The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
May 13, 2009

Waste is a Luxury: A Guest Post from Laura Zilverberg

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The following is a guest post from Fake Plastic Fish reader Laura Zilverberg, who responded immediately to my request this week for new voices on Fake Plastic Fish. Enjoy her powerful post comparing her experience of waste in Mexico vs. the United States.


Hello Fake Plastic Fish Readers,

I am a 23-year-old resident of Phoenix, Arizona. I am originally from Minnesota and moved out here for the weather college. I wanted to be a broadcast major, but decided very quickly that the industry wasn’t for me. Instead I majored in public relations and am finishing up my certification in nonprofit management. I spent 2008 volunteering at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Mexico (NPH): a home for about 1,000 orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children. I was one of three primary caretakers for 29 girls in their 2nd year of secondary school, in other words, teenagers.

About the same time I discovered Fake Plastic Fish and realized the need to reduce my own use of plastic. I worked at it as best as I could and didn’t find it too difficult since at NPH we grew most of our own fruits and veggies, corn (for tortillas), raised our own chickens (for eggs and meat) and raised our own goats and pigs. Individually wrapped treats were just that, a treat to be enjoyed once in a while. When I did cook, my food was picked up from the kitchen or purchased package free from the market in town. We even purified our own water without chlorine. When I went out, I could drink soda or beer in a returnable/reusable glass bottle. I survived hotter and more humid weather than Phoenix without air conditioning.

Upon moving back I assumed I would continue my plastic free lifestyle with ease, but I soon discovered it was not so simple. Despite “green” being everywhere, I have found living plastic free to be incredibly difficult. Inspired by Beth, I tracked my own plastic consumption for one month. I generated more than 75 items (about half of what Beth generated in all of 2009). Some of it was because I was using up old items such as soap. Some was inadvertent, like when I forgot to ask for no straw at a restaurant or when my friends left their half full drink mixes in my fridge. Some was unavoidable like a disposable racing chip (what happened to reusable chips?) [Beth chimes in: Oh, yes! We have discussed that frustrating issue here. Check out this post about disposable timing chips.] or plastic tags on my otherwise plastic free produce. Some was deliberate waste like cheese wrappers.

It was frustrating. I was living in a place where it was difficult to reduce your plastic because bulk bins were scarce and because people couldn’t understand why I would want to bring my own container for meat. It was even more frustrating because it was coupled with reverse culture shock. I was moving back into the U.S. culture and everyone around me expected me to be the same person I was before I left. But, I was different. Now, I see the world differently. It is painful to see waste and not just because it is tragic for the environment, but because waste is a luxury. Wasting food is a luxury the kids I worked with don’t have. Throwing away old clothes is a luxury. Buying a soda and only drinking half and then throwing the rest away is a luxury. I watched children buy a bottle of soda and share that one bottle with all their friends because it was a special treat.

While I am still adjusting, it is getting easier. I am learning that I don’t need to be perfect, that just doing something is enough. I am learning that I can’t expect everyone to care as much as I do, but that they do care in their own way. And I am learning more ways to limit my plastic consumption. And I am hopeful that maybe soon, if enough people start to care, waste will bother everyone.

If you’d like to take a turn guest blogging, please contact me. It’s great to hear different points of view.

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15 Comments on "Waste is a Luxury: A Guest Post from Laura Zilverberg"

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Christy at frugalcrunchychristy

What a wonderful post. The phrase “luxury of waste” certainly hits a nerve.

No such thing as a meat eating environmentalist. Stop fretting over a left over straw when you are supporting one of the leading causes of global warming and a HUGE contributor to the environmental crisis. seriously!

Maureen, OH

Hi Laura, This isn’t what your post is about at all, but I thought of it while I was reading about your work in Mexico and waste being a luxury. I lived for four years in a Mexican neighborhood in Chicago (I was also volunteering, but in the states). Every spring, there would be (paradoxically in my Mexican neighborhood) an Italian Festival. Hundreds of people would spill into the streets, eating takeaway food and drinking merrily and riding rides and listening to music. Out front of my house was a very large, waist-high flower barrel, with plants in it. The… Read more »

This is a great post!

I recently wrote about some ideas that are a bit related — check it out at http://fairandgreen.blogspot.com

I look forward to following your future posts and I hope you’ll check out mine as well!

All the best!

You are so right about the luxury of waste. I spent a week at a camp in Mexico, and the kitchen workers would take the leftover food from the serving trays home with them. It was a major perk of the job. You had better believe we didn’t leave food on our plates – how insulting would that be for them? Now that I have a preschooler the waste drives me crazy. My 4-year-old will grab the end of the toilet paper and run around the house. For her, it’s fun. Which I can understand, if I were 4 I’d… Read more »

Wow Laura that is a wonderful post!

I have never thought of it like that.

Laura, fantastic post. Thanks so much for sharing!!

Waste is a luxury … it’s also embedded into our culture. It shouldn’t be so hard to live sustainably. It’s difficult because our society isn’t built for sustainability any more. Which sucks. But hopefully we can re-weave sustainable practices back into the fabric of our society.

I recently helped a friend clear out her deceased mother’s house (and her own childhood home) to prepare for an estate sale. It made me realize that even the things we most treasure ourselves end up as waste – even to those closest to us. Of course waste is unavoidable and life would be pretty dull if we limited ourselves to only what we need, but a good thought to keep in mind when buying anything, plastic or otherwise, is whether or not it will be used over a period of time; whether it has long term value. If not,… Read more »
Over Coffee - the green edition

What a great guest post! I definitely agree that “Waste is a luxury”. The one bright spot in the down turn of the economy is that people are fixing and reusing and reducing way more than they use too. Thanks for sharing Laura.

P.S. I would love it if you considered doing a guest post on my blog…

In the beginning chapters of, ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ the narrator talks about what it meant to waste in a time when things were scarce, it meant exactly luxury. She wanted to throw things away just to have that feeling like, it didn’t matter, that they had more than enough. When I read those words, those thoughts of an innocent young person, I was moved. Isn’t that strange? Wasting is an absolute luxury and is an absolute shame.

I agree that it is harder in different parts of the world to be “green.” My family has moved a lot because my husband is in the military. Laura, you have hit the nail on the head for me in saying that you are “learning that I can’t expect everyone to care as much as I do, but that they do care in their own way.” I think that is one area I have a big problem with. I am trying so hard at my house and feel so alone at times. For instance, my husband and kids come home… Read more »

Great post. You’re right, waste is a luxury.

Hello,I have left this comment at different sites and am yet to have a response so I am hoping to hear from you. First off the discovery of this ‘Plastic Island’ as some call it, as horrific and shocking as it surly is…well, doesn’t it just join the club of ever growing problems the earth is forced to deal with? Let’s see, were melting the poles, frying the air, running the animal life to extension, fishing the oceans dry and growing the deserts…let’s just stop there for time’s sake. Now, the different elected politicals (I’m in the US) can’t stand… Read more »

What a great post! Can you imagine if all 23 year olds could make this lifestyle shift toward less plastic and less consumption? What a difference we could make. I think that everyone should experience something like what Laura did in Mexico, gain a little perspective.

“Buying a soda and only drinking half and then throwing the rest away is a luxury. I watched children buy a bottle of soda and share that one bottle with all their friends because it was a special treat.”

I teared up a little when I read these sentences. This excerpt speaks not only to waste but also to poverty and to the “luxury of waste” we experience in the U.S. What a great article! I’m always encouraged by Fake Plastic Fish to stand out in the crowd and wave my To-Go Ware proudly!

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