug spray, deodorant, toothpaste, lotion, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, tea, essential oils, etc. You can purchase premade products in bulk and or raw ingredients to curate your own products (even makeup)!

Tools

MUD: Offers workshops and tool rentals.

Home ReSource: Offers salvaged materials for construction and home projects, in addition to zero waste programs and educational workshops.

Free Cycles: Community bike shop providing repurposed bicycles and parts, tools, and a workspace to bring new life to old bikes.

Food

The Good Food Store: Allows reusable containers, offering an incredible variety of food and ingredients in their bulk section.

Farm stands/markets: Dispersed throughout the Missoula community – great for local and package-free produce.

Garden City Compost, Soil Cycle, and Missoula Compost Collection: Great resources for food composting.

Journals, Jewelry and Books

Upcycled: Locally owned and operated, offering a variety of repurposed goods to create art, jewelry, bags, notebooks, etc.

The Book Exchange: Offers a myriad of used books.

Furniture

Donation Warehouse: Sells gently used furniture, appliances, and more in order to support child abuse prevention.

The Habitat ReStore: Provides affordable and gently used furniture, building materials, tools, and appliances.

Jenny Rokosch is a student at the University of Montana. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has postponed or cancelled many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community and a handful of compelling readings. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

It’s farmer’s market season! The markets look different this year to protect public health, but both the Missoula Farmer’s Market (at the XXXXs) and the Clark Fork Market will have online ordering for pickup at the market available throughout the season, starting May 23. Check their websites for more details. CFAC also has a great list of local food resources for consumers.

Registration is open for the Creative Reuse Division at the Western Montana Fair! Calling all creative re-users! Home ReSource is once again heading up the Creative Reuse Division at the Western Montana Fair. Register online by July 29. Submissions will be in person by appointment from 8am-1pm on July 30 in the Commercial Building at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. More information here.

June 25 – September 3. Montana Renewable Energy Association’s Summer Series. On Thursdays at 12:30pm, join in on virtual lunchtime presentations about renewable energy topics. More details and RSVP here.

July 11. Elk Creek Conservation Area work day. Help Swan Valley Connections with native plant restoration. For more information or to sign up, call 406-754-3137 or email info@svconnections.org.

July 14. History of Mining in North Fork Valley virtual presentation. Montana Wilderness Association’s Flathead Kootenai Chapter is hosting a conversation with Jedd Sankar-Gorton about the history of mining in the North Fork Valley. Tune in on Tuesday, July 14 at 3pm. Registration and more information here.

July 22. Virtual Farmer Field Day. This online event hosted by Community Food and Agriculture Coalition will feature exciting on-farm video from Amaltheia Vegetable Farm and an opportunity for questions and conversations. Find more information and the registration link here.

Missoulaevents.net has many virtual activities listed – they’re stepping up to help us all stay engaged.

What we’re reading (and listening to) this week: